Tiny Cars: Are They Really That Smart?

smart car big car

High gas prices and growing pollution are turning drivers on to tiny cars. But are these glorified roller skates worth the loss of cargo space? And what about safety? 

The economic difficulties of the past few years have caused many Americans to re-examine their spending habits. Like homes, cars are starting to get smaller and more efficient. But are the savings worth the sacrifice? The answer, as always, depends on your needs and priorities, but if saving money and the environment are even marginally important to you, it’s a resounding “YES.”

Smart cars, also known as microcars, are perfect for students, childless couples, or families looking for an economic second car. And while itty bitty versions like the Smartfortwo (pictured above) get all the attention in the parking lot, there are lots of traditional automakers getting in on the action.

volkswagen up

Volkswagen recently unveiled its contribution to the microcar market, a less than 12 foot-long model known as the “up!” (above). With only three cylinders and low-emissions, it manages 56 miles per gallon while still offering a backseat and an impressive at 8.8 cubic feet of trunk space.  And don’t think that tiny means uncomfortable: all the fittings are up to the usual Volkswagen standards, and the ambiance is improved by use of dashboard fittings that match the exterior color. The interior also features Volkswagen’s new “maps + more” system, a mobile Personal Infotainment Device (PID).


Toyota, long-renowned for its dependable vehicles, offers a variety of mini-car options. The Scion iQ (above) is definitely the smallest, with only a bit of passenger and cargo space to speak of. But with 37 mpg and all the technological bells and whistles, it’s hard for those on a tight budget to ignore. And if you’re tired of passing up small parking spaces in the city, the 120 inch length (that’s right, 10 feet) will have you jumping for joy. Also from Toyota come the Prius c (for hybrid lovers) and the Yaris (my own personal steed, which fit 3 adults, two pair of skis, a snowboard, and all of our luggage comfortably on our last ski trip).

There’s also the Charlie Sheen-endorsed Fiat Abarth, the Chevy Spark, and Ford Fiesta.

Microcars clearly offer a lot of benefits at the pump, and unlike years ago, this efficiency doesn’t come at the cost of the aesthetically-pleasing features we all love. So, that leaves us with the safety question.

Tiny cars are intended to be inner-city cars that are designed for fun and safe transport at lower speeds, plain and simple. Each one includes safety features like seat belts and airbags, and meets Federal safety standards, but all you have to do is look at one to know there’s not much standing between you and a collision.

In 2009, there were major concerns over the then-new microcars’ safety but the predicted firestorm never emerged. Many earned poor safety ratings in collision test comparisons with larger cars, but some say that’s an apples to oranges question. But the fact is, smaller cars will always be at a disadvantage in an accident with a bigger vehicle, whether it’s Fiat vs. Camry, or Ford Explorer vs. tractor trailer. It’s responsible driving habits that keep you safe 90 percent of the time, SUV or not.

Most experts agree that if you’re looking for great fuel economy and do most of your driving in city conditions, microcars are a smart investment. Along the way, you’ll be able to take advantage of more parking agility, less noise, and reduced emissions. I went tiny and I’ll never go back. How about you?

Image: barteverts