These Are Six of the Lightest Family Cars in Production Today

Remember when cars were so lightweight that people had to strap bricks to them; otherwise they would have floated around like balloons? Those days are long gone because cars kept getting bigger and things like airbags and seat belts weighed down cars in the name of safeness.
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Citroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 CactusLexus NX 200tLexus NX 200tLexus NX 200tLexus NX 200tLexus NX 200tMazda6 SedanMazda6 SedanMazda6 WagonMazda6 WagonMazda6Audi A4 (B9) SedanAudi A4 (B9) SedanAudi A4 (B9) AvantAudi A4 (B9) AvantAudi A4 (B9)2017 Chrysler Pacifica2017 Chrysler Pacifica2017 Chrysler Pacifica2017 Chrysler Pacifica2017 Chrysler PacificaVolkswagen Multivan (T6)Volkswagen Multivan (T6)Volkswagen Multivan (T6)Volkswagen Multivan (T6)Volkswagen Multivan (T6)
It’s human nature to wish for bigger this and safer that. For people in the market for a family car, the size of the vehicle and the assurance of curtain airbags are some of the most important details on the priorities list. Before the addition of anti-lock brakes, brake assist, traction control, collision warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and safety belts with airbags built into them, compact hatchbacks such as the Golf were considered by most European drivers as the must-have family cars.

When it was introduced in 1974, the European-spec Golf tipped the scales at under 800 kilograms. That equates to less than 1,763 pounds in the North American measurement system. Needless to mention this, but safety doesn’t apply to the Golf Mk1 recipe. On the other hand, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf dwarfs its granddad in each and every way imaginable.

The European-spec Golf Mk7 in three-door configuration and a 1.2 three-cylinder engine under the hood weighs 2,667 pounds (1,210 kg). It’s a mammoth next to its grandpa. While the Volkswagen Golf from ’74 measures 145.8 inches (3,705) mm in length and 70.4 inches (1,610 mm) in width, the current generation is a mammoth of a thing at 167.5 inches (4,255 mm) in length and 70.4 inches (1,790 mm) in width.

As cars keep getting fatter and fatter, a question has to be posed - what are the lightest family cars on sale today? We’re much obliged to help you by mentioning six of the lightest, as featured in the following list:

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus
Citroen C4 Cactus
Photo: Citroen

The French manufacturer that gave us the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS surprised the non-premium crossover segment with the launch of the C4 Cactus. Compared to other rivals in the C segment, the C4 Cactus is not available with all-wheel-drive. Front-wheel-drive will have to suffice.

We’ll refrain from boring you with the details that make the Cactus a très chic voiture and focus on the most important thing about the French model - its curb weight. Starting at 2,127 lbs (965 kg) and going up to a not-exactly-heavy 2,392 lbs (1,085 kg), the Citroen C4 Cactus is as light as family cars get. Don’t, however, expect the Cactus to be nice to drive.

With pricing for the three-cylinder model starting at €15,200 (about $16,980 at current exchange rates) including all taxes applicable in the country that gave us the Statue of Liberty, it’s hard to understand why the PSA Group doesn’t import this thing to North America and Canada as a rival for the Fiat 500 lineup or as an alternative to the Dodge Dart.

Lexus NX 200t
Lexus NX 200t
Photo: Lexus

On the upper echelon of the crossover food chain, there’s the luxury compact crossover SUV. It’s one of the hottest vehicle segments today, one of those segments every manufacturer wants a piece of. To those in the market for the most featherweight model around, the Lexus NX 200t with FWD might come as an intriguing alternative to the mainstream.

Looking at the competition, the Range Rover Evoque doesn’t shine as bright as it did when it was launched, Audi is about to replace the Q5, the Volvo XC60 is older than dirt, and the BMW X3 is somewhat boring.

The US-spec 2016 Lexus NX 200t isn’t just the lightest of the bunch at 3,940 lbs (1,787 kg), but the suggested retail price undercuts all of its rivals by a long shot at $35,915. Best of all? The NX 200t 2WD Basic trim level comes with all the goodies you could ever want from a family car, including dual-zone automatic climate control, smartphone connectivity, subscription-free traffic and weather updates, and a reversing camera.

2016 Mazda6
Mazda6 Sedan
Photo: Mazda

One of the most underrated family cars since Carl Benz patented the Patent-Motorwagen in 1886 comes from the Land of the Rising Sun. And yes, we’re referring to the Mazda6 in sedan and wagon form alike. When you compare the 6 to the Camry, Sonata, and Fusion, you’ll be surprised to find that it boasts the lowest starting price, longest wheelbase, and lowest curb weight at 3,179 lbs (1,441 kg) for the 2.5-liter manual model.

The European specification goes even lower than that: 3,031 pounds or 1,375 kilograms for the 2.0-liter engine and the 6-speed manual gearbox. Speaking of Europe and the non-premium mid-size car segment, another great family car is the Mazda6 Wagon. Unfortunately, no, we don’t have that in the United States, which is a shame considering that the wagon’s advantage goes beyond its lightness and spaciousness. The name of the game here is the same all-wheel-drive system you get on the CX-5 SUV.

Even when compared to the European version of the Volkswagen Passat Variant, the Mazda6 Wagon comes out on top by approximately 440 pounds (200 kilograms). It’s a shame that the longroof body style is not fashionable anymore in the United States, the reason why Mazda is never going to sell this family hauler in the land of God Bless America.

2016 Audi A4 (B9)
Audi A4 \(B9\) Sedan
Photo: Audi

In the world of compact executive sedans, the BMW 3 Series is the sporty one and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is the comfy one. The Audi A4, on the other hand, has always been somewhere between those two. The B9 generation of the A4, however, has several aces up its sleeves.

I’ll skip highlights such as the 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, the wireless charging, and extremely efficient engines. I’ll also skip the fact that the Audi A4 has the best drag coefficient in its segment at 0.23. The most important thing about the B9 generation is that the dimensions have grown but its weight has been reduced by up to 120 kilograms. That’ll be 3,075 lbs (1,395 kg) for the entry-level 1.4 TSI 150 PS with the stick shift, available in Europe only.

Pretty much the same applies to the wagon, a variation we don’t get in the United States because the crossover is king of the hill. The 1.4 TSI in longroof form tips the scales at 3,185 pounds (1,445 kg), which is just a little bit better than the 3,240 pounds (1,470 kg) of the C-Class T-Modell.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Photo: Chrysler

Ah, the minivan. We’ll give Fiat Chrysler a round of applause for the braveness it took them to develop an all-new minivan from the ground up. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is, in many ways, similar to a band’s difficult second album. Living up to the expectations of those people who owned the Town&Country isn’t an easy thing to do, but the Pacifica has promise.

Compared to the eternal thorns in its side (i.e. the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey), the Chrysler Town&Country was the fatty of the lot. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica changed that with a diet that made it lose up to 300 pounds (136 kg) depending on the model. In base specification, the all-new Pacifica weighs 4,330 pounds (1,964 kg). The 2016 Toyota Sienna is second best at 4,375 pounds (1,984 kg) in L 7-passenger configuration.

As for the Honda Odyssey, please don’t. Minimal visual refreshment has been applied to the Odyssey since it launched in 2011. And, boy, this minivan shows its age. Arguably the ugliest family car on sale in the U.S., the Odyssey is the four-wheeled equivalent of giving up on life. So please, if you’re in the market for a minivan, just buy the Chrysler Pacifica.

2016 Volkswagen Multivan (T6)
Volkswagen Multivan \(T6\)
Photo: Volkswagen

Europe has always been a strange place when you think about the differences between its car culture and America’s car culture. The same applies to the Old Continent’s idea of what a premium minivan should be. Cutting straight to the chase, there are two choices for such a vehicle. The first is the Volkswagen Multivan (which is based on the sixth-generation Transporter light commercial vehicle) and the second is the Mercedes-Benz V-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz V 200 d starts at €43,411 ($48,500) for the kompakt model for an extremely simple reason - that three-pointed star affixed to the front grille and the three-pointed star on the steering wheel. Because it starts life as a humble panel van, the Volkswagen Multivan undercuts its main rival. Priced at €29,952 (including the 19% VAT applicable in Germany), the Volkswagen Multivan is also lighter than the Mercedes-Benz V-Class.

Compared to the 4,640 lbs (2,105 kg) of the base model in the V-Class family, the underdog with the VW bling up front weighs 4,424 lbs (2,007 kg) for the most no-frills model available. At the end of the day, though, we’d settle for the Mercedes-Benz V-Class for reasons you can read about in our road test of the plus-size fashion model from Germany.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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