Lights

Stars of the big smoke, small cars max out on fea­tures, take lit­tle space, use hardly any fuel and cost about $20K

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - COVER STORY - SA­MAN­THA STEVENS

con­trol, leather trim, multi-func­tion steer­ing wheel, six-speaker au­dio with voice ac­ti­va­tion, Blue­tooth and ipod con­nec­tion, key­less en­try — on many larger cars, these are op­tions. Our test car steps up to $27,990 with a con­vert­ible body and semi-au­to­matic gear­box.

The 500 also gets top-notch safety, with seven airbags, ABS, hill holder and trac­tion and sta­bil­ity con­trol. But tech does not mean thirst, as it weighs less than a tonne at the kerb and uses start-stop tech­nol­ogy. The cylin­ders are con­trolled hy­drauli­cally on the in­take valves rather than by a con­ven­tional camshaft — fuel can be ig­nited on de­mand at three times in the cy­cle rather than re­stricted to the sin­gle spark, mean­ing a more con­trolled and ef­fi­cient burn — so the Twin-air claims to sip an av­er­age of 4.0L/100km.

It needs pre­mium fuel (95RON) but so do most cars that run a forced-in­duc­tion sys­tem. Once an un­holy petrol burner, the turbo is now the fru­gal saviour.

This type of car won’t be for ev­ery­body. Large men — ac­tu­ally, many men — will not be com­fort­able with the Fiat 500’s cutesy looks, its lack of reach in the steer­ing for longer legs and high seat­ing po­si­tion, and four doors over two.

But to serve such de­mand, sev­eral play­ers in this seg­ment man­age to look rather manly and ag­gres­sive.

What’s not to like? The Fi­esta is funky and af­ford­able, thanks to ag­gres­sive Euro styling and be­ing built in Ford’s Thai plant. The Zetec edges to­wards $23,000 but you get five doors, six-speed dual-clutch auto and dy­namic drive. A de­cep­tively large car with a qual­ity feel.

1.6-litre 4-cyl, 89kw/151nm 6-speed dual clutch auto 6.1L/100km, ULP 3565mm

1138kg

$22,990 For a light car, the Polo is heavy on the stan­dard goods, with a punchy driv­e­train and bril­liant value. The weeny 1.2-litre four-cylin­der, once it is tur­bocharged, de­vel­ops a very de­cent out­put. Be­ware VW ser­vice costs. Save $2500 by go­ing man­ual. $21,490 1.2-litre 4-cyl turbo, 77kw/175nm

7-speed dual-clutch auto

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