A few days back I found myself driving a Vauxhall Corsa; a car which I despise to my very core. Finished with an interior that would be more exciting if it were inspired by a PowerPoint presentation on tax, a vaguely interesting name in an attempt to ensure that the car wouldn’t be completely forgettable and of course the all unimportant Vauxhall badge which whenever catches your eye, makes you ask yourself “What was I thinking?” if you were to buy one. Despite these glaring faults, the Corsa remains one of the UK’s best-selling cars. This is purely due to the fact that the Corsa is a car for the anti-petrol head; the people who want as little car as they can get away with, the people who think cars are unnecessary and that owning a larger one is irresponsible, the people who “Just want to get from A to B.”
So far then, you are most likely under the impression that I believe all superminis should be scrapped and remade into multimillion pound hypercars with more engine power than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. However, while this may be necessary for the Vauxhall, I should make it clear that even as a petrol head, I do admire simple small cars, if done properly.
Trouble is though, at the moment car makers have decided not to do superminis properly, I can’t think of a single modern one that I would actually consider buying; the Alfa Romeo Mito is nothing much more than a dated, rebodied, rebadged Fiat Punto, the new Ford Fiesta looks rather Kia like from many angles, worse still the Kia Rio is a Kia.
If you are reading this from North America, you probably think I can’t possibly like any small car on the market, in Europe however, less is more, and not just in the automotive industry; we have smaller but higher quality meals as apposed to the “Mc-king whopper burger” or whatever they are called, we have (on average) smaller counties or countries and not every shop is a “jumbo market” or “mall” where you can find guns and all sorts for “$0.99”.
The appeal of massive overkill muscle cars, the stories I’ve heard of people buying V8 powered monsters as their first cars or as cheap projects and being able to treat fuel as if it were as valuable as dirt all sounds brilliant, but rather obvious.
This is where city cars come in, with most modern examples rarely boasting much more than a 1 litre engine, examples which aren’t sold in the United States of America include; the Toyota Aygo, the Kia Picanto and the Volkswagen Up! (and yes, the “!” is in fact part of the name.) If you own one of these cars, you shouldn’t be surprised if you were to be overtaken by an elderly turtle, even if you are absolutely flooring it.
How and why a petrol head could enjoy such cars is most likely unclear to you, so I will give my best attempt at an explanation without any practical reasoning whatsoever. Before that, I must still stress that again, not every small car is perfect and the same goes for the city cars (even for a couple stated in the paragraph above) , though a handful of good contenders for this particular role still remain.
Firstly, many performance cars nowadays tend to have more computers and electronics than most spy agencies. For example the Nissan GTR has an array of driver aids; a screen can tell you how much “G” you pulled in that corner, an ultra advance launch control system and “underbody aerodynamics”, all of this jet fighter stuff sounds marvellous, but at what point does such a driving experience become closer to playing a video game than actually driving? Cars such as the beautifully simple Volkswagen Up! don’t need such features, as a result the standard Up! weighs in at less than 1000 kilograms, the GTR on the other hand weighs over 1.7 tonnes thanks to all of its space age technology. The Up! is by comparison rather sparse, yet you as a driver will be more at one with the road and car than you would be in the disconnected, less purified Nissan.
Secondly, we come onto usable power. In theory and in testing the McLaren P1 can combine the lightweight electric motor and 3.8 litre turbocharged V8 it houses to produce over 900 horsepower, around 15 times more than an Up! this means that the P1 will do 0-62MPH in 2.8 seconds and go onto an electronically limited top speed of 217MPH. The unfortunate reality is though, the people who buy such cars aren’t actually car enthusiasts, they buy them to show-off, use them as flamboyant peacocks rather than the true eagles that they really are, but if you’ve spent around £866K (about US$1350K) on what could well be the most terrifying car ever made, you probably won’t ever attempt to put the manufacture’s claimed performance to the test.
Meanwhile, the most powerful Up!; the GTI only has 115 horsepower, therefore, you can unleash every single one of those horses in a Tesco car park without crashing into the drinks aisle.
Finally, cars such as the Up! can have character, not the kind of snarly scary kind, but the joyful, loveable kind. If you don’t love them for what they are, you can love them for what they are not; they are not trying to be the fastest thing on four wheels, or as eye-catching as a hypercar or as loud as an atomic bomb, though they do want you to love them, even rev their 3-cylinder engines and chuck them around a bit.
No, they won’t reward you with massive speed or miles of oversteer, they will however, surprise you with what they can do, even if they are not of the hot hatch variety.
Sources: Auto Express, Volkswagen, McLaren, Wikipedia, Nissan.