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  • September 18, 2014

Small Cars: Getting Around - Ladue News: Diversions

Small Cars: Getting Around

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Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012 2:50 pm | Updated: 3:17 pm, Thu Mar 22, 2012.

For once, my timing is good. As gas approaches $4 a gallon, my topic this month is small cars, whose primary benefits is good gas mileage. For those who don’t need anything bigger, a small car offers a small price, high gas mileage, easy parking and with the latest models, high quality, as well.

One exciting new entry in the small car segment is the Ford Fiesta, which revives a name last associated with a really small car, but in a slightly larger and much more functional vehicle that’s available as a four-door or five-door hatchback. In either guise, styling is attractive and modern, if conservative.

In the four-door, interior room is surprisingly spacious, and the trunk remarkably large. They really crammed a lot of space into a small package. There is a decent amount of room for backseat passengers (two adults or three small children), though leg room is largely dependent on the generosity of those in the front seat. The rear seat folds 60/40 to expand cargo-carrying capacity. Ventilation controls are three-rotary-knob simple, and heated front seats are available. Radio controls are hard buttons below a screen at the top of the dash and are fairly easy to learn. Seats are pretty basic and covered in a fairly utilitarian cloth, but electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, a/c, an outside thermometer, a manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel, nice interior materials and a standard convex blind spot mirror in the sideview mirrors are all nice touches that prevent the Fiesta from feeling like a ‘cheap’ car, even though it’s inexpensive.

Pickup from the 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine is adequate with the 6-speed automatic that directs power to the front wheels, but the 5-speed manual transmission probably would really help wring all available power out of the engine. Gas mileage is 29 city, 39 highway with the automatic, and a helpful ‘miles to empty’ display can help prevent you from running out of gas. Anti-lock brakes are standard for the front disc, rear drum brakes, and electronic stability control and front, side, knee and side curtain air bags ensure safety.

The ride is comfortable for a small car, and handling, braking and power also are pretty decent, making this a nice-driving commuter car. Overall, it’s a lot of car for the money for someone looking for a space efficient, comfortable and economical vehicle.

Base price for the four-door is about $14,000, with the popularly equipped SE starting at $15,500.

Another interesting new small car is the Scion iQ. Similar in looks and size to a Smart car, the iQ is a very small vehicle, with an overall length of only 120 inches, which is 10 inches shorter than the wheelbase of a GMC Yukon XL.

Room in the comfortable front seats is fine, though the seats are not bolstered and are covered in an economy car-level cloth. Ventilation controls are three easy-to-use, vertically stacked rotary knobs. The sound system has a CD player, HD radio and a USB port. Technically, the iQ has a backseat, and that’s what owners will tell their insurance companies, but it’s really a parcel shelf unfit for anyone with legs. With the seat up, there’s really no room behind it in the cargo area for much more than a sandwich. A pizza would have to be loaded vertically. With the seat down, there’s a bit of cargo area.

The 2100 pound iQ is powered by a 94-horsepower, 1.3-liter, 4- cylinder engine that distributes power via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to the front wheels. The zero to 0-to-60 time of 11 seconds is pretty slow, so I wouldn’t merge in front of a fast-moving Suburban, though power is adequate for around-town driving. Brakes are front disc, rear drum with ABS. Traction and stability control are standard, as are 11 airbags. The ride is a bit choppy due to the short wheelbase, and handling is only fair, thanks to the wheelbase and relatively high center of gravity, but buyers of this car are going to be looking more for economy and thrift than driving excitement. Gas mileage is 36 city, 37 highway, which is good but not great.

The iQ would be a great urban car with its small turning radius, good maneuverability, easy parking and lofty city gas mileage. Combined with historically good Toyota/Scion reliability and quality, the iQ fills a niche that may get larger and larger as gas prices rise.

Prices for the iQ microcar start at about $16,000.

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