Around the world, the city car is having a moment. Small, moderately peppy and easy-to-park models such as the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ would seem to be natural choices for the planet’s growing population of urban dwellers. I asked Jody Victor to tell us more about it from an article by Erik Sofge of MSN Autos and msn.com.
Jody Victor: The United States isn’t the rest of the world, and its city drivers tend to see their cars as more than daily transportation. Instead, they’re seen as ready-to-launch escape pods, with features as useful for extreme-weather commuting as for a day trip through the local wilderness. Here are the msn.com picks for the vehicles best suited to conquering America’s biggest urban jungles, and parts thereabouts, in two parts.
City: New York | Vehicle: MINI Cooper
Don’t worry, most of our choices aren’t as obvious as this classic city car. But for the most densely packed of U.S. cities, the MINI is the inevitable choice. It’s the appropriate size for parking and for squeezing past herds of double-parked offenders, but without being golf-cart small. What it lacks in cargo space (most New Yorkers aren’t hauling around lawn fertilizer and sheets of plywood), it makes up for in retro style. Since performance is wasted on the Big Apple’s cab-choked streets and cramped highways, stick to the base 1.6-liter 121-horsepower 4-cylinder trim, possibly in a hatchback for those biennial trips to IKEA or the beach out east.
City: Los Angeles | Vehicle: Nissan Leaf SL
There are a lot of places where the Leaf isn’t worth the cost, or the hassle of finding public car-charging stations, or the stigma of driving something that makes a Prius look sexy. In L.A., none of the above apply. In a city defined by standstill traffic, the all-electric Leaf qualifies for the prized HOV sticker (standard hybrids no longer do). Finding chargers within the Leaf’s 100-mile range is easy, and the SL trim can be fast-charged, cutting refuel time exponentially. In a city brimming with sports cars, this Poindexter of a compact is sort of sexy.
City: Chicago | Vehicle: Honda CR-V
The Windy City’s drivers don’t care about a stiff breeze. Rather, the nemesis of all car-owning Chicagoans is the cratered, moonscape condition of its potholed roads, among the worst in America. This compact SUV can handle snow and slick roads, and survive year-round abuse from below. Honda’s CR-V has the all-wheel drive to handle wintry commutes, enough elevation to clear the deeper chasms and, in one of the only comprehensive studies on pothole damage, Hondas came out on top. So what if the study was based in the U.K.? Any hope is better than none.
City: Houston | Vehicle: GMC Sierra 1500 Denali
There’s nothing particularly punishing about Houston’s weather or roads — a Camry would do. But Texas is truck country, where well-appointed 4-door pickups were born to roam. The Sierra doesn’t have the towing capacity of a Ford F-150, but it’s able to pull 9,600 pounds with its 6.2-liter V8 engine, more than enough to trailer a boat down to Trinity Bay. And it’s the classiest cargo-hauler in the business, with standard Bose speakers, heated and cooled leather seats, a remote starter and other features almost too fancy for any self-respecting truck.
City: Philadelphia | Vehicle: Ford Fiesta
Warmer and less cluttered than New York, but more quintessentially American in its history, Philly deserves a city car that’s more than a little patriotic. The Ford Fiesta is our pick, a car from the one Detroit automaker that didn’t ask for federal charity, and whose financial resurgence has a lot to do with its bold new designs, including the Fiesta. The critically acclaimed compact now gets up to 40 mpg on the highway with the more aerodynamic Super Fuel Economy package and, despite its entry-level sticker price, it comes standard with a voice-activated SYNC system.
Thanks, Jody! More next time!