City Car or Supermini: What Car to Buy?
Automotive journalists will tell you that small econoboxes are boring and do nothing other than to fill the ranks and files of Europe’s already crowded roads. But we think people who don’t read car magazines are the ones who need our help the most.
That’s why we decided to write a guide about picking the right size car for you. Hopefully, this will make making a buying decision that little bit easier.
To some people, there are two kinds of cars: big and small. But of course it’s not as simple as that. In terms of automobile classes, there’s the city car, or the A-segment car, and the supermini, or the B-segment car (know as the subcompact in America), with the key difference being the size.
The city car is also known as the urban car or mini. It’s designed for use primarily in built-up areas, where parking spaces and congested traffic are the main issues. The idea really took off in the 1980s, when superminis had grown so much that people demanded smaller four-seat cars.
Starting with the late 2000s, all of the most popular supermini are now over 3,900 millimeters. This provides a better riding chassis, more legroom and a bigger boot. The idea is superminis are supposed to be the only cars you’ll need, while city cars are a compromise usually made for either style or affordability.
SIZE AND PRACTICALITY
Right, the first thing you’ll need to know is that neither of these classes of models are big in any way. We know for a fact that some buyers are put off by big cars, fearing they won’t be able to park them. If you’re looking at a photo of a Ford Fiesta or VW Polo thinking that they are way to big news for you: that’s not true. Car designers are intentionally designing them to look more substantial than they really are. Look up the official manufacturer figures and you’ll discover most are sized between 3.9 and 4.1 meters. That might sound like a lot, but for a car it really isn’t.
Meanwhile, A-segment cars are all around 3.6 meters long. They can be parked more easily, are generally cheaper to own and run. The trade off is in the interior department. Legroom is usually fine in the front for any adult, but as anybody who’s sat in the back of a Fiat 500 will confirm, carrying four people is a bit of a squeeze.
The other major problem is luggage capacity. A Citroen C1 has almost none (140 liters), a Fiat 500 is only slightly better at 185 liters, followed by the Kia Picanto with 200 liters. As far as we can figure out, your best choice is the Volkswagen Up! with around 250 liters, though you should also consider the Renault Twingo with 230.
Much the same story with superminis. The Suzuki Swift has one of the smallest boots in the business at 211 liters, while a Honda Jazz or Skoda Fabia could fit a horse at over 300 liters.
Let’s explain this as simply as possible. If you’re a female driver who wants a car to get to work in, you can live with a cute little car. But if you plan on making trips to idea Ikea or to the countryside, you’re going to have to look at how the seats fold, how wide the boot opening is.
Small cars are popular not only because they are cute, but also because they cost less. At the bottom end of the market, your bank account is always going to be an issue. Marketing and TV commercials will try to convince you cars are much cheaper than they really are.
Let’s give an example so you can understand what’s going on a little better. Let’s take the new Renault Clio. It’s available across Europe, and seems like a really good choice. Ads would lead you to believe that you can have a sexy red car for €10,000, but reality says other wise. The base model they are promoting is not particularly nice. It has no air conditioning, no bluetooth connectivity, no fog lights or metallic paint. The car you got excited about has €200 worth in chrome trim, €400 in paint and probably another €400 for the large diameter chrome wheels (they're not available right now). Add to that a turbo engine and higher trim grade and you will be spending 40% over the base price.
It’s much the same story for the city car class. In fact, it’s even worse in some cases, as there are models that aren’t available with air conditioning at all, not even as an option. But because they are slightly cheaper, you can afford to spend some money on options.
Base models from both classes of car usually don’t offer fog lights, body colored handles, trip computer, alloy wheels, metallic paint, chrome trim or electric windows, all thing we believe you should have. You might also consider rear parking sensors. Turbocharged engines the preferable. Small three-cylinder units are especially gutless due to their lack of torque, something forced induction resolves.
A good rule of thumb would be to take at least 30 minutes with every car you’re considering and see what you need and what it will cost. Only after you’ve done that should you set foot inside a dealership.
It might seem trivial or boring, but it’s not. Regular buyers might know something about how an engine works, but they usually know next to nothing about how safe a car is. A five-star rating from Euro NCAP might seem perfect, but it’s really not. Here’s what they don’t tell you:
Cars are rated according to their class, so a five-star supermini is not as safe as a five-star Porsche Panamera during the same class. Also, Euro NCAP made its test more comprehensive in 2009, so newer models are going to be safer.
The good news is both A- and B-segment cars are categorized as superminis by Euro NCAP, so it’s not at all complicated to find which is the safest. We suggest going to the official website to find out more. Look for the cars with the highest adult occupant protection (yellow circles), somewhere in the region of 90%. Since most city crashes happen at intersections, lateral protection and reduced deformation of the pedal box are both very important.
With that being said, we’ll let you do your homework. Remember, configurators can be confusing at times, so it’s best to look at .pdf brochures to understand standard equipment levels. Make sure your everything you’re going to pay for is shown with tax added. Never make a buying decision before seeing what the equipment or body color looks like in rear life or non-official photos.
City cars to consider: Fiat 500, Skoda Citigo (same as Volkswagen Up! and SEAT Me), Kia Picanto, Renault Twingo.
Superminis to consider: Skoda Fabia, Ford Fiesta facelift, Dacia Sandero, Renault Clio, Kia Rio.