downsizing your car? Not just smaller; better.

A recent spin in the rather impressive new Hyundai i10 has got me thinking – we should all be buying smaller cars.
Downsizing your car was supposed to have become a global phenomenon some time ago, and indeed it’s still supposed to be; sales of A-Segment (that’s city cars to you and me, or roughly one size rung down from a Ford Fiesta) cars are apparently about to boom, globally, and manufacturers are practically falling over themselves to bring out new, smaller cars. The likes of the i10 and the rival Volkswagen Up and Fiat Panda are already well established on the market, while Ford will shortly be recreating the Ka for sale as a truly global car and Renault is on the cusp of launching an all-new rear-engined Twingo. Small cars are, you’ll forgive the phrase, big business right now.
Irish buyers have traditionally shunned the smallest cars. The big sales in Ireland have always been in the C-Segment; family hatchbacks and saloons – the likes of the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla. We, as a nation, generally don't see a car as being a proper car unless it has four doors and a big boot and so far we've been unmoved by the trend to create luxury versions of small cars, which are designed to make moving into a smaller vehicle that more more comfy. The likes of the Fiat 500 Maserati Edition and posh XY versions of the Peugeot 208 spring to mind.
But should you consider dropping down a vehicle size? It’s a simpler equation at the top-end of the market. After all, shifting from, say, a BMW 5 Series into a BMW 3 Series require little other than getting used to a car with a smaller boot and slightly less roomy back seats. Moving from a Focus to a Fiesta though is a bigger (smaller) move altogether, and taking the city car route more serious again. You have to actually sit down, break out the tape measure and decide just how little car you can live with.
For couples or people who aren’t dealing with kids, the equation is much simpler. Cars like the Up and the new i10 are actually superbly comfortable for the front seat occupants, and they’ve both managed to shed that old city car bugbear of feeling like you’re perched on a barstool when sat behind the wheel. Either of those two cars could now easily whisk you on a journey from, say, Dublin to Cork and back and you simply wouldn’t notice the miles rolling by. Both would also reward you with far superior fuel economy (and Co2 emissions when it comes to the annual motor tax bill) than their predecessors could have managed.
The RAC in England advises its members that “downsizing is a trend occurring in every sector of the car market. The new crop of city cars, for example, are generally powered by lower capacity units with fewer cylinders. The 2012 World Car of the Year, the Volkswagen Up!, uses a 60bhp or 75bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, returning a best of 68.9mpg combined with 96g/km CO2 emissions in BlueMotion Technology guise.
“Compare that to similar vehicles of a decade ago, such as the first generation Ford Ka. This used a heavier, larger and thirstier four-cylinder engine, producing similar horsepower but returning significantly worse fuel economy. Here, downsizing immediately shows its benefits.”
A major part of that is simply down to car makers putting more investment funds into very small cars, keen to reap the benefits of their growing market share. Whereas once small cars were made on small budgets and had to make do with cast-off engines and such, now even the smallest city car shares its engines and underpinnings with larger, more expensive models and the benefits of that are clearly seen in terms of refinement, comfort and economy. It’s a terrible old cliché to say that a small car feels like a bigger one, but like most clichés there’s a kernel of truth at its centre.
For families, a smaller car can still be a viable option, you just need to do a bit more planning and make sure that any test drives of prospective new family wheels includes the kids, their car seats and any buggies etc that need to go into the boot. More than a few supposedly spacious compact cars can fall down quite badly on boot space and it’s not just a matter of litres of space either – shape and loading height can be the difference between a bulky three-wheeled baby buggy slotting in neatly or becoming a stowage nightmare. Still, there are smaller cars, such as the Honda Jazz or the Citroen C3 Picasso, that pack seriously spacious cabins and boots into smaller footprints and downsizing to one of those from, for instance, a bigger family-sized MPV could potentially halve your annual running costs, yet still leave you with sufficient space to play with.
For those of you worrying about safety when it comes to smaller cars, the best thing I can do is point you at the EuroNCAP website. NCAP is the most rigorous independent crash-tester of cars in the world, and their results can make for sobering reading. Happily though, the number of small and even very small cars getting full five-star ratings for crash safety is on the rise. Clearly, in terms of pure physics, a smaller object hitting a larger object is going to come off worse, but the engineering trickery of safety cells, load-paths and airbags can get around many of the physical issues.
There are other things to consider, such as what value is left in your current car when it come to trading in for a smaller one, and the fact that tighter profit margins on small cars give dealers somewhat less leeway to discount, but the elementary facts are there – small cars are getting better than ever, safer than ever and more economical and more sophisticated than ever. Downsize now and get ahead of the rush…
Found the car that’s just small enough to fit your life? Make sure you get it history checked with!