While suburbanites battle over whose giant SUV rules the carpool lane, city dwellers are preparing for a war of their own…and it’s over mini cars.
The appeal is understandable. Mini cars boast city-friendly proportions, hybrid-like fuel economy, and bargain-basement prices. But with the exception of a few cars, like the Mini Cooper, most have been plagued with a reputation for being cheap tin cans. That, however, is about to change.
2011 is slated to become the year of subcompact cars, with a slew of foreign and domestic models set to debut in the U.S. market. While driving real-life Micro Machines is nothing new to Europeans, it’s a big deal for Americans who have traditionally preferred large cars, trucks and SUVs over dinky two-seaters. After all, we did invent the Hummer.
If the 2010 New York Auto Show is any indication as to where the American auto market is heading, micro cars are our future -- and automakers are readying themselves for the shift in taste. Even luxury brands are getting in on the action (check out the Aston Martin Cygnet).
Here are five subcompact cars that are sure to make a big splash when they hit local dealer lots in late 2010 and 2011.
2011 Scion iQ
Due: Early 2011
Starting Price: Reportedly below $16,000
Aptly named the iQ, Scion’s new subcompact car is poised to do battle with the popular Smart Fortwo. Fortunately for Scion, the iQ has a lot more going for it. In addition to a sleeker, more modern design, the Scion iQ packs a bigger punch with its 90-horsepower four-cylinder engine -- which blows away the Smart Fortwo’s 71-horsepower three-cylinder unit. Even better, the Scion seats four passengers (three adults and one child), while the Smart only has room for two. The iQ also comes equipped with six more airbags than the Smart (but given its greater passenger capacity, it needs them). That’s a total of 10, including the world’s first rear-window curtain airbag.
2011 Mazda Mazda2
Due: July 2010
Starting Price: $13,980
For those that like their micro cars with a bit of “zoom-zoom,” Mazda introduces its Mazda2 mini hatchback -- which trumps Toyota’s Yaris in the fun department. The Yaris provides 106 horsepower (six more than the Mazda2), but the Mazda2 is tuned for a more exciting ride. And while the Yaris is no ugly duckling, the Mazda2 is definitely the better-looking of the two. Inside, though, is where the Mazda2 really wins. It features a clean layout and satisfying list of standard features -- including an auxiliary jack for MP3 players and keyless entry. Meanwhile, the Yaris forces folks to pay extra for power door locks and windows, and even an audio system.
2010 Chevrolet Spark
Due: Early 2011
Starting Price: $12,000
Another stylish alternative to the Smart Fortwo comes from an unexpected source. Chevrolet’s Spark mini car is a funky-looking five-door hatchback that auto writers say fits four adults -- that’s two more than the Smart Fortwo and one more than the Scion iQ. Little is known about the new Spark’s performance specs. However, industry analysts believe that it will come with a 1.0-liter or 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine and make roughly 80 horsepower, which seems about right for this class. Reports also indicate that the Spark will net 40 mpg on the highway. That’s not bad considering that the Smart Fortwo nets 41 mpg on the highway and seats fewer people.
2011 Nissan Juke
Due: Fall 2010
Starting Price: Below $20,000
Nissan plans on giving the Mini Cooper a run for its money with the all-new Juke. Equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Juke makes 180 horsepower -- which is 62 more than the base Cooper, but only eight more than the Cooper S. The Juke also features an optional all-wheel drive system, which the Cooper doesn’t offer (however, the upcoming 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman does). What makes the Juke really stand out, however, is its exterior design. Borrowing elements from motorcycles and rally cars, the Juke looks unique, but more sporty and intimidating than the Mini. The styling even carries into its five-passenger cabin, which features a center console that looks just like a motorcycle gas tank. Better yet, the Juke comes standard with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system and an iPod interface.
2011 Ford Fiesta
Due: Summer 2010
Starting Price: $13,320
True to its name, the Ford Fiesta has much to celebrate. It’s equipped with a healthy 120-horspower four-cylinder engine and nets a city/highway fuel economy of 30/40 mpg -- a rating that’s similar to the less powerful Smart Fortwo and Chevrolet Spark. And like the Mazda2, the Fiesta is zippy and fun to drive. Its European styling wins praise, as does its comfortable five-passenger cabin. In fact, some critics claim that the new Fiesta has one of the nicest interiors in its class. While the base model is fairly basic, the SEL and SES feature Ford’s highly-acclaimed SYNC infotainment system. The Fiesta doesn’t pack as many airbags as the Scion iQ, but it does feature seven -- including the segment’s only driver-knee airbag.