Bigger isn't always better, as these 10 examples show.
Small cars offer some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on, and whilst the USA does get a handful of fun little tykes such as the Fiat 500 Abarth and Honda Fit Sport, there are a whole bunch of small, fun cars that we don’t get to taste. We’ve compiled the 10 most enjoyable small cars not on offer to the citizens of the USA – ten gems we’re really missing out on.
In its latest generation, the sub-Golf compact from Volkswagen shares the MQB platform with its big brother. But being smaller and lighter, the VW Polo offers more fun in all aspects. There’s even a GTI, sharing a detuned version of the Golf GTI’s 2.0-liter turbo motor and developing 197 horsepower. The performance difference is negligible to the Golf GTI, but at a discount price by comparison, it’s the kind of car that questions whether bigger really is better.
French manufacturer, Renault, doesn’t even sell vehicles in the States at all. While this might be something to overlook in lieu of the fact that many vehicles share underpinnings with Nissan, the Clio RS is one small car we wish were on offer on local roads. Like the Polo GTI, 197 hp is on offer, but in the Clio RS (RS short for Renault Sport) it comes from a 1.6-liter turbo 4 cylinder. Front wheel drive is standard, as is a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but that doesn’t hamper the Clio RS’ ultimate fun-factor
Nissan sells a wide range of vehicles in the USA, enjoying a fair bit of success; but the one vehicle we don’t get is its compact Micra hatchback. T he latest Micra shares underpinnings with the Renault Clio, though there isn’t yet a Micra Nismo version of the Clio RS mentioned above. With light weight and a punchy 1.2-liter turbo motor, the Micra would be budget-orientated fun that we sadly don’t get.
Remember the Chevrolet Sonic RS? Well it had a Japanese rival in the form of the Suzuki Swift Sport. Powered by a naturally aspirated 135-hp 1.6-liter engine in its previous form, it now features a 140-hp 1.4-liter turbo. But it weighs in at under 2,200 pounds, and offers one of the most engaging drives around. In fact it’s not just the Sport that offers excitement, even base commuter Swifts are incredibly fun to drive, but since Suzuki no longer sell vehicles in the US, we miss out on one of the best driver's car the world has to offer.
You must think I’ve lost my mind, there are plenty of Fiestas roaming US streets. But those are all the previous generation, and we’ve missed out on getting the new one. Crucially, we’ve missed out on the new Fiesta ST, which has downsized to a 1.5-liter three cylinder engine developing 197 hp. If the previous Fiesta ST is anything to go by, the technologically advanced new one would’ve rewritten the rules on incredible driving dynamics. But Ford’s drive towards SUVs in the US means we miss out.
Sitting below the Audi A3 in Audi’s line-up, the A1 has shared underpinnings with VW’s Polo since it was created. As such, the latest one gets an MQB platform and advanced technologies that outgun nearly everything else even vaguely close in size. There’s even going to be an uber-fast Audi S1 with Golf GTI-power and all-wheel drive. With the success of Mini in the USA, it’s a true tragedy Audi USA hasn’t seen fit to launch the A1 here.
The second Volkswagen model on this list is even smaller than the Polo, and has proven to be a big hit in Europe. Called the UP! – punctuation included – it’s a compact city car with a short wheelbase and endearing chassis dynamics that prove you can have fun at just about any speed. There’s even a GTI, with a turbo 3 cylinder engine and a power to weight ratio reminiscent of the original Golf GTI. What’s not to love, except the fact we don’t get it here.
These days, Kia’s on a rampage producing epic cars such as the Stinger GT, but elsewhere in the world the Korean carmaker produces some damn cool city cars too. The Picanto is one to rival the likes of the VW UP! And Chevrolet Spark, and while there isn’t a performance version, the standard one offers more than enough fun at speeds that won’t get you into trouble with the authorities. True driving fun is, after all, exploring a vehicles limits without fear of dying at every turn.
The entire Mazda range is fun to drive, from the MX-5 right through to the CX-9, but one of its most fun cars isn’t sold in the USA. The Mazda2/Demio shares underpinnings with the CX-3 crossover, but with a lower center of gravity, the driving dynamics are even sharper. It’s styled brilliantly too, inside and out, but its seemingly too small for the USA, and with the CX-3 on offer, Mazda USA sees no point in bringing it here.
The Opel nameplate has flittered in and out of the USA for decades under GM custodianship, but never formally entered the market in recent years, and now likely won’t at all after being sold to Peugeot. But in Europe, Opel offer a Fiat 500 rival called the ADAM – named after the founder of Opel. The cute hatchback is fun to drive, and features a performance derivative called the ADAM S, with a 1.4-liter turbo motor, Recaro bucket seats, and as many smiles per mile as you could dream of.