Good things come in small packages. That’s certainly true about automobiles. Small, light, nimble and fun to drive cars can make sense for those looking for economy, performance or both.

    An exciting new entry in the small car market is the BMW 1-series, available as a coupe and convertible. The coupe offers the same engine choices as a 3-series, but in a slightly smaller, and thus lighter car. Therefore, performance should be a bit better than in the 3-series. The trade-off is a back seat that is better for children than adults.

    The 1-series is unmistakably a BMW, with a twin kidney grill, fender flares and an aggressive crease between the wheel wells. The interior is similarly typical BMW, with a nice blend of sport and luxury and nice leather appointments, easy-to-read large tachometer and speedometer gauges, steering wheel controls for the audio system, dual automatic climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, three stage heated seats, a glass moonroof, available navigation, and well-bolstered, firm seats perfect for spirited driving. The trunk is pretty big for a relatively small car, though it has a small opening, and the rear seat folds down to expand cargo-carrying capacity.

    As with any BMW, the best part of a 1-series is driving it. The heart of the BMW is the engine, and the 128 comes with a 3.0 liter inline 6-cylinder that pumps out 230 horsepower to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The manual better fits the sporting nature of this car. For those with an appetite for more power, the 135 sports a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline 6 that generates 300 horsepower. With the manual, the 128 gets 18 mpg city, 28 highway. With the automatic, it’s 19 city, 28 highway.

    According to Joe Emerson, sales manager at Autohaus BMW, “The 1 series is not an entry level BMW; the 128 coupe offers pure BMW driving excitement with good fuel efficiency and, of course, an inline 6 cylinder engine.” Base price is about $30,000 and rises to the mid- $30,000s with some of the more popular options.

    A car that’s been in the small car market seemingly forever is the Toyota Corolla. Like Honda with its Civic, Toyota has pretty much perfected the small sedan with its Corolla. Although it may not be the most exciting ride out there, for someone looking for an economical, reliable way to get from place to place it can’t be beat.

     The cloth interior and interior plastics are nice for an economy car. Seats are firm and supportive. The rear seat accommodates three and has good room in all directions. It also folds to expand the cargo area of the generous trunk. There aren’t a lot of fancy features, but a manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control and electric windows, door locks and mirrors are standard on its mid-line LE. Vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS brakes (front disc, rear drum) and six airbags provide all the basic modern safety features. Ventilation controls are three rotary knob simple, and the radio/CD player is also easy to use.

    Power from the 1.8 liter 4-cylinder 132 horsepower engine goes to the front wheels via a 4-speed automatic transmission. Mileage is 26 city, 34 highway. Power is sufficient for commuting on city streets and highways. The suspension is a nice balance between firm and soft, but the power steering is slightly over boosted. Brakes are fine for an economy car. Though not a sports car, the relatively sporty suspension and tight engine make the Corolla a nice car to drive.

The Corolla is the appliance of motorcars. It’s extremely reliable, cheap to buy and maintain, and does its job well. That’s why so many of them are sold. Its attractive styling and nice performance and handling are icing on the cake.

    Chris Braden, salesman at Lou Fusz Toyota says, “The Corolla offers unparalleled reliability, dependability and economy. It’s a great little commuter car that offers attractive features at an affordable price.” Prices start about $16,000, with the LE at around $17,500; fully decked-out models can reach $21,000-plus. 

*Robert Paster is also an attorney in private practice.