Guide to Buying a Small Car

Small cars are trendy. Subcompact and smaller cars were once utilitarian; now they’re attractive and sporty, with dozens of stylish options. If you’re thinking about buying a tiny car, here are five things to consider.

Things to Think About When You’re Buying a Small Car

Fiat 500 AbarthPurchasing a smaller car requires a few special considerations. You’ll need to be aware of what you’re gaining, what you’re losing, and what value you place on both. We’ve come up with a brief guide to help you sort the process of buying a small car and have offered some things to consider when making your purchase.

Small Car Trade-offs

Small cars can be a great way to save on both gas and auto insurance, but you’ll definitely be making some sacrifices. Small cars aren’t ideal for families, except perhaps as commuting vehicles. Getting groceries and toting kids around can get incredibly difficult in a very small car. If you are a homeowner, home repair and design projects may require a rental vehicle if all you have is a small car.

That being said, small cars are ideal for city-dwellers who need great fuel economy, maneuverability, and would like to benefit from a car that doesn’t require an empty city block for a parking space. Suburbanites can benefit as well if they plan on using their small car as a commuting vehicle. They stand to save a significant amount of gas money by driving a small car instead of the family SUV or minivan to work every day.

How small do you really want to go?

The smallest road-legal auto (we’re not counting Shriners’ parade cars) widely available in the United States is the Smart fortwo. This micro car measures 8.8 feet long and just over 5 feet wide, making it easy to zip into the smallest parking space. But true to its name, the fortwo can carry two people — that’s it. If you need more space, look at small hatchbacks such as the Fiat 500 or the Honda Fit. The Fit includes a rear Magic Seat which flips up to accommodate tall or awkwardly shaped cargo.

What’s your car-buying budget?

Tiny cars don’t always have tiny price tags. The 2014 Mini Cooper, beloved for its eye-catching style and BMW engineering, starts at close to $20,000 for the base hardtop model. The Pop model of the Fiat 500 starts at around $16,000, rising to about $20,000 for the Turbo version. The cheapest tiny cars, all of which start under $14,000, include the Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta and Smart fortwo.

Do you want to customize your small car?

People who love micro cars often have a distinctive sense of style, and for that reason manufacturers have made them infinitely customizable. The Fiat 500, for instance, comes in every color from lemon yellow to bright blue to espresso. The Smart fortwo offers mix-and-match body panels, custom-designed wraps and fun decals. And the Mini Cooper comes with optional chrome details, racing stripes, Union Jack mirrors and dozens of other playful details.

How green do you want your small car to be?

All tiny cars get decent gas mileage, but some are more eco-friendly than others. For instance, the gas-powered Smart fortwo gets 34 mpg city/38 mpg highway. The electric Smart, however, boasts 122 city/93 highway mpg. Here’s a quick rundown of some tiny cars’ gas mileage (which may vary by model and trim). Manufacturers are also rolling out electric versions of many of these cars.

 2013 Honda Fit  27 city/33 highway
 2014 Chevrolet Spark  30 city/39 highway (automatic)
 2013 Fiat 500 Pop  31 city/40 highway
 2013 Mini Cooper Hardtop  28 city/36 highway
 2014 Nissan Versa  31 city/40 highway
 2014 Ford Fiesta  29 city/39 highway (automatic)

Do you love to drive?

As cute as the fortwo is, it offers a driving experience that can only be called sedate. If you’re looking for a small car that has some get-up-and-go, the Fiat Sport and Turbo and the Mini Cooper are good — though pricey — options. The Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta have also been praised by some critics for being fun to drive.

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