I promise, you will be pleasantly surprised how much space there is in a mini car. An overall length of 3.5 meters (140 inches) is not very impressive, but you will find all the modern safety equipment such as ABS, ESP and airbags exactly where they should be. And you get a brand new car for the price of a 3 year old Golf! The smallest cars on the market offer a number of obvious advantages, such as: – low price – low depreciation, – low fuel consumption – low maintenance costs – easy to park. Downtown, you can park along the curb on spaces too small for other cars – it does not fill up your garage – it is easy to drive – and convenient. Nevertheless, there are some critical limitations related to small cars that you should consider before you decide on a car in this segment.
Cabin space is the most-prominent point for most buyers in this class. Do you need to bring a lot of luggage, like a full size travel bag, or a baby stroller? Then you will have to keep one of the rear seats folded down, converting the cabin into no more than a 3-seater, – no matter whether the car is a 4-seater or a 5-seater. In real life, a mini cannot carry more than 3 persons on a week-end trip.
Four adults weight a 300-350 kg (650-750 lbs) in total. In a mini this is close to the car’s maximum load capacity. Besides affecting the drivability, a fully loaded vehicle may cause excessive wear on the suspension and chassis parts. If you plan to use a mini car regularly with, say, 4 adults on board, you may run into some high maintenance costs.
Wheelbase and Track Width
These are factors that affect the car’s steadiness on the road. Image yourself a winding road full of bumps and potholes, – perhaps a lot of wind gusts as well. Driving on such conditions expose the vehicle to forces that affect its ability to maintain a steady course through the curves. A car which is running on a long wheelbase and a wide track width, is more capable to absorb these forces than a small car. What matters here, is not the outside dimensions of the car, but the dimensions underneath. For a mini, you really would want a car that is as large as possible underneath. That means the four wheels should be located as far apart as possible.
Engine Size and Extra Options
Do not pay too much attention to the number of horsepower, as it is “Horsepower per Ton” that really counts. Cars in this segment work well with small engines, because of their light weight. Remember that one of the best reasons for buying a mini car is the low price. If you choose a bigger engine and tick off a long list of “nice-to-have” extra options, you might just as well by a car in the Polo-Fiesta segment.
Obviously, size matters when it comes to safety. Larger vehicles are superior to smaller vehicles because of their weight and extra inches of steel. But there are more factors than weight and inches of steel that affect a car’s safety. New cars have far more built-in safety than just a few years ago. According to results from The European NCAP, small cars can be as safe as larger cars – as long as they hit stationary objects …
Respect in traffic
Based on everyday observations, some motorists seem to act more aggressively and less respectfully to small cars. If you drive a mini car, you may find them tailgating you without keeping a safe distance. They never give way for smaller cars, even when they are obliged to yield. They will always try to get in first before traffic lights – and so on. A typical aggressor is a male (40-60) driving a 5-10 years old Mondeo-sized family car.
The first sign of solid interior is the steering wheel. Does it give you a good grip? Does it feel chunky? How about the handles and controls on the dash? There are no reasons to create puny and cheap interior just because the car is small! The backrests of small cars are often made thin to give a few extra inches to rear seat passengers. However, you should feel that the backrests are stable and rigid.
Recommended Options and Accessories
It is important to ensure that all safety accessories are included. That include ABS, ESP (anti-skid), at least 6 air bags and Isofix mountings for child seats. Some of the cheapest models do not have all necessary safety equipment as standard. They are most likely to be found in the list of extra accessories. This is a trick to keep the price low. Don’t be fooled.
One of the reasons for buying a mini car, is its low price. In order to keep the price low, you should not be too generous about choosing accessories. The equipment you must have in a mini car, is a split foldable rear seat. Due to the limited storage capacity, you may have to fold down the rear seat more often than in a bigger car. If the rear seat is not split, your mini turns into a 2-seater every time you need to carry some luggage.
A Smart Tip
When you take the car for a test drive, make sure to park next to a well-known car model, such as the Volkswagen Golf. Step out of the car and compare “your” car with the well-known car model. Then you can a realistic look of its size. It is easy to be fooled when the cars are lined up at the dealer.