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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Selection growing for small car enthusiasts

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Selection growing for small car enthusiasts

Believe it or not, the U.S. recession has had one positive effect for consumers. It has accelerated automakers' efforts to bring decent small cars to America.

For years U.S. car buyers have had slim pickings in the subcompact class. Many automakers skipped the category altogether, and most of the smaller cars that did make it to our shores were uninspiring, watered-down versions of models sold elsewhere.

Cast your minds back to the Ford Escort or Chevy Cavalier to recall just how bad things were not so long ago.

Now economic conditions and American consumers' growing interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles have resulted in a new breed of baby cars in showrooms.

Today's lineups include the Chevrolet Aveo, Nissan Cube, Honda Fit, Suzuki SX4, Hyundai Accent, Kia Soul, Scion xB and Toyota Yaris. In the specialist -- meaning expensive -- small car class, we have the entertaining Mini and the quirky smart fortwo.

Just arriving on the market are the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2. By the end of 2010, we should have the Fiat 500 and then another year later the Chevrolet Spark.

Compared to other world markets, we are still lacking some of the coolest and sharpest looking minicars, such as those sold by Renault, Citroën and VW in Europe. But a few years ago no one would have dreamed that the Fiat 500 could be sold in the U.S.

Of the class of 2011, there are some clear front-runners. Introduced a couple of years ago, the Honda Fit has emerged as the gold standard of the subcompact class.

Now in its second generation, the Fit draws plaudits for its cleverly designed, versatile interior and is well-equipped. But Honda's competition is warming up, notably on the domestic front. Ford has jumped ahead of its Detroit rivals with the launch this summer of the brand new Fiesta.

European style intact

Developed in Europe, the Fiesta comes to U.S. showrooms with most of the qualities that attract discerning European buyers -- versatility, fuel economy, crisp handling and distinctive design -- left intact. European small car buyers generally favor hatchbacks over sedans, but for U.S. consumers Ford is offering both body styles of the Fiesta, which gives it an edge over much of its competition.

Ford has also chosen to offer some upmarket features on the Fiesta such as keyless ignition and the Sync system that typically do not make the options list on subcompact cars.

Some of the Fiesta's rivals, including the Fit and the Nissan Cube, outdo the Ford when it comes to cargo capacity and rear seat room, but the Dearborn car excels in its handling and fun-to-drive quotient.

Design over function

The same can be said of an even newer entry to the subcompact class, the Mazda2. Following the brand's reputation for developing cars with spirited driving qualities, the Mazda2 emphasizes lightweight construction, sharp, responsive handling and surprising refinement for its size and very competitive price point.

The Mazda2 lies at the smaller end of the subcompact size scale, but even smaller is the Fiat 500. Shorter than the Mini, the 500 is not to be compared to the Honda Fit in terms of functionality, but for cheeky design and hip, city car appeal, it will be hard to beat.

So whether it's super-small and funky, or larger and more practical, American small car consumers have never had it so good.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100909/OPINION03/9090367/1148/auto01/Selection-growing-for-small-car-enthusiasts#ixzz0z2Uk0Txm

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FAPTurbo    1,078

Actually, it's just there are far more balanced options for everyone. It used to be small cars were penalty boxes and one had to spend considerable amounts of money to get something that was just decent. Everyone who wanted a good small car 'got the punt' for decades.

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ocnblu    733

Buy the 5-speed manual 2, you'll get a lot of fun for the money. Forget the high purchase price and all the electronic gadgets of her sister car that suggest high repair bills, post warranty.

But really... "small car enthusiasts"? Both of them?

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Camino LS6    866

Actually, it's just there are far more balanced options for everyone. It used to be small cars were penalty boxes and one had to spend considerable amounts of money to get something that was just decent. Everyone who wanted a good small car 'got the punt' for decades.

Hardly "balanced".

The focus is almost exclusively on small cars now, and that's where my criticism stems from. Ignoring the rest of the market to focus on any one segment is an old,(and oft-repeated) GM mistake.

For some of us, these cars are still penalty boxes.

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