February 13, 2013
Northern Exposure: Best Winter Highway Cars
Comparison Test: City Cars
Comparison Test: Mini-Crossover SUVs
Comparison Test: Funky Front-Wheel-Drive Turbos
Article by Steven Bochenek
Top 10 Vehicles for the Urban Grind
Last week, Autos.ca contributor Justin Pritchard presented us with a list and short brief notes about the best winter highway cars. Justin knows what he’s talking about – he spends over 2,000 kilometres weekly in different cars, driving from Sudbury, Ontario to the periphery of the GTA and back. That sort of distance in woolly weather demands some specific traits in a car.
I on the other hand, spend what feels like over 2,000 minutes in glacial gridlock within the actual GTA every week, also in a different car from week to week. That sort of white-knuckle competition has its own list of needs too: size, style and power.
Small is good for parking, squeezing between boneheads and escaping construction tie-ups. If you can’t go small, economy of size is still vital.
Style is important too. Not to imply that folks north of the 407 don’t have or love style but, in the city, where space is at a premium, your car becomes like jewellery or furniture in a condo. Just a few carefully chosen pieces say plenty about you.
Finally, power matters. You want to be able to leap on sudden opportunities. Without much, it takes longer to execute, say, a lane change and someone has probably already taken the opportunity from you.
With these criteria in mind, here are ten recommended city rides I’ve enjoyed over the past year, divided into five categories. Within each category I offer an affordable and more expensive alternative.
Top 10 Vehicles for the Urban Grind. Click image to enlarge
Category 1: Cute For Yout’
This is the young urban driver who wants in-your-face style without blowing the bank. Though they’re what drunken packs of suburban jocks pick up and dump in pools after being unleashed from clubs in the wee hours, these two cars are still worthy of consideration… Just consider a safe place to store them, too.
Some call it making a statement; others a question mark. But, like light beer and yoga, people who favour these tiny pods with their carnival ride–container shape favour them a lot. An obvious poke in the eye of the Smart car, iQ does several important things better. Its upshifts are far less noticeable. It seats four, not two — and albeit not all comfortably — unless you want trunk space. Then you must eject the rear passengers and flatten the back seats. (Milking that extra seating space, the iQ’s marketing says it’s bigger than you think. It’s not.) Finally it’s also cheaper than the Smart, although if price is paramount, Toyota, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Kia, GM, Ford and Hyundai all offer cheaper subcompacts that don’t make the statement.
Fiat 500 Abarth
From the outset the reintroduced 500 (it was around for decades then disappeared long enough for most of us to forget its previous generations’ shortcomings) garnered loads of attention. With such bold design, like the iQ, it’s hard not to have a strong opinion about it. Initially gearheads tended to, how you say, hate it. Then last year came the sporty Abarth and that changed many opinions. The turbocharged 1.4L engine launches this wheeled can like a pinball. A tiny turning circle and narrow body ensure no small space is left unexploited. With its wheels in the four corners of the car, it’s as stable as a table in corners. So you can push and push it. Fun. Inside, the bold Italian design, featuring all that wicked black leather, makes each ride a smile-in-progress. Unless you’re tall and in the back: then every bump is a potential ABI [Acquired Brain Injury, for those of us not following the latest in sports medicine news. –Ed.].