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All about small cars

What is a small car?

A Small Car refers to a particular size of vehicle, and is also known as C segment, hatch, or even Corolla-sized, after the longest-running nameplate in this class.

What are the advantages for choosing a small car?

There are many reasons why small cars are the most popular in Australia.

Small cars are often picked because they are the least expensive, or cheapest, way of carrying five people around in reasonable comfort.

Small cars are relatively economical, or frugal, or fuel efficient, and so are cheap to run.

Yet a small car can often have a big-car feel, thanks to expensive engineering. An example of this is the fitment of an independent or multi-link rear suspension (IRS), as found in small cars like the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Mazda 3.

Small cars are also the most popular recipients of diesel engines after SUVs. Examples of small-car diesels include the Golf TDI, Hyundai i30 CRD, Focus TDCI, Holden Astra CDTi and Peugeot 308 HDI.

Low emissions also matter these days, with reduced carbon dioxide helping to reduce pollution further increasing the appeal of small cars. This is particularly so with hybrid-powered vehicles (also known as hybrids) such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid. More hybrid small cars are on their way.

These days, small cars can easily achieve a five-star crash test rating, from groups such as Australasian New Car Assessment Program – also known as ANCAP, Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Program), or the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration).

Small cars very in price, from cheap cars from the lower-priced end of the small-car segment like the Holden Viva, to the premium small car models as defined by the VW Golf.

Does size matter in a small car?

Small cars or C segment vehicles are usually a little over four metres long and about 1.8 metres wide.

The wholesale move from rear-wheel drive (RWD) to front-wheel drive (FWD) during the 1980s means that only two small cars today are not front-drive – the BMW 1 Series (RWD) and the Subaru Impreza (AWD, or all-wheel drive, or 4WD four-wheel drive).

Some so-called small cars – such as the Nissan Tiida, Proton Persona, Skoda Roomster and Suzuki SX4 – are actually built off light-car or B-segment platforms, and so should be regarded as light car vehicles.

What shapes or sizes do small cars come in?

Small cars used to be mostly sedans – in either two-door or four-door configurations – with the occasional wagon model also available. These were also known as estates, or estate cars.

Sometimes, two-door sedans were also called a coupe, or a two-door coupe, but these have become very rare now.

Since the early 1980s the most popular small cars in Australia have been hatchbacks. The overwhelming majority are five-door hatches, but three-door hatches are also available.

Today, the small car market is pretty evenly split between hatches and sedans.

What are the small car engine choices?

Most small cars have a four-cylinder engine in them, with the majority being petrol-powered. However, an increasing number of small car purchases are for diesel engine models.

In the 1970s, the typical small car had a 1.4, 1.5 or 1.6 (1400, 1500 or 1600cc) four-cylinder engine. This rose to about 1.8 litres (1800cc) in the early 1990s, and today most small cars are in the 2.0-litre (2000cc) category of engine size.

The exception, of course, is hybrid small cars, which combine a much smaller petrol engine with an electric motor.

Diesel small cars, too, often rely on tinier engines, due to their greater torque outputs. Today most diesels are between 1.6 to 2.0 litres.

What about environmental small cars?

Small cars are generally more fuel-efficient and pollute less than larger cars. However, over the years, small cars have grown to be about the size medium cars were about 20 years ago, and this has inevitable weight issues which then requires the small car to be more powerful in order to overcome the extra mass.

Where are the origins of our most popular smalls?

Japan, Thailand, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Spain, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Malaysia, South Korea and North America are all represented as manufacturing sources for the small cars imported to Australia.

China is rising as a small-car supplier, as is Taiwan and India, while Australia is due to commence making small cars again shortly.

What are some small cars available?

Some of the best small cars are the least expensive – such as the Ford Focus.

Conversely, though they cost more, some models such as the Fiat Ritmo and Chrysler Caliber, are not as good as their cheaper rivals.

Our favourite small cars also include the Subaru Impreza, Mazda 3 (or Mazda3) Honda Civic, Holden Astra, Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer, Volkswagen Golf, and Skoda Octavia.

Here are some examples of discontinued or unavailable small car models

Some of the discontinued or unavailable small car or C-segment nameplates include the Ford Laser, Ford Escort, Holden Gemini, Chrysler Galant, Nissan Qashqai, Datsun 1600, Datsun Stanza, Datsun Sunny, Datsun 120Y, Daewoo Lacetti, Daewoo Nubira, Citroen Xsara, Citroen GS, Chrysler Neon, Fiat Strada, Fiat 124, Fiat Stilo, Hyundai Lantra, Kia Mentor, Kia Spectra, Mazda 323, Mazda 1500, Mazda 808, Peugeot 305, Peugeot 306, Peugeot 307, Renault 12, Renault Virage, Renault 19, Renault 8, Renault 10, Morris 1100, Morris Marina, Proton Wira, Proton Waja, Seat Cordoba, Seat Toledo, Seat Leon, Seat Altea, Subaru Leone, Subaru 1400, Subaru 1600, Subaru 1800, Toyota Tiara and earlier versions of the Holden Torana.

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