May 5th, 2010

City slicker

A city car doesn’t need to do much; it needs to be small, have an engine, and be relatively easy to drive. Indeed, until very recently the typical city car merely fulfilled those criteria. They had the very minimum of equipment and the most basic of road manners.

But of late the city car has come along leaps and bounds. With an ever increasing number of people living in towns and cities and never having to, or even wanting to leave, the city car is a popular thing. It’s evolving to be much more than a tool, and more of an accessory or a toy.

I recently had a Chevrolet Spark on test and it wasn’t the very height of sophistication and verve, but as a case on the evolution of the city car, it’s exquisite.  You see, the Spark replaces the Matiz, which was originally designed in the 1990s. The original M100 Daewoo Matiz went more or less unchanged throughout its lifetime, and in M200 form it’s going to be sold alongside the Spark for a little while longer.

So what’s the big deal? Well if you go from the Matiz directly to the Spark, you’ll see.  In the Matiz, everything is dull, narrow, unpleasant, and of poor quality. Nothing is fundamentally wrong, but it’s industrial. It was built to get you to the shops and back, and nothing more. In the Spark, materials are similarly cheap, but more pleasant to look at. Everything is styled in a more edgy and interesting way. Obviously there has been an evolution in safety equipment, much as with all cars. Practicality is great. In fact, the car feels much bigger than it actually is.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, but what does all this mean? Well the city car is only going to become more and more popular as time wears on. That means more refinement, more attention to detail, and more quality. Materials will improve, as will standard equipment. For example, the Renault Twingo Gordini is a small car, at a fairly small price, but it has big ideas. The power-to-weight ratio makes it fun out of town, and the diminutive proportions make it suitable in the streets and alleys.

So if you’re looking for a new car, and you’re thinking £12k might get you a decent second-hand family saloon, stop for a second and consider a specced up city car… you might be pleasantly surprised.