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