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Small Cars

Monday, 5 March 2007 | Tags: , , , ,

With the cost of gas these days, many people are looking for smaller cars that require less. Compact cars are now a booming sector of the auto industry. We take a look at what you need to know to get the most out of your small car.

The Basics

  • Most car manufacturers have something in the small or subcompact category. Now there’s also the even smaller micro car (e.g. Smart Car), already very popular in Europe. The 2.5 meter long Smart Car can fit into a standard parking spot – sideways! One obvious drawback, they don’t hold a lot of stuff, or people for that matter, but they’re sporty, practical for the city, economical, and fun to drive.

  • Deciding on a subcompact car more or less comes down to whether it’s right for your lifestyle. If you’re a mom driving kids to and from hockey, then a small car is not practical for you.

  • Apart from price and looks, there are a few other things to keep in mind.

    • Performance: small cars have often been nicknamed “go carts”, but with luxury car companies getting into the game (BMW’s Mini and Mercedes Benz’s Smart Car), performance of small cars overall is improving.

    • Mileage: remember, this is only an estimate. It’s hard to know how efficient the car will be until you’re at the wheel. As a general rule, knock 10-15% off of the manufacturers’ claims.

    • Safety: while no car is perfectly safe, small cars can leave you more vulnerable on the road. The government website www.safercar.gov publishes crash test results for most cars. It’s a great place to start your research.

    • Warranty: buying an extended warranty on a new car is usually a pretty good insurance policy should anything go wrong after the basic warranty expires.

    • Service: usually part of the basic warranty, make sure you follow the recommended service schedule to keep your car in top shape.

    • Extras: with endless add-ons available, the price of your new car can jump significantly. One we think is worthwhile is a rust protector that will cut down on the undercarriage noise and increase your car’s resale value. However, we don’t think Scotch Guarding, gives you any real added value; buy your own can, do-it-yourself, and save almost $100!

  • Dealing with a dealer can be intimidating for some, but here are some shopping tips we find handy:

    • First and foremost, don’t come across desperate with a “must have it” attitude (even if it is totally adorable) or the salesperson will dive in for the kill.

    • Buying in early fall is probably the best time since dealers are trying to clear their lots for the new year’s models.

    • At the end of the month, salespeople will likely be trying even harder to boost their numbers up for the month, so buying earlier in the month may get you a lower pressure sales pitch.

    • Ask if there are any demo models available; it can get your 15 – 20% off the ticket price.

TEST CRITERIA

We test drove three popular subcompact cars (mid-2000 models) to see which got us revved up.

  • Toyota Echo: $14,000
  • Mercedes Benz Smart Car: $18,500
  • BMW Mini Cooper: $27,000

Parking Test

  • All three cars were easy as pie to parallel park – in fact, the Smart Car fit by driving front first into the spot!

Driving Test

  • The Echo provided the most cargo space and is an economical means by which to get you from A to B – very simple, nothing fancy.

  • The Smart Car definitely came through when it came to the best mileage – almost two times better than the other two cars – but it was a little slow off the mark, and while only a detail, there were no cup holders – a detail that by our standards matters.

  • But when it came to style, the Mini looked so cute. And it handled great.

OUR TOP PICK

The BMW Mini won our hearts in the end, though all three had their advantages. Kristina liked the Mini so much, she bought one for herself!

 

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