Pinching Pennies UK Style

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

While American automakers struggle to find something small and profitable to sell, the UK has been forcing people into teeny tiny passenger cars for decades. As a result of high gas prices, speed camera fines, insurance, VAT, insane repair and maintenance rates and motoring taxes that would make an American drive his car straight into Boston harbor, British motorists can choose from a huge range of really small, really slow, really frugal cars. AutoExpress, which never met a car it didn’t want to take home to mother, offers a run-down on its top five four-wheeled “penny pinchers.” Despite the fact that some American pistonheads [claim to long] for small, cheap, fun, Euro-style cars, the chances of these glacial yet parsimonious machines making it In The Land of the Free are somewhere between “not on your Nelly” and “only when U.S. gas prices triple.” Still, it’s nice to know they’re out there, somewhere.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Sep 18, 2008
    I think auto trannies are partly to blame…they tend to require more power in order to be usable, and since most Americans want autos, the engines have to grow to maintain that sense of speed and power (even if the car never breaks 4k RPM). My parents had a Toyota Van (1988, aka the box the Previa came in). One hundred horses, four-speed automatic, not terribly light. In the city, fine. On the highway, sucktastic, but that was to do with a car that was 70 inches tall, 180 inches long with an 88 inch wheelbase, not the speed. I think that we got spoiled for power, and you can lay the blame on two cars: the 3.9L GM W-Bodies and the Nissan Altima 3.5SE. Both cars upped the power ante significantly--and more importantly, as their raison d'etre--and consumers bought it lock, stock and barrel. Perfectly good cars like the Mazda6 and Ford Fusion suddenly seemed outclassed, despite having enough power for the class maybe a year or two earlier. And thus began an arms race that has given us a Toyota-friggin'-Camry that can kiss six seconds to sixty. There were Ferraris that would have had trouble with that time not but ten or fifteen years earlier. Why, in the name of god, do you need a Camry that can do that? If your highways are so bad that merging requires near-supercar levels of power, then I think we need to get police out on the onramps busting unsafe drivers.
  • Sean362880 Sean362880 on Sep 18, 2008
    austinseven - When in Rome! The VW diesel is no slouch and I’ll take you on in your Chrysler300 over the one lane roads in the Lake District in a 1 litre, 3 cylinder Astra and leave you wallowing about, way behind. Make mine an SRT-8 and you're on. We all know that power isn't everything, but it's a lot. It's a childish, amusement park, instant gratification kind of reward when you mash the go pedal and the car responds RIGHT NOW. It's great for selling cars, not so good for your gasoline bill. It takes more work, more attention, and more skill to get that kind of enjoyment out of an underpowered (for today) car. Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it isn't. In the case of the 1-liter 3-cylinder Astra vs. 6-liter SRT-8, I'll take the double bacon cheeseburger with extra mayo.
  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Sep 18, 2008
    We all know that power isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. It’s a childish, amusement park, instant gratification kind of reward when you mash the go pedal and the car responds RIGHT NOW. I think the problem isn't the existing og big engines, but the paucity of small ones. We don't have the option to buy more economical, smaller-engined vehicles even if we wanted to, and the reason we don't is because it messes with the artificial cost/price structure that the manufacturers have maintained. Again, it's like the "wagon vacuum:" you cannot sell a Camry wagon for five to ten thousand more than a Camry sedan, but you can sell a Venza or Highlander for that kind of money. Similarly, you cannot get a 1.0L Honda Fit, or a 1.8L Camry because Honda and Toyota would have trouble making margin on them (if they undercut the current base models) or couldn't move the expensive ones (if they just boosted the price of the bigger-engined cars accordingly). And no manufacturer is going to be the first to blink. Well, maybe Kia might...
  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Sep 18, 2008

    At the same time manufacturers seem to spend a little extra time leaving out an extra bumper cover crease or finding the plainest hubcaps to put on their cheapest cars to penalize the consumer who buys one. The only truly beautiful cars are the most expensive ones. No folks, I have seen alot of really nice looking cheap cars - just not in America. Cheap does not have to equal plain and boring. I motivate around with 115HP in a 2800 lb car. I wish it was a 2000 lb car but I'll deal with it. 90 HP and 2000 lbs used to do just fine right up to 125 mph on the autostradas of Italy. My 900cc Autobianchi A112E would run about 80-85 if I dared. Am hoping that one of these days the American male insecurity about the size of your male parts as related to the size of your engine or vehicle will passs. Hopefully smarter people will be born. No wait - to have "sophsisticated tastes" is to be a pansy too isn't it? There is truly no hope... Seriously what really worries me are the women who are buying into this. Do we really need the other sex to buy into this nonsense too?