Car Corner
Premium Small Cars

March 2, 2011
By Scott Lewis

During the month of February I noticed gas priced climbed quite a bit... about 30-40 cents across the board. This time I have not heard a lot of news about it. That's scary because that is how the oil companies will get the price higher permanently... by raising it enough not to be newsworthy then not lowering it.

Which brings me to the topic at hand... Premium Small Car. If you have been reading this column for any length of time you know my current mode of transportation is a 2004 Mini Cooper S... and it is my second Mini (I previously had a 2006 Mini Cooper S Convertible).

When I went shopping for the first Mini Cooper I wanted something small. I have never been a fan of SUVs, and if I am alone in a car 99% of the time I prefer a small & responsive vehicle. But at my current age I want more luxury with my small car. I want leather interior (sorry animal lovers) and a high quality stereo, just to name a couple of items.

Mini (the modern Mini) is doing well. They sold almost twice their projected number of cars the first year here in the states. And sales have held well from what I have heard. I don't have any number to quote, but the brand is doing a good job of maintaining its small & premium pairing quite well.

And now others... including American car copies... are trying to get in on it. From across the ocean the cars coming here that most closely compete with the Mini are the VW GTI, Mazdaspeed 3 & Volvo C30. Personally, I feel the Mazdaspeed 3 doesn't really compete because it is not a premium car. It competes in the Pocket Rocket category.

The best news is that Ford and Chevy are getting into the premium small car arena... Ford better than Chevy. Chevrolet has the new Cruise, which comes pretty well equipped for a small car... by old school American thinking. I really like Ford's Fiesta and Focus offerings. However, I am probably being swayed my the interior tech as much as anything. Ford's use of the Microsoft Sync feature is currently one of the best, if not the best cabin tech systems on the market... and it is good enough to shift my buying decision toward a Ford over other brands.

Once Ford gets off its ass and brings the performance small cars to the states it will be a slam dunk... for me. A Focus ST with around 250 horsepower with Ford's top of the line cabin tech would be a great car to switch to from my Mini. Or if they added some more power to the Platinum version of the Fiesta I would consider switching. As it is now neither the Focus or Fiesta have the performance to get me to switch... even though they both already have enough premium content to make it work.

The good thing for the rest of you is that these cars are good enough as-is. If you are not looking for the go-cart style handling of the Mini then either Ford will do. The Cruise is also a strong contender. I am also looking forward to seeing Audi bring its A1 to this side of the Atlantic. I even heard a rumor that BMW was going to build a car smaller than the 1-Series and it would be front wheel drive and share pieces with the Mini. I don't know what they would call it. I can't image they would call it a 0-Series.

I look forward to the increased competition in the premium small car segment.