While there is a greater acceptance of smaller vehicles in our cities, people outside urban areas have more ground to cover and so are tempted by larger vehicles…

Honda’s Type R Concept Civic
The Citroen C4 Cactus
The Mazda Hazumi hatchback
Opel’s Vauxhall Adam
The Audi S1

GENEVA, Switzerland.

Small cars are huge here in Europe, if not in size then certainly in numbers.

Everywhere you turn, it seems there is either a Ford Fiesta or an Opel Astra (the General Motors subsidiary) about to cross your path. If it is not those examples, there are any number of other similar sized economy cars from the likes of Citroen, VW, and Peugeot buzzing by.

Micro cars such as the tiny Smart, with which we are familiar, and even smaller vehicles zip into roadside parking spots where previously only a motorcycle would park.

My two-prong mission at the Geneva Motor Show was to view small cars we might see sometime soon and others we never will see but wish we could! Then ponder whether small cars will ever catch on here in the way they have in Europe.

There was something familiar about the first car I encountered in the giant Palexpo show buildings. Ah yes, a European version of the trusty Honda Civic – Canada’s hottest seller in that market segment. I am sure Honda Canada would sell more if they resembled the very hot Type R concept, which is destined to be a racer. Yes, the new North American Civic is sportier than the last generation but the Euro versions always seem that bit sharper in design.

Next up was the Mazda Hazumi hatchback, expected successor to the current Mazda2 and likely to adopt the same numeric moniker. The concept vehicle has an all-new 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine.

Citroen no longer sells in North America though periodically we hear rumours of a return by the French manufacturer and its home rivals, Peugeot and Renault. Their lines are so different to the often indistinguishable small cars we get. Some of the French creations are positively funky and I found myself gawping at such an example in the new Citroen C4 Cactus. It’s designed to challenge the likes of the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. It uses lightweight materials extensively, including an aluminum hood, which means it sips gas. The rubberized pads along the side would be perfect for people who regularly have close encounters with garage doorframes!

General Motors looks to penetrate the difficult younger buyer marked with its Opel/Vauxhall Adam. It’s dressed up in interesting colours but it’s what is under the hood that makes it really interesting. It has a variety of bigger engines as options but its smallest engine is a new 1.0-litre, three-cylinder gas engine, mated to a six-speed manual transmission, with the pulling power of 1.6-litre power plant. Fuel consumption is expected to be a miserly 4.5 L/100 km (combined city highway). It may show up here in some form but right now GM has more than its fair share of small cars.

So far, I’ve looked at econo cars at the lower end of the market. No point in me offering price details because all Euro cars are substantially more expensive than the same examples sold here in Canada.

Finally, I cast a close eye over the Audi S1, which is a hot sportback version of the popular A1.

It comes with a 228hp 2.0-litre turbocharged gas engine capable of hitting 100 km/h in less than six seconds. I will reveal it will sell for more than $40,000 in the UK. It’s fast, it’s a premium offering and I’ll eat my hat if it shows up here.

All of the above have great fuel economy going for them and most are competitively priced. The common keys to their success likely come down to two key factors. Impressive fuel consumption numbers matter because fuel in Europe is substantially more expensive than here. And Europe is crawling with folks going about their daily duties on often far less land and road space.

While there is a greater acceptance of smaller vehicles in our cities, people outside urban areas have more ground to cover and so are tempted by larger vehicles, especially as a first family vehicle.

And the truth is that the advances in fuel saving technology means there’s not a massive difference between the econo-cars and small family sedans. And perhaps a bigger factor is for “an extra $20 a month, madam, you could have the roominess and utility of this car.” A line heard in most dealerships, most days. And the sales people are not wrong.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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