Mini Mania Takes Over Geneva!

Let's be honest here. Nobody ever dreamed about being an automotive journalist just to write about small city cars. Badly made, underpowered, overpriced and overdesigned – these things are so boring they would never sell without bright colors and dealer discounts, which is why you need a whole lot of them to get me even a little bit excited.
And yet that's exactly what the Geneva Motor Show had to offer this year – a lot of really small new cars. Renault pulled out the third generation of the Twingo while PSA and Toyota reveled they've just given birth to triplets. Show goers could, for the first time, pick a favorite between the totally different looking Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo. There's also the Suzuki Celerio, two new versions of the Opel Adam and a lot of Fiat 500 special editions. The segment is pretty much full with the exception of the smart, which arrives later this year.

There's never been a time like this in the history of the mini car, where a third of all the models on sale are brand new. It's a great time for these little buggers too – 2014 could be the big year when European sales finally start growing. And just like Italy and Germany after World War II, Europe needs the cheap stuff really badly.

So which minis will flop and which will go to the top?

Searching for a winner, it most certainly isn't the Renault Twingo. Although I think it will be the top seller in France, I also struggle to see its appeal anywhere else. Because it's somehow fake.

Folks keep saying the new Twingo has the blood of the 5 GT Turbo, since it's got the engine in the back and all. But the only connection between the two is that you can order stickers with a big "5" on them. This is just a girl's car with a bit of zing to it. It's like strawberry flavor Redd's beer – the only relation to actual beer is the name.

It's not all bad news though. The new Twingo is shorter than the old one but it has four doors, so it's actually more practical. But there are just so many flaws to live with: the stick shifter, which is from the old Twingo, the front hood that doesn't open at all, the plastic interior and lack of perceived quality. Why even buy a crazy Renault when you can get a bigger and cheaper Dacia Sandero.

This isn't just me ranting over cheap buttons and fake stitching on a plastic steering wheel. You need only consider the aging Fiat 500 model to understand what a good interior looks like. Remember, over half the customers will be women and they take design and fashion very seriously. Traditionally, most minicars have been practical, low-cost models some sold with unpainted bumpers. Well, now the segment has seen a shift toward adding premium features.

I think what's coming across in Geneva is that although these cars may have slightly different faces and bodies, their looks will have a lot to do with the creativity of their future owners.

I wouldn't have expected to say this, but Hyundai has got the right idea, not the crazy French. You need legroom, heated and electric everything plus materials that you can live with for 5 or 6 years. These silly trim pieces in funky colors don't cut the mustard for me because they're added at the dealership and hurt value come resale time. After all, what are the chances of two people loving the same Twingo in blue with orange trim?

Out of the Toyota/Citroen/Peugeot lot, my favorite is without a doubt the C1. It's got the most original front end with nice LED accents and a really bold design. It triggers the biggest emotional response out of me, though the other two are OK as well. Having a removable roof option is fantastic, but it's also one most cash-stripped customers will avoid. The sad outcome will be that it will never sell as well as the Twingo, and that's due to the French market and the more widespread Renault dealer network. It's a shame!

While I told you the truth, it wasn't the whole truth. If I were in the market for a new mini, it would be one that's already on sale and thus offered with a discount. Not only that, but fitting an engine in the back or adding a retractable roof sounds like a recipe for unreliability and out-of-warranty repair bills. That's why if I had €12,000 or so to spend on five doors and a tiny engine, my money would go to either the Chevy Spark, Skoda Citigo, maybe even the Hyundai i10 when the dealers stop being greedy.

There's no point to the mini mania in Geneva. It will fizzle out soon enough so don't buy on impulse just because Frenchie is batting her pretty little LEDlids at you.


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