By on April 10, 2018

I nearly bought a Suzuki Swift once. If memory serves me correctly, and who knows if it does, it was a 1991 model. Or a 1993. Black, with two doors and the big, honkin’, pavement-pounding 1.3-liter inline-four. A real brute!

Alas, without much money in my pocket (I was, what, 18?) and a pressing desire to not be seen as the guy in the Geo Metro, I made a fateful choice. That Swift stayed exactly as I found it, slowly decomposing in the back corner of a sketchy used car lot, and I turned my attention to another. Sadly, the affordable object of my affection turned out to be a total lemon that soured me on Chrysler Corporation for many years.

But enough about the Plymouth Sundance.

Once in a blue moon, I wonder how different my life might have turned out had I purchased that Swift and become a card-carrying member of the subcompact crowd. Maybe you don’t have to imagine the experience, though. Maybe a very small car wormed its way into your heart and never really left.

I’m pretty damn sure I wouldn’t have almost immediately paid for a valve job, fuel pump, catalytic converter, and God knows what else had I purchased that Swift. While the Sundance offered a roomy cabin, comfortable seats, oddly solid steering and suspension, and 93 rampaging ponies, perhaps I missed a transformative experience by passing over the smaller vehicle. I’d at least have had more spare cash.

A fellow at my high school owned a 1990 Swift Turbo — three-cylinder turbo — and he couldn’t shut up about it. Yes, he was probably just happy to have his own wheels, and his ironic delivery made it pretty clear where he was coming from. But compared to our three-speed GM sedans, that blown featherweight egg really moved off the line (and kept going and going).

I think of this oft-overlooked segment because of the rumors swirling around the Chevrolet Sonic and Spark. The bottom of the automotive food chain. Is it a segment you think of with fondness? If so, why? What little car proved its worth in your life?

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98 Comments on “QOTD: Thank Heaven for Little Cars?...”


  • avatar
    Nick_515

    I love these cars. I had a 2001 Hyundai Accent, the sedan version. Red color (friends would tease me) with grey seats. Passed down to me by a non-car people couple who really did not know any better when they bought their first car. Power-nothing, 13″ wheels with hubcaps. It had a four-speed auto but that didn’t stop me from driving that thing at 80mph all day long. 25mpg at best, but the tank held 9.5 gallons, and gas was 1.95 per gallon (correct – not even 20 bucks to fill the tank in the late 2000s). It was quick enough, it was a breeze to park, and I swear I cannot feel as comfortable as I felt on its seat in any subsequent car I’ve had. Absolute tin can compared to the MKIV Jetta that replaced it, but I have a lot of fondness for that little bugger that served me exceedingly well at that moment in my life.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Given the right environs, I love small cars. Bouncing down a dusty trail and river crossings in Costa Rica in a Diahatsu Terios? Fantastic. Commuting on a busy high speed beltway or taking a long road trip in the US? I’ll take something larger.

    • 0 avatar
      NG5

      Got to say I noticed a major quality of life improvement in busy traffic when driving a bit of a sleeper small subcompact. Merge gaps are much bigger and people are more kind when they have to make way for a smaller car it seems.

      Then again, as you say long trips are much more fatiguing. And I’d rather be in something bigger if someone hit me.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “people are more kind when they have to make way for a smaller car it seems.”

        I’m not so sure about that. I’d rather be high up in a truck or SUV (preferably an older one, with some dirt on it) if it comes down to getting some respect and space cushion on the road.

        • 0 avatar
          NG5

          Yeah, the seating height and visibility of a larger, especially taller vehicle, is a huge advantage if you are trying to read the road ahead.

          I wasn’t thinking of space cushions as much – I feel like nobody respects those at all when traffic is bad enough – but you’re probably right that when on highways at a cruising speed people notice and keep a further follow and lead distance from larger vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            Which just goes to show larger vehicles are compounding traffic congestion.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            I have long since lost the war for ever higher vehicles for reading the road ahead. It really is a no brainer, stay far enough behind said view blocker to not smash into him if he smashes into someone ahead of him.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Unless you are willing to buy a Peterbilt, there really is no advantage anymore when 1/2 the vehicles on the road are monster trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        sutherland555

        As a former owner of a 1999 Civic, small cars are perfect city cars. No one’s driving all that fast, parking in tight spaces is a breeze and you can slip in and out of traffic pretty easily and you still get pretty decent fuel economy to boot.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          My parents’ ’07 Fit and the ’90 Civic Wagon before it both excelled as city runabouts and are perfect for the small-town environs of Ithaca NY. FWD+snow tires get them by just fine 99% of the time. Both also saw their fair share of field use, driving through orchards and now on their hillside hobby farm. The Fit on the grassy hillside in particular is impressive with the amount of traction it gets. The Fit would also never drop below 30mpg on a tank, even in the dead of winter on snow tires doing short (2 mile) drives in hilly Ithaca. Very impressive.

  • avatar
    Dutcowski

    Say I miss the honest simplicity of my B12 Sentra. Little else.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I had a ’97 Saturn SL1, and I feel the same about it. It really only needed a new radiator fan when I owned it. Dead simple to fix. Yeah, it burned a little oil. Yeah, you had to clean the EGR valve often to keep the check engine light from coming on. But I loved that little car, and drove it for 100k miles and 7 years. Only sold it with 214k on the clock because I needed a car with an automatic for my job.

      Fast forward 5 years, with some nicer cars under my belt, I went to look at a 2002 SL2 for my wife. Either it was a total crap can where my ’97 wasn’t, or it was always like that and I didn’t notice. I think it was the later.

      I still miss that car, probably because it was the last manual I owned. Maybe my next car will have one, but I’m not holding out for it.

  • avatar
    NG5

    I first got the small car bug from my dad’s BMW 1602. When I had a first real choice in buying cars I bought a Fiesta ST, which I still love after a few years.

    Reasons why I love it?
    -I street (parallel) park every day in my neighborhood, and have gone from a routine one block walk to always finding spots outside my door.
    -City dings and scrapes depress me but noy as much as if I thought the car were genuinely great looking.
    -Hatchback practicality.
    -The drive is manic and fun, great steering.

    Dislikes:
    Interior comfort.
    Medium suitable for cruising.
    Suspension is harsh.

    It is hard to imagine buying a bigger car where I live and not regretting it every day I park, but I do imagine getting a car this size with better materials,suspension, or RWD.

  • avatar
    kkop

    I love compact cars with small engines. The problem is that mostly they are built to accommodate compact people as well – and I’m 6’4″.

    I learned to drive in a Mini and was fairly comfortable in it, so it is possible to package small cars to accommodate taller people. The mini’s upright steering wheel and placement of wheels at extreme corners of the body made for a surprisingly roomy car. The Suzuki Swift I drove later wasn’t too bad either (in the front seat at least). Lately it’s been much harder to find roomy compact cars where I am not staring at the upper edge of the windscreen.

    So I drive larger vehicles now, but still remember the mini fondly and wish for a contemporary equivalent with the same fun factor.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    For the price I paid and the purpose I bought it for, my 3 cylinder Fiesta has been a great commuter vehicle. In 75% highway driving, 40 mpg is effortless even when not driving for maximum economy. It’s reasonably fun to drive with the 5 speed, and has enough power to cruise easily at 80 mph. The seats are comfortable enough to spend 100 miles a day in them, and maintenance is cheap (3 spark plugs, 15” tires, no DCT repairs to worry about, etc). Shame Ford decided the Ecosport was a better use of this engine, since it’s so happy in the small, light car.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    I bought my 1979 Plymouth Champ (twin of the FWD Dodge Colt) used in 1980. It was equipped with the 1.4 base engine (~70 HP) and the Twin Stick manual. It had very smooth styling for a basic 3 Dr hatch, got >30 MPG, decent ride and very good reliability. It was one of many Mitsubishi cars which kept Chrysler in business in that time frame.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      I had a Champ too – an ’82, also with the 1.4 (64 hp), but no twin-stick on mine. What made it so much fun to drive was the eager little engine and low curb weight (1850 lbs)…but that low weight also made it vulnerable to Ohio potholes. Suspension components bent like pretzels. I couldn’t keep it aligned (F U in advance to those who say “just dodge the potholes” – you might as well say “just don’t get cancer”). I ended up selling it and buying a Fiero – still a small car, but at 2500 lbs, it was sturdy enough to survive Ohio winters.

      Sonic/Golf size is as small as I’d want to go in a daily driver now. I do have an NA Miata, but it spends most of pothole season in the garage.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      Was it lime green?

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/junkyard-find-1979-plymouth-champ-twin-stick/

      I have had an ’83 Plymouth Sapporo Technica (Mitsu Galant coupe) and a ’94 Dodge Colt (Mitsu Mirage) and I loved both tremendously. The Sapporo was the coolest car I owned as a teen. The Colt got me through college (I want back when I was 30) and only got sold because my girlfriend in college became my pregnant wife and I needed 2 more doors. I own an ’06 Lancer today. Mitsubishi just made good cars that nobody wanted.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    Suzuki Samurai. ’nuff sed.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    The Fiat 500 fills that bill for me, but I do remember the Swift… Back then they seemed to small and flimsy to me. The modern sub-compact just seems to feel more robust compared to those.

  • avatar

    I love little cars and I’m 6’5’! I’m probably a little too obsessed with them and always owned a subcompact. In my 20 years of being licensed, I have owned a:
    Geo Metro
    Ford Aspire
    Subaru Justy
    Daihatsu Charade
    Ford Focus ZX5
    Chevy Aveo
    Honda Fit
    and currently a Chevy Sonic.

    My equally tall husband currently owns a second Aveo.

    As a teen, I did aspire to own a Ford Aspire and would continually visit the local Ford dealer to check them out. I ended up with the Metro as a first car, but was pleased with it. In the present day, I look forward to renting a Mitsubishi Mirage or Spark at the rental counter.

    Why the appeal to small cars? I’m not sure exactly, but I tend to like the utter simplicity and honest to goodness nature of them. I can easily afford a bigger car, but tend to not live my life in excess with material objects. I’d rather spend my money on trips than a car. These cars can easily do 95% of what I need them to do. They’re easy to park. Quite often I find the styling to be cute. And they’re not loaded with useless features I don’t need. Finding a manual transmission is easier than most segments. The smaller engines require more anticipation for road conditions and engagement. Aside from the Aspire and Fit, all have been reliable.

    Any carmaker in this segment also deserves respect; designing an economy car is a huge challenge. It has to built to a budget but with the latest safety and technology, be comfy for four passengers, small enough to fit in urban spaces, and be durable.

    Why Americans don’t like subcompacts and always sway towards larger vehicles has always been a mystery to me.

    Here in image conscious LA, a Mirage, or Spark will always get my attention before any exotic or luxury car.

    Before you dismiss me as some geek who has never driven a real car, I do own a pristine first gen Ford Explorer, my dream car is a Chevy SS, and my work has me driving a Tesla Model X hundreds of miles a week. I have driven many faster and larger cars, but the humble subcompact always draws me back.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      I had SOO much fun driving a friends Justy in Idaho snow!

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I have visions of mr. Incredible getting out of his sad little subcompact….

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      “Why Americans don’t like subcompacts and always sway towards larger vehicles has always been a mystery to me.”

      North Americans have a very deep-rooted and short-sighted belief that more is better. This also explains the obesity epidemic, among other things.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Everyone in the country is wrong but you, what a surprise!

        • 0 avatar

          Not saying that at all. I’m the oddball out.

          But in other countries, most people use subcompacts as family cars and for road trips, and get by okay.

          It’s just there is an issue with short term memory of car buyers in this country. Fuel is cheap; let’s go buy a truck or biggest car possible that I’ll owe money on for 84 months. Sales of small cars slump and manufacturers discontinue their compacts.

          Fuel prices surge, and that truck or large car is impossible to sell. Sales surge on small cars and manufacturers scramble to bring a small car to market.

          Fuel prices drop, and repeat cycle

          • 0 avatar
            Willyam

            It is a truly weird cycle, but it allows the destitute (as I and my roommate were in the early 90’s “college will open doors for you” lie we lived in) to drive.

            He bought an ’81 Corolla in that mud brown that only Toyota could do. It got roughly 30mpg no matter what and also rode like a seventies American land barge. Because of the early SUV craze, he bought it for no money and it lived with minimal maintenance for years.

            With the repeat of cheap gas, our kids and their kids will be able to buy Sparks and Fiestas for bicycle money. Until, of course, the next great Mid-East crisis.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            Festiboy, I wasn’t talking to you, man. My reply was to brandloyalty.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        We have the space, we have the money, and we have the regulatory freedoms (ie no displacement or size tax) to do so. We have bigger lots on which to build homes, oftentimes bigger garages/driveways, and more opportunities for DIY-type projects.

        I can never understand the people that wish for MORE restrictions on any of that. To those folks I’d say: go live in Europe or Asia if driving small cars and living in small apartments/flats represents a utopia to you.

        • 0 avatar

          This.

          People in other nations would buy more car if they could afford to do so, and were permitted by law.

          As soon as people *get* some money in said nations (where permitted), what do they do? Buy a big car.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          let me clarify: we’re blessed in the US with the OPTION to drive a small car and live in a dense urban environment if you choose, or live in a larger house and drive a large car if that’s your thing. My nit to pick is with those that wish to somehow restrain the choices of others for high-brow moralistic reasons.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            ^this.

            I’d also add that chastising others for their choice should be limited to those who didn’t also buy “more than they need”. If I want, and can afford, to drive an F-150, that’s my right. Unless you drive a stripper Chevy Spark or Mitsubishi Mirage, you have no right to judge others for buying what they want, no matter if they “need” its capabilities or not.

    • 0 avatar
      Yankee

      I thought I was the only one, lol. I’m an oddball as far as mechanics go, because I’m just not into the whole big truck or fast car thing. Used to race a Fiat X1/9 in SCCA Solo events, but that’s about it. Always loved driving and working on small cars. Just something so honest and efficient about them. I’ve owned a lot of cars and a couple small trucks at last count and I’ve never had anything else than a four-cylinder to haul my butt around. Just feels wasteful to drive a big vehicle to me.

      1980 VW Scirocco (first car)
      1981 Fiat X1/9
      1971 VW SuperBeetle (desperation move in grad school)
      1980-something Suzuki Samurai hardtop
      1981 Honda Civic
      1990 Honda Civic
      1985 Nissan Pickup (2WD, 4 speed)
      1995 Mazda Miata
      1985 Toyota Pickup (2WD, 4 speed)
      2002 VW GTI
      2003 Audi A4 (aspiration move I instantly regretted and sold)
      2004 Scion xA (using dealership demo allowance)
      2003 Toyota Tacoma (2WD, added awesome limited slip diff!)
      2004 VW GTI (using dealership demo allowance)
      2006 Mazda 5 (with my ex when the kids were little, awesome vehicle)
      1998 Subaru Outback Sport (post-divorce ride then handed down to my son)
      2006 Scion xB (current ride for the past 8 years which I use like the pickup truck it’s not. Only repairs so far in 154K miles – purchased with 30K – were muffler and one oxygen sensor outside of normal wear and maintenance items.)

      All of the above have been manual transmission except the Mazda 5 and my current Scion (manual linkage in the Scions is terrible and feels like it’s connected to the car next to you, 4-speed auto is bulletproof).

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        Man, what a great list! I’ve had several of those, and like the Scion I’ve wanted to own most of them. The most honest, everyday-lovable of my cars were three Nissan hardbodies. They rode well, carried a lot, were efficient and comfortable.

        What do I drive now? My father’s hand-me-down WJ Jeep. Why? Because the small car list ended when my fellow commuters could buy SUV’s and TUV’s (Truck-Utility-Vehicles – four-door trucks with vestigial bed) which had more than 300 horsepower. At that point, aerodynamics and physics be darned, they could mash up against me in traffic the entire drive. You could feel the giant chrome grilles manned by iPhone-surfing pilots right up against your spine. On side roads they would still run you down. The only option was something like a pony car where you could put distance on them, but in traffic without clear road there was nowhere to go anyway.

        So, I knuckled under and drive an SUV that holds enough space that I can see. Yes, we have the “choice” to drive bigger cars, but do we really?

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Absolutely, especially when you push them to their limits in everything from autocross to moving between home and college. I had an ’02 Civic Si (the hatch) that fit everything I had in one trip and it was extremely satisfying to know that something so small had such smart packaging and could hold so much stuff. Current ride is an Abarth Cabrio, which has the nimble and tossable character I love about good cars. More size and mass makes for a different driving experience that has its own merits, which I appreciate, but I favor “slow/small car fast.”

  • avatar
    05lgt

    1983 Civic S. Wasn’t mine though, belonged to my GF’s aunt. To quote the agitated cop; “You flew around that corner, and when I got there you were just … gone.” So I replied “I don’t think I was speeding, you have no idea how fast I was going … why are we talking?” Luckily I was the white one, so I went on about my way.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Same here, ’83 Civic S1500 Hatchback – great little car. Happy to rev, great mileage, plenty of space with fold down rear seats plus big square hatch opening. Double wishbone suspension so it carved thru turns.

      One of the reasons I like my current 350Z is its size. These days its hard to find a “small” sporty car. You have the the 500, Cooper, Focus, GT86 or Miata.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    In 1960 The Old Man purchased one of the first Austin Mini Minors from Rootes Motors on Eglinton Avenue East, on The Golden Mile in Scarborough. Zero options. Not a good choice as he was a really big guy. Lasted just over one year. The shifter came off in his hands.

    Traded it for a VW Beetle. Nearly 20 years later, I taught my future wife how to drive on an identical (year, colour) Beetle. Throughout the years drove the heck out of multiple rear engined, air cooled VW’s for years. Dead simple to work on and generally more reliable than D3 or European vehicles.

    Honda Civics aren’t sub-compacts now but would fit the bill in the 70’s and early 80’s. Our 82, 5-speed, 3 door was dollar for dollar as good a vehicle as I have ever owned or driven.

    Negotiated a deal for one of my brothers. Traded in a rusted and clapped out Trans Am for a brand spanking new 3 cylinder, Chevy Sprint (Suzuki). That car took a beating as my brother had zero concept of or interest in maintenance. Every now and then I would get him to ‘top up’ the oil. Yet it ran and ran and ran. And the small size and 3 cylinder engine was a strong deterrent from him continuing to drive ‘like an idiot’.

    • 0 avatar
      2000ChevyImpalaLS

      Off topic, but Arthur, I just wanted to tell you I always enjoy your posts. You’re always honest and speak from experience, and it’s much appreciated.

      My hat’s off to you, sir.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    I have a huge amount of love for the Mazda2. Tiny little 98 hp and looked like a jellybean with a smile but good god it was fun to drive with a 5 speed. The thing was like a go kart for grownups.

    If I was I was in the market for a super cheep used car (and never needed the back seats to move people) this would be a great buy.

    Mazda at its best.

  • avatar
    brettucks

    I had an Omni GLH for several years that was a blast to drive – wish I had kept that car now.

    as far as the swift goes I was working at a Pontiac/GMC/Suzuki lot selling cars for a very brief time (I sucked at it) and they had a swift GTI (I think) that was the funnest thing on the lot to take for a test drive- not top speed but the handling in turns was impressive and the RPMs of the engine howling were something so different then most cars at the time.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    1964 Opel Kadett wagon. Paid $35 and drove it 15,000 miles till the driver seat crashed through the rusted floorboard. 39 HP and 0-60 in 20 seconds. Watta deal!

    1975 Mercury Capri. Bought new, totally forgettable.

    1979 Ford Fiesta. Underrated and fun little hatch.

    2003 Suzuki Aerio SX (wagon). Great commuter but panned by critics for styling and electronic dash. But then when the nearly-identical Honda Fit came out shortly thereafter, it was deemed a game-changer. That’s when I dropped my magazine subscriptions, realizing what shills they are.

    2012 Mazda5. Maybe a bit out of this subcompact category, but an offering that deserved more love as a practical, diminutive version of a larger mainstream segment.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “2003 Suzuki Aerio SX (wagon). Great commuter but panned by critics for styling and electronic dash. But then when the nearly-identical Honda Fit came out shortly thereafter, it was deemed a game-changer. That’s when I dropped my magazine subscriptions, realizing what shills they are.”

      Granted the Aerio had a thirsty engine, that’s what really stunk about it. But otherwise you’re right, it was an excellent tall-wagon shaped car with impressive interior space for the foot print. I honestly miss Suzuki’s non-Daewoo vehicles on our market.

      • 0 avatar
        hriehl1

        Granted the Aerio was thirstier than some competitors, but just having a timing chain instead of a belt saved more money than the real-world difference between 32 and 35 MPG.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          FWD 5spd Aerio was rated for 25/31 versus 33/38 for a 5spd Fit, the Suzuki motor had substantially more displacement and power, and you paid for it. FWIW the Fit had a chain as well, as did the contemporary Matrix.

          I always thought of the Aerio as closer to a Subaru due to the greater thirst and option of AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Still have a soft spot for the first-gen Fiesta. A very, very dear relative of mine bought a spanking-brand new one back in 1979. Loved that car.

      I find myself more and more looking for a decent small car without all of the loaded-up doo-dads so many cars have now. I dang-near pulled the trigger recently on a 1989 Toyota Corolla SR5 that only had 48k on it. Crank windows, manual trans, steel wheels. Done. I like being able to easily maneuver smaller cars and just seem to enjoy the driving dynamics more. Give me a peppy car with open sight lines (thinking 1988-1992 Civic, for instance), uncluttered interiors and a proper stick-shift, and I think I’d be a pretty happy person. Not sure what I’ll get when I return to the States later this year…the fun, compact and manual landscape is dwindling. Kind of interested in perhaps a used Sonic RS, as American-made fun, manual compacts are even harder to find!

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I drove and loved a 1984 Honda CRX 1.5 5-speed for ten years, followed by a 1990 Civic LX 5-speed sedan that I drove for 15 years. Both cars were lots of fun, reliable, beautifully-built, and economical. I never felt uncomfortable, threatened, or intimidated because of the small size. May small cars live forever.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I used to loathe subcompacts, having always preferred bigger cars like the Caprice or Buick Roadmaster. For years I said “Too small!” especially since I’m 6’2″

    Well that changed the day my wife bought a 2003 Mini Cooper S as a “fun” car. It was a blast to drive, not necessarily in raw power, but that immediate, wired into the steering feeling.

    So I went out and bought a slightly larger 2009 Clubman for myself. And it uhhh… okay. Apparently screwed together on a Friday by a few gents who were drinking. And the body rolls a lot more… and the turbo engine, though having some low-end torque, doesn’t like to scream to redline like the original supercharged 2004. It’s on the chopping block, moved down to “beater” status for driving back ‘n’ forth to work.

    But my experience with both of these cars has changed my outlook – I gotta have that tight and direct handling which seems to be lacking in many larger cars. I have yet to test a Focus ST but I hope it meets my expectations.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Yep, this is me. My first “little” car was an ’88 Sentra, and the tidy dimensions and light curb weight hooked me.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Chevrolet Celebrity (1982) is the smallest vehicle I’ve ever driven on a regular basis. That was small enough for me. It was advertised as the “Small car with the big car ride.”

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Ha, the biggest car I’ve driven regularly was the Citation. The Skyline is heavier, but the inline six means the interior is smaller.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I think for Americans the bias against small cars is almost psychologically ingrained. Early Ranch style homes, McMansions, driving 1/2 ton trucks as family cars… all part of the “LAND IS CHEAP” (compared to other parts of the world), GAS IS CHEAP, BIGGER IS BETTER, and MORE IS MORE!

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Another part of it is false-economy bargain-hunting. I don’t think the rest of the world gets excited at the prospect of saving 5 cents a pound on a cubic yard of toilet paper, or financing an extra $10,000 on a vehicle big enough to carry it home.

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            “Another part of it is false-economy bargain-hunting. I don’t think the rest of the world gets excited at the prospect of saving 5 cents a pound on a cubic yard of toilet paper, or financing an extra $10,000 on a vehicle big enough to carry it home.”

            So you are saying that buying many little packages and making multiple trips to the store is somehow more efficient in terms of natural resources? Not to mention time, which may be the scarcest resource for many Americans.

            Beyond the one-sided analysis, the premise that bulk buying is a major driver of vehicle decisions seems questionable to me.

            Many Americans may in fact be simultaneously bad at math, yet susceptible to marketing based on the perception of thrift. But I sort of doubt that this combination is as widespread as you seem to think.

            Speaking of false economies, how about the people that buy A- and B- segment cars to save on gas, then pay more in increased insurance rates than they save on the fuel? Not to mention that they face significantly increased risks of injury and death each time they drive. If their decision was purely rational, shouldn’t they buy a C-segment car for a few percent more of MSRP?

    • 0 avatar
      2000ChevyImpalaLS

      I don’t think my smallest car was a subcompact, either, but my 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais coupe (N-body) will always have a place in my heart. I did what I could on meager means to keep it going, and it usually rewarded me with reliable service and a surprisingly comfortable ride. What was also surprising were the number of people who wanted to race me in it. No, I never took them up. Tickets are expensive.

      I lost it in an accident… swerved to avoid a possible crash, then to avoid a telephone pole, and wound up centering a small tree. I’d been in other crashes and have lost one other car since, but I’m not ashamed to say I sat and cried while waiting for the rollback.

      I toy with the idea of getting another one, but that’s all it’d be: a toy.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    My first car was a 1979 Dodge Magnum and my second was a small car. A 1989 Shadow ES with the 2.2l turbo. Fun car and decently sorted for a cheap runabout and would range from 32mpg to 16mpg depending on the road.

    I now have a littler car. It isn’t as tossable but loads more fun.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    How you going to beat 1991 CRX? You drive that once and you in love forever. Or Mazda MX3?

    • 0 avatar
      duncanator

      You’re not! A 91 CRX Si is one that I really wanted. Just last weekend I also saw for sale an 01 Prelude that was in perfect condition for 7k. I was so close to just writing a check.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    That picture should be a caption contest.

    • 0 avatar
      The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

      “The people who live here have a chic two-story white home and a cool little Suzuki. There’s no way they’re gonna fall for our Jehovah’s Witnesses baloney. We’d better just move on to the next house.”

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’ve had a couple CRXs, Festiva, earlier Escort and so on. I like small cars, but since my physical issues have gotten worse, I’m happier in my midsize sedan.

    I would totally own a CRX or similar again, just not as my only car. I like the Fiat 500, I’ve always wanted to put the 1.8L Mazda I-4 from a early 1990s Escort GT in a Ford Aspire SE to make a sleeper out of it. Its been done before, and there are other mechanical upgrades for that Mazda platform.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    We had a Suzuki Swift as our first car when my wife and I got married. That’s what we drove to our honeymoon location. It struggled to climb the hills in Charlevoix, Québec and we got passed all the time. We were in love (still are!) and didn’t care! It was a blast in the tight streets of Charlevoix though, and returned awesome L/100. A good honest car.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    In 1990, at 20 years old, I was flush with cash and desired to actually buy a new car. I test drove a Honda Civic, Dodge Colt, Subaru Justy, Hyundai Excel and a Suzuki Swift. I actually preferred the Colt, but I totally would have loved the Swift. I wound up saving my pennies and kept my ’83 Civic HF running instead. But like the girl I liked from work that I THINK was totally into me, but that I didn’t move on because I already had a girlfriend… I’ll never know the joy/pain I could have had.

  • avatar

    The smallest things I’ve owned were a ’97 Impreza Wagon (USA), and a ’97 Daewoo Lanos sedan (in Korea).

    Neither of those were large enough for my liking, though the Subaru was good at hauling things.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Small cars are my jam. I’ve owned a GTI, several early-ish Civics (5th, 6th, 7th gen), a Corolla. I think that’s it.

    I also own a 2-door Wrangler, which people forget is basically a subcompact. Wheelbase: 93.4 inches, Length: 155.4 inches. It’s about the same size as the 5-door version of the 2nd gen Swift (Cultus).

    Small cars are great. All you need is a manual to wake up the engine, and fun times ensue. Easy to park and maneuver as well.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      How could anyone forget the 2-door Wrangler? Totally agreed, as a subcompact is is an ideal urban navigation vehicle. And I prefer it with a manual trans.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Friend of mine loaned me his Wrangler for a jaunt to the coast with my wife once. Didn’t have the tossability of a small hatch, but I agree, serious small-car fun, for a summer’s day with the top down.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’m a sucker for a small hatch. Rented a Fiesta to tool around Wales in 1985, loved that little car, perfect country-lane barnstormer. Hatches I’ve owned:
    1983 Accord (back when they were small)
    1993 Escort
    2009 MINI

    But as an only car, I need a little more. When I feel the need for fun it will probably be on two wheels.

  • avatar
    SSJeep

    Small cars can be a ton of fun and a heck of a lot easier to drive in traffic. I have had many small cars myself and driven even more, I really miss the 1st and 2nd generation Toyota MR2 with manual trans (turbocharged 2nd gen). I also miss any VTEC Honda Civic, the original VTEC provided a nice slap in the butt once the needle hit 4000rpm.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “the original VTEC provided a nice slap in the butt once the needle hit 4000rpm.”

      Unless you’re talking about VTEC-E on a SOHC motor that kept one of the intake valves closed until 3500rpms, most VTEC systems were only active 5200rpm+ IIRC, but it’s been a while since I was heavily into Hondas.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Test drove a turbo Chevy Sprint in the mid ’80s. turbo, intercooled 1 liter 3-cyl.
    On I-70, it went up the seven mile grade to the Tunnel at 11,000+ feet in top gear. That was thoroughly impressive back then.
    Had I been able at the time, I would have definitely bought it.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    As a teen, a wealthier friend of mine (his dad was an oncologist) had a new Sprint turbo 1.3 MT, monochromatic white with white wheels which was the trend for the early 90s. That thing was quite a bit faster than my Mk1 GTI and made all the cool turbo noises to boot.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    In 1987 I acquired (through a sibling) a 1983 Honda Civic 1300 – the base model, 4-speed with 12-inch wheels. Until then I’d driven strictly V8 Pontiacs including my other car at the time, a ’66 Bonneville convertible. Imagine the contrast. I sold the Pontiac in 1991 and kept the Civic until marriage & baby mandated that an 1800-pound car wasn’t going to suffice.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Don’t thank Heaven, thank Europe — they introduced you to the concept of a small car. First MG and Triumph, then VW.

    As a European, of course all the cars I had probably qualify as “small” by your standards — VW Polo 1 & 2, VW Golf 2, Audi 80 (your Audi Fox), Skoda S 100, Trabant 601, Renault Clio, (currently) Citroen BX, and lots and lots of VW Bugs (I have never not owned at least one of those). The most fun of the lot was, oddly, one of the least beloved — the Polo 1, back when I was still a dyed-in-the-wool Bug fanatic and that just didn’t go well with owning a “water boiler”.

    With the prestigious “L” package, consisting of leatherette door cards, an electric windshield washer (!), a heated rear window, and even chromed bumpers, it actually wasn’t too shabby for its day (1977), and the 0.9 litre inline four with ferocious 40 bhp didn’t have much trouble with the 700-odd kilograms either. By the time I’d fitted 165/65 R 13 tyres on Golf 1 GTI rims, it even cornered really well (and still reached 130 kph top speed, which is the recommended speed on Autobahns and therefore the acceptable minimum for a daily driver). Of course it was loud and uncomfortable, even compared with the Bug, but it was quick, throwable, forgiving, reliable (even the one time it caught fire, which I extinguished with beer, after which it still brought me home), cheap, and fun.

    It also rusted only slightly more slowly than it drove. But its end came when it threw a rod, downhill on the Autobahn at 150 kph and who-knows-how-many rpm (no rev counter of course, this isn’t a BMW you know).

    Do I want back into one? No way. Hydro-pneumatic Citroens have a ways of spoiling their drives into not wanting a steel-sprung daily driver, ever — I recently drove a friend’s Golf 2, and it seemed intolerably cramped and uncomfortable by comparison. Also, my days of driving hard (which I’d invariably do in those small front-engined VWs, they seemed to demand it) are probably over — these days, I prefer to waft.

    Do I want another small car? Well, aside from the Bug, I could be tempted by small Citroens — really any of them up to the early ’90s: 2CV, Dyane, Ami, GS, LNA, Visa, AX — they all have their charms. But it doesn’t seem too probable that I ever will buy one.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    I currently have a ‘17 Versa 5-speed as our extra family car with our Quedt and Escape doing the kid hauling and work duties but every time I drive the Versa it reminds me of my ‘87 Colt, my ‘69 Beetle and my Nissan Hardbody trucks. It’s an S-model so it’s not fancy, but it’s competent and rides well and sips gas-we love it!

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    For me, the Ford Festiva. My first wife drove one, an ’88 L (the base model), carbureted, with the 4-speed manual, air conditioning, and AM/FM/cassette. With a Kia 1.3l, not extremely fast, but decently handling, and it could break the front tires loose. A great rat racer.

    Its successor at Ford, the Aspire, was lame and uninspiring, compared to the Festiva.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      It was on the same platform and had the same Mazda-designed engine/trans, just with a more modern body, a 5 door option, and more safety equipment (dual airbags, optional ABS).

      In any measurable sense, the Aspire is better than the Festiva.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I just have no use for a car larger than a Golf or a 3-series. Even my Saab 9-5 feels like a bit of a boat. One inch between me and the sides of the car or three inches – what difference does it make? The largest cars I have ever owned are the two 9-5 wagons and Volvo 7/9 wagons, and they are huge enough. Much prefer my 3-series wagon or GTI. Both are silky smooth and quiet on the highway, plenty spacious in the front (especially the Golf), and the back seat is adequate. I’d prefer a long-roof GTI, be we live in America, we can’t have nice things here.

    Whenever I drive a big car I just feel like I am rattling around in there, and most big cars today are so poorly packaged that the amount of room inside is not proportional the outside footprint anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      I absolutely loathe the conti SSR run-flats that came in my 3-series, and they roar on the highway, but I’m too cheap to change them prematurely, and they have tons of life left. (I was also shocked to see their R speed rating). What do you run on your 3-series? I am convinced my car should be a fair bit quieter on different tires.

  • avatar
    flyf2d

    My first car was a 1968 Mini Deluxe but modified ! Twin 1 1/4th SU carbs , long center branch manifold (which had a crack right next to the cabin air intake, wondered why I kept getting really bad headaches and sleeping heavily after driving home) and a single coby exhaust. Had amazing fun in the car, more so after the exhaust was fixed.
    My first new car was a 2003 Daihatsu Sirion (essentially the same as the Yaris/ Vitz) I sold it at 200 000Km.
    The thing with the small cars is even when driven hard they are easy on brakes and tyres so running costs are low. You have relatively more room on the road when cornering hard, doubt I’d drive one in the US though, too many land arks to run over you

  • avatar

    i had a suzuki cultus (neé swift) in the land of the rising yen. a ghastly worn-out-red 1983/4 model. this was in 1994. i was “given” this thing as my company car. a perk, or so i was told. nearly got killed when it popped out of gear on a right turn whilst a huge lorry was bearing down on me. charming thing. don’t miss it at all.

  • avatar
    Cobrajet25

    I have had many a Geo Metro. To wit, a 1992 XFi, a 1997 3-cylinder manual hatch, a 1998 four-cylinder auto sedan, and a 1991 XFi. I also had a couple of Ford Festivas. All did exactly what they were designed to do and nothing more: they were cheap, reliable, and economical.

    Which is why, in the winter of 2014, I bought a brand new red Mitsubishi Mirage. Fancy ES model, with a manual transmission. Listening to professional reviewers you’d think I had intentionally gone out and purchased a scorching case of leprosy.

    It has nearly 92,000 miles now, and has needed nothing but maintenance. Gives me about 45 mpg, with nearly all of the modern convenience features I need.

    It has by far been the best of the bunch.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    The one I miss most was the 1993 Nissan Sentra SE-R. Loved that little car. Currently drive a Sonic Turbo. None of the soul of the Sentra, but a better car in every other way.

  • avatar
    Opus

    Won’t count my ’68 VW beetle, or my ’72 240Z (subcompact interior room, but not really in the segment). Helped my gf/wife get into a ’79? Plymouth Champ LS (with the Twin-stick) which was later traded on a new ’84 Civic S. Both of those were much funs. Later on, the Civic went toward a ’91 Protege. All manuals, all goood.

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