Small Cars Shaking Stigma
Economy cars are no longer the moving penalty boxes they once were.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: September 18th, 2012
t's not a secret to anyone who has been watching the new-car market in recent years, but small cars—particularly those produced by American automakers—have become desirable. And not just because gas costs an arm, a leg, and a torso.
That's not to say that only American small cars are desirable, but that small cars produced by the Asian and European automakers were already ahead of the curve. During the boom times of the '90s and early 2000s, Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas sold well while those who bought American stayed away from the Chevrolet Cobalts and Ford Focuses. That was because those who chose to buy American preferred the profitable big SUVs and trucks, and the American automakers were happy to oblige.
American automakers realized that they needed to offer solid choices in the compact and subcompact classes, and by and large the Detroit Three have delivered.
That changed when gas prices shot into the stratosphere. American automakers realized that they needed to offer solid choices in the compact and subcompact classes, and by and large the Detroit Three have delivered over the past few years. The compacts that are being peddled in Ford, Dodge, and Chevy stores are stylish, fun to drive, and offer class-competitive fuel-economy. Not to mention features that used to be reserved for higher size and price classes.
Available features like the Dodge Dart's heated steering wheel, or the Focus' MyFordTouch infotainment system were once exclusive to the luxury classes.
Small cars have always been getting the previous generation's luxury features, but small cars are now gaining an other element that isn't always cost-prohibitive—design.
Of course, there have been good-looking small cars in the past, even from the Big Three. But not like the current crop. And the Korean makes have joined in on the fun, with Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design themes being a particularly strong example.
Once upon a time, buying a Hyundai seemed to be like saying "I give up on life." But no more. The brand has made a comeback, and catchy small-car design is part of it.
Meanwhile, the Civic and Corolla solider on, and for the first time in a long time, the two stalwarts are struggling to receive praise from the press. The Civic, in particular, proved underwhelming after its latest redesign.
It may seem like I'm just praising the Detroit Three for their resurgence in the small-car arena, and I am. But it goes beyond that. As a whole, the small-car market has gotten much better in recent years, even if the stalwart Civic and Corolla aren't at the top of their game at the moment.
Of course, the shift to small cars hasn't come without changes in pricing. In many cases, small cars start with bargain-basement deals, but adding features can quickly spike the sticker price. Indeed, it's not unusual to see a loaded compact overlap with a well-equipped mid-sizer from the same brand.
That may be just fine with consumers, though. After all, many folks don't actually need the towing/cargo/passenger capacity of an SUV, and even car-like crossovers can't provide the mpgs of a compact sedan or hatch. If buyers are going to shift to smaller cars to save on gas, they won't want to be punished.
It's good to see automakers embracing small cars. Not only do fuel-efficient small cars help cut down on oil consumption, but the shift also shows that consumers are regaining a sense of perspective, and it's refreshing to see that automakers are listening.
SUVs and trucks have their place, but for too long that place was in the driveways of people who didn’t need them—people who shunned small cars because they weren't satisfying, and because even the good ones carried an economic stigma.
Someday, gas prices may drop again. And those with the means to do so will still likely shop for larger, more luxurious rides. But it's nice to see small cars in the spotlight in a good way.Related Vehicles: 2013 dodge dart