Smaller is Bigger
BMW, Mini, Mazda, Pontiac, Saturn, Honda. It seems lately that as cars have gotten heavier and bigger, the real cars that people enjoy more than anything are the smaller cars. All of the automakers I listed in the first sentence fall into that realization.
Mini of course has always been small, and with their Coopers they have proven that less is more, and sometimes more rewarding. BMW saw that this worked well and has decided that outside of the 3-Series getting bigger and more luxurious, they could have a smaller car like the new 1-Series to act as its reviver to the 2002 nameplate and be the new small smash that makes big money.
Mazda has always been popular for having its Miata and now more popular with its 3 and Mazdaspeed 3 version. The Miata has been the hottest selling convertible in history, and has even set records. The Mazda 3 and Mazdaspeed 3 have been two of the hottest things this side of the Sahara. They sell well, and the MS3 performs better than any car at its price. A Mazdaspeed 3 can hit 60 in about 5.5s and top out at 155mph while still having 4 doors and a hatch and getting 18/26 city and highway gas mileage. All this for under $27,000. It’s the car I almost got over my Mazdaspeed 6!
Pontiac saw what Mazda had done and took it as an opportunity almost 20 years later and with Saturn made the new Solstice and Sky convertibles. Now Pontiac has shown its all new Solstice Coupe Targa at the 2008 NY Auto Show. One of Hondas best selling cars lately has been the tiny S2000. It has been a quick and fun car to drive and something for the weekend getaway that is decent on gas and not uncomfortable for the average person. Saturn has started seeing that the success of small cars in Europe and decided to use an Opel (a GM auto group in Europe) to be its new little hot hatch here in America, the Astra has been shown as the small car that we can have in this country and still enjoy to drive.
In Europe the rage has always been small, affordable cars that were fun and relatively fast. As an automotive enthusiast I love the thought of having a little Ford Focus ST for my daily driver and have the BMW 550i Sport as the other baby. Although this isn’t necessarily how it works over there, it is how I would love to have it be. In Europe the Ford Focus is a totally different car, and is nothing like the poor, gas saving grocery getter that it is over here. Well actually it is that over there too, but they have models like the ST that have big horsepower numbers in the mid 200’s and some even in the high 200’s. Over there smaller is better, and smaller gets the job done just as well.
An automobile is only as good as its soul. If you have a car that is slow as dirt but has a lot of soul and feels fun to drive, it’s a great car to certain people. Take a Mini Cooper S. I love the cars, but some of my friends think they are for weird British guys or people who want to be British and have nothing better to spend their money on then a slow little roller skate of a car. I disagree. It has a soul that for decades has proven to be one of the most charismatic cars ever made. It also has a cool styling point too. A small hatch with a manual transmission and decent horsepower coming from a great gas conscious car, but with the drive of a rally car. A Mini Cooper S will return better than 30mpg on the highway and put it in the performance category of a 328i BMW. Car and Driver spoke of the car this way “Zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds is sprightly enough, skidpad grip topped the rankings at 0.88 g, and 70-to-0-mph stops took only 167 feet.” Let’s put it this way, a Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG stops from 70 in 161ft. Less is almost as good as cars costing twice the amount and it gets better fuel economy.
People always look at size as a bad thing when it comes to crash test ratings. They are small and fun to drive, get good gas mileage, but are they safe? Yes! Mazda’s 3 has scored with 4 stars or better in its tests and the Mini Cooper has had top marks here in America and Europe with 4 stars in all comparisons and a 5 star rollover rating with the same ratings for the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky as well.
I think this right here has proven that less can either be just as much or more, depending on how you look at it. I personally think Americans should by more small cars like the Mini’s and Mazda’s and have a bigger car just in case they need it. I think that you will find yourself saving money on gas, insurance and having an overall better driving experience. Now if we can just get Ford and GM to offer more of its small cars over here in the states. Also, look at the new BMW 1-Series, the new 135i has proven to be quicker to 60 then the 335i with the same engine, naturally we would think this, but it comes with the same BMW standard features, and all of the same sports and comfort that the bigger Bimmers offer. Can you really go wrong spending less money on cars that are just as capable? If you need the size buy a used SUV or truck for when you need it. Save money and time, buy a smaller car; even used you can get great cars that invoke just as much enthusiast spirit as an M3 if you love it the right way.
Special thanks goes to Car and Driver for their road tests and Safecar.gov for their official crash test information.
Pictures courtesy of: MS3/Mini, BMW 135i.