7 small cars to be excited for
Rising gas prices have joined death and taxes as a certainty facing drivers in the foreseeable future. With rising demand and the political instability in the Middle East, experts say motorists should brace themselves for more expensive fuel in the months ahead.
Fortunately, Canadians are in a better position to weather the coming storm than our neighbours to the south. Because our fuel prices have always been higher than in the U.S., smaller cars have always been popular here.
The news is about to get better. In 2011 various manufacturers will introduce seven significant new entries boasting excellent fuel economy and low base prices. They are listed alphabetically.
1. CHEVROLET SONIC
The Sonic replaces the former Aveo as GM’s smallest offering. As before, it will come as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. Like the Cruze, two engines will be available, a turbocharged 1.4-litre, fourcylinder engine and a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre. GM boasts the Sonic will carry more cargo than the Toyota Yaris, with fuel economy similar to the Honda Fit. Unlike the Aveo, the Sonic will be manufactured in the U.S. Some sources indicate it will debut in Canada sometime in the summer. GM has not released official fuel economy figures, but indicated that it will be “competitive.” The 1.4-litre engine in the heavier Cruze delivers 7.2 L/100 km city and 4.6 L /100 km highway. GM targets the Ford Fiesta as its main rival. The 2011 Aveo starts at $11,965. No prices for the 2012 are available.
2. FORD FOCUS
Expect a world of difference over the current model, which debuted in 1999. Handling is better due to the adoption of what Ford calls torque vectoring, an electronic system that balances the delivery of torque to the front drive wheels. It acts in a similar fashion to a limited-slip differential in a rear-wheel-drive car. It will be powered by a 2.0-litre four cylinder with direct injection technology. Ford expects the adoption of this technology will result in a 10 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. No actual economy numbers are available at press time. The Focus will be the lowest price car to be offered with Ford’s Active Park Assist, an electronic system that automatically parallelparks a car. I have tried it, and it is one option I would gladly pay for. When the Focus arrives in April, expect to see it start at under $16,000.
3. FIAT 500
Buyers will soon see if the small 500 lives up to all the hype leading up to its introduction.
Smaller than a Mini, the 500 is the first Fiat to hit our shores since the parent company bought a stake in Chrysler. Fiat claims that although the exterior is smaller, there is more passenger and cargo room than the Mini.
Its 1.4-litre engine is more frugal than the Mini, with a rating of 6.7L/100 km city, 5.1L/100 km highway rating for the manual transmission. The base price is, like the Focus, just under $16,000.
4. HONDA CIVIC
A revamped Civic is expected to arrive this spring. The madein-Canada Civic is on its ninth generation. Fuel economy is high on the list of improvements, with Honda boasting a 12 per cent improvement over the current car. The hybrid version of the car will be powered by a 1.5-litre four mated to a continuously variable transmission. At the other end of the spectrum, the Si performance version of the Civic sedan and coupe will benefit from a larger 2.4-litre engine delivering 200 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque.
The 2011 sedan starts at $16,385. No prices for the 2012 are available.
5. HYUNDAI ACCENT
When the 2012 model broke cover at the Montreal Auto Show in January, Honda and every other economy-car manufacturer held their breath. For good reason, as the redesigned (and attractive) Accent looks like the car to beat in this increasingly oversubscribed market. Gone are the three-door hatchbacks: Instead the Accent will only be available as a sedan or four-door hatchback. The new car is larger than the model it replaces. Powered by a new direct-injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder, the engine returns an impressive 6.4 L/100 km city and 4.7 L/100 km highway regardless whether a manual or automatic is chosen. This gives the Accent best-in-class fuel economy compared to the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta or Toyota Yaris. With 138 hp, it is also the most powerful of the group. Coupled with a curb weight of 1,087 kg (four-door sedan), the Accent has the best power-to-weight ratio among its competitors. The 2011 three-door hatch started at $13,599. No prices for the 2012 are available.
6. SCION IQ
When the iQ finally arrives, it will be the second-shortest massproduced car in the world after the Smart car. But although the iQ will be approximately 254 mm longer than the Smart it can carry four passengers -or more accurately, three adults and a child. Either way, it is an incredible feat of packaging. In North America this micro-subcompact will be equipped with a 1.3-litre four cylinder with a CVT transmission. Scion claims the 90-hp engine delivers a 5 L/100km combined fuel consumption rating. Pricing has not yet been announced. Expect the car as early as April.
7. VOLKSWAGEN NEW BEETLE
Little is known about the 2012 New Beetle, expected to arrive in dealerships sometime in the fall. That hasn’t stopped Oprah Winfrey from giving away 275 of them to her studio audience last November. The existing spy photos show an evolution of the instantly-recognizable Beetle silhouette. Expect the underpinnings to be exactly the same as the Golf, which includes the existing 2.5-litre in-line fivecylinder engine with a 10.4L/100 km city, 7.1L/100 km highway fuel consumption rating. No prices have been announced.