Slim down, chill out and enjoy the sights. We test three cars made for the urban jungle
BABY bundles rarely come as cute— or as affordable— as this trio of tiny, archetypal city cars, born and bred with the sole purpose of fitting your life into the city. Cheap to buy, cheap to run and so easy to drive, they cope well with freeways but really come to the fore in congestion.
Each of these three is similar in size and packaging. Though there are some differences in engine layout, they are separated mainly by badges and the stylist’s pencil. These need to be sharp to catch the eye in an ever more crowded market. There are about 20 makes, whose 44 models engage in a bitter battle for your dollar. Each has a strong warranty and capped-price service program.
On the sales chart, the longstanding Mazda2 holds more than 14 per cent of the segment, followed by the Mirage and the Yaris. That’s an amazing grip for the Mazda, which launched in 2007 and is one of the oldest in the class.
The new Volkswagen Up may be one of the sales minnows in the segment but it’s also the cheapest European car on sale and last month it outsold its bigger Polo sister and was only seven behind Nissan’s Micra.
The Mirage replaces the Colt with a clean-sheet approach. No surprises about the Toyota Yaris. It’s been a pillar of the small-car brigade since it was called the Echo and despite the years and fresh rivals, remains a favourite.
The trio here are slight in fuel consumption, size and weight, but are solid performers with the maximum five-star crash safety rating. We’re comparing the entry-level models but there are additional trim levels and options.
An automatic transmission — not available on the Up— may be preferred by Mirage or Yaris buyers. Alloy wheels (standard on Mirage Sport) may lift visual appeal. It’s your city, it’s your look.
None of these tops $15,000— though depending on where you live, on-road costs will add up to $3500. Bluetooth, fourspeaker audio, iPod and USB connectivity, airconditioning and electric front windows and mirrors are the basics. The Mirage adds alloys.
The Yaris’s cabin is the best looking, the Mirage is neat but conservative while the Up bristles with German tech including automatic braking to avoid low-speed bingles. Each has a capped service program (see spec boxes).
Again, VWrises to the fore with the most comprehensive service program but the Mirage has the best warranty and has five-year roadside assistance.
The Mirage looks and feels good— the gloss cabin trim works well— despite Mitsubishi taking a conservative line.
The Yaris, a smaller take on the RAV4 and Corolla, is more edgy. That extends to the premium-look dash and even the single windscreen wiper.
The Up is a clinical design exercise that maximises cabin space, even though it ends up looking like a cardboard box with chamfered corners. Inside, it’s functional, minimalist and only comes alive when you add the $500 optional dashtop satnav/trip computer.
Yaris is shorter overall than the Mirage but has the longest wheelbase and so bigger cabin space. The Yaris driver also gets more seat and steering wheel adjustment.
The Yaris wins the luggage space game with a 286-litre boot (rear seat up) but the space-saver spare wheel is partially responsible for the extra room. It’s the one that most easily accommodates luggage or a big shop. The Up has 251 litres but a full-size spare, while the Mirage is 235 litres with a space-saver spare. Up and Yaris have split-level boots for more secure storage.
Each seats four adults but the seating positions and facilities are markedly different. Again, the Yaris is the more accommodating for rear passengers, followed in order by the Mirage and the Up. The Up has an upright rear seat with sufficient headroom and adequate leg room.
Both the Yaris and Up three-doors need supple limbs to get in the rear and are no place for a baby seat. The five-door Mirage is obviously the best for rear passengers. The Up’s front seats are firm and comfortable but there’s no switch for the driver to open the passenger side electric window. There are also only two vents— one each for the front occupants— which aren’t enough in summer. A central vent directs air to the ceiling but it’s barely effective.
The Mirage and Yaris get four dash vents though the former’s central outlets are modest performers. Mirage has three child seat tether anchors and two Isofix rear seat child restraints fitted, the Yaris and Up have two anchor points.
All have five-speed manual gearboxes and are front-wheel drive. The Mirage is a better drive with the optional auto (add $2250), the Yaris is fine as it is and the Up comes only with a manual gearbox, severely limiting its appeal.
The Yaris’s 1.3-litre fourcylinder is up against a new breed of three-cylinder mills— the 57kW/100Nm 1.2-litre Mirage and 55kW/95Nm 1.0-litre Up.
Yaris has the greatest thirst — though at 5.7 litres/100km it’s still a sip— while the Up is
4.9 litres/100km and the Mirage the best at 4.6 litres/100km.
Up’s clever low-speed auto braking is a gem.
With compact dimensions, all keep weight down by use of high-tensile steel, lightweight components and general corner cutting.
Despite their size, these are five-star crash-rated cars. Electronic stability control, brake assist and ABS are standard. Yaris will stop automatically if the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously. Up has classleading automatic braking to avoid low-speed bingles, auto flashing brake lights in emergency braking, and it alone has a full-size spare wheel. No model has park sensors or a reverse camera.
All are fun and each lures with its intrinsic ability to delight the driver, generally at the expense of the passenger. But they are different animals.
The Yaris needs a solid right foot and complains noisily but having one more cylinder than the others makes it smoother. The gearbox is a bit vague.
The Mirage and Up introduce the odd-ball threepot beat into the cabin almost as a boast. Both are as quick and responsive as the Yaris— the Up especially loves a rev— but the Mirage has a reluctant gear shift action and the Up’s change tends towards rubbery.
Electric-assist steering suits the car’s target market and each works well, as does the stopping power despite all having basic drum brakes at the back. Under acceleration, they all are fairly noisy but it’s not an issue for general citysuburban routes. Even ride comfort is similar though the Yaris suited me better while the Up felt a bit tinny.
Handling and lane-changing is more secure in the Yaris and Up, while the Mirage was let down by some steering vagueness.
The Up is the most fun, the Yaris feels the most grown-up and the Mirage makes more sense with five doors and extra features. Despite its age, in this group the Yaris is the winner.
Package goods: T cheap an cheery Y Up andM perform solidly in field wit scores o rivals
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