SMALL, BUT PERFECTLY FORMED
What is an urban car? Driven: Volvo S90 D5 awd How to Bluetooth an old car Launches: Hyundai Tucson and Elantra Sport + Toyota Yaris Pulse
My SUV may be overkill for my 11-kilometre commute, but nothing beats it for turning a muddy field into a bypass, for sneering at storm-flooded roads or for swallowing what seems like an entire garden to take to the tip. It’s thirsty, though, and expensive. My wife’s hatchback is amazingly economical, but after a decade on her 32-k rush-hour trek, her left leg is demanding an automatic shift, or else. Which is the better city car? Clearly, neither. As the world’s population inexorably drifts to the cities, as autonomous vehicles develop along with connected cars and alternative forms of propulsion, the face of mobility will inevitably change. But getting from A to B when we need to remains a priority right now and certainly for the time being we can’t depend on public transport, e- cars, ride-sharing and ride-hailing.
This line of thinking is underscored by the Global Trends Report, co‐presented annually by Prime Research and Autoneum. According to Autoneum CEO Martin Hirzel, the automotive industry is “in the midst of an upheaval that goes far beyond anything it has experienced in the past 100 years”. Emerging industry trends such as autonomous driving, electric mobility and connected cars are changing not only vehicles and their technologies, but also their concepts and forms, he said.
So to get some insight into the current state of the urban-car art, we spent a week with Suzuki’s nippy new Ignis. Although it’s a crossover, which means it’s kind of high and boxy, it also scored runner-up spot in the recent World Urban Car of the Year competition. The winner, the BMW i3, clearly made its mark in terms of its space utilisation, electric drivetrain and general coolness. Quite how much weight judges accorded the BMW’S eye- watering price compared with the competition isn’t apparent, though they lauded its value for money. The fact is, urban cars don’t necessarily have to be cheap but one thing they do have to be is small (see “Urban car: the checklist”).
Around town, the little Suzuki’s boxy lines, snappy gearshift and willing 1,2litre engine add up to the ability to sneak in and out of tight spots – including parking – with confidence.
On trips out of town, the Ignis’s drivetrain provides relaxed freeway cruising. The 61 kw 1,2’s torque peaks at a modest 113 N.m, but is geared to provide enough pull that you don’t have to keep changing down to tackle uphills and has a surprising ability to maintain speed (admittedly, if that speed is around 100 km/h in Top). A minus point is the curiously numb steering that feels a little sticky around the centre point. For really long trips, the 260-litre boot will struggle, though the rear seats do fold down. Of course, that’s when you catch a plane instead.
The urban car accolades, presented for the first time this year, form part of the World Car Awards, initiated and conducted by automotive journalists from all over the world and administered by a non-profit. It is intended to complement, not compete with existing national and regional car of the year awards.
This year’s winner was chosen from an initial entry list of seven cars, eventually whittled down to three finalists: the BMW i3 (94 Ah), the Citroën C3 and the Suzuki Ignis.
BMW Americas head Ludwig Willisch said the i3’s win highlighted his organisation’s commitment to sustainable
mobility through its first all‐electric vehicle made primarily of carbon fibre. “The design brief for the BMW i3 was to create a mega city vehicle for the cities of the future. Today, the new 2017 BMW i3 (94 Ah) provides more range paired with a high‐level of dynamic performance, making it the perfect urban vehicle for people around the world.”
World Car vice‐chairman, Mike Rutherford, commented, “It’s an award whose time has come. Everyday cars in many – perhaps most – parts of the world will have to become smaller if road and parking space is to be found for them in increasingly packed towns and cities whose populations are swelling annually. This year’s winner in our inaugural World Urban Car category proves that these small vehicles don’t have to be cheap, undesirable and unpleasant to drive. Quite the opposite. It is among the best value‐ for‐money products on the market.” How does the Ignis rate? Well, it’s small (3,7 metres long and 1,69 metres wide), nippy (850 kg weight), agile (180 mm ground clearance, short overhangs) and a sprightly performer. There’s a comprehensive list of convenience and safety items (dual front airbags and ABS with EBD and EBA) at prices that start at around R180 000.
Best of all, though the one we drove has a 5-speed manual shift, it also has an automatic option. I know at least one person who’ll be interested in that.
WINNER: BMW i3
FINALIST: Suzuki Baleno
RUNNER-UP: Citroën C3
FINALIST: Ford Figo/ka+