These are the cars with the best key ingredients for urban life, and some might be a surprise.
For those planning to add a car to their lifestyle, there are essential characteristics to look for. Size is the most obvious, as routes can be tight and parking claustrophobic. However, go too small, and you don't have room to carry much more than a laptop. Excellent fuel economy for dealing with stop-and-go traffic is essential, but so is a peppy engine. A tight turning radius is also a necessary ingredient, while automatic braking and pedestrian detection are huge bonuses as city life can throw random objects in your path without warning. Automatic folding mirrors are on the wish list for city life, budget allowing, and excellent ride quality for traveling over beaten up streets. These are our top picks for negotiating big busy cities with a little style, comfort, and practicality.
The city is where the raised hatchback comes into its own, and Mazda's new CX-30 is one of the best implementations of that idea out there. It's small, but there's enough cargo space for a weekly shop for two people, and space for another two in the back. Its naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is decent, but not spectacular at 25/33/28 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as are Mazda's i-Activsense safety technologies that include Smart City Brake Support, and it has an acceptable turning circle of 37.5 feet. On top of all that, it looks fantastic and has a premium level interior in a vehicle that doesn't have premium level pricing.
The Toyota Prius has a slightly better turning radius, but you don't have to drive a Prius if you want a fantastic fuel economy, and the Corolla is a much better-looking alternative. The Corolla Hybrid will turn wall-to-wall inside 37.4 ft while using the same drivetrain as the Prius, and looking much, much, better. The Corolla is also surprisingly light (2,850 lbs) and maneuverable, although its combined 121 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque isn't spectacular. The interior is more than acceptable at its price point though, while the 13.1 cubic feet of cargo volume is perfectly acceptable. Added value comes in the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite, and includes pre-collision detection, automatic braking, lane departure alert, road sign assist, and adaptive cruise control.
The smallest hybrid SUV on offer in the premium segment is the Lexus UX, and in its hybrid form, it returns a pleasing 41/38/39 mpg city/highway/combined. It's a little gem for sneaking through shortcuts in the city and nipping in and out of traffic. It's also got a comfortable, if snug, interior with city-spec cargo space - meaning a laptop, a yoga mat, and a couple of bags of shopping will fit comfortably. The drivetrain is responsive, the steering light and positive, and it has a tight 34.2-foot turning circle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are standard, as is pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection. It's on the higher end of the price spectrum here, but if you're a city-slicker with premium expectations, it's the one to have.
The Honda Insight manages to retain much of the nimble Honda Civic's dynamics, as it should when the two share underpinnings, but with a return of 55/49/52 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. The hybrid system and its 107 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque won't wow, but it does get the Insight into traffic with enough of a punch. In terms of safety equipment, it packs the Honda Sensing suite as standard. That includes pre-collision avoidance, lane keep assist and departure warning, and traffic sign recognition. Inside, everything is well-built and comfortable. However, the only gripe we have is that you have to step up into the second trim level to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Along with the Civic's dynamics, it also has the same 35.7-foot turning circle.
Sticking with Honda for a moment, this is the final year the Fit will be available as a new car in the US. We won't be getting the next generation, but the current one is still a peach of a subcompact hatchback. The 1.5-liter, 128-hp (130 hp with the manual gearbox) four-cylinder engine is peppy in its initial acceleration, and its a joy to chuck around the back streets of a city at night. It'll slip into the smallest of parking spots, and has a tight 35.1 turning circle for throwing cheeky U-turns. Inside, it's surprisingly spacious, and you can also option a stick rather than the CVT between the front seats.
If you want some sportiness for when you break out of the city and into the free world, the Cooper Hardtop is an excellent choice. In the city, the Hardtop is small enough to navigate and park in the mean streets and has a useful turning circle of 35.4 feet. The base models TwinPower turbocharged 1.5-liter, inline three-cylinder engine with double VANOS has plenty of pep with its 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque that comes in at just 1,250 rpm. It will also get you a respectable 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined. It's nimble around town, and one of the few cars where the go-kart handling cliche can be applied without fear. There's decent room for passengers, but there's a paltry 8.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seats filled. All is not lost, though, as, with the rear seats folded down, there's a respectable 40.7 cubic feet to use.
If you're fortunate to have easy access to charging in a dense city, an all-electric car makes sense. It's a tiny car with a zippy drivetrain, making 147 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A single full charge should get you up to 226 miles of zipping around if you purchase a Plus model, and, when needed, a remarkably useful 34.8-foot turning circle is as tight as they come. The basic interior is utilitarian at best, but you still get auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard. Also standard is Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Factor in federal tax rebates and the Leaf becomes remarkably affordable, too, with an effective price of $24,100 for qualifying buyers.
When it comes to creating the most interior space in a vehicle, you can't beat a box. That's why the Kia Soul has more space inside than its closest competitors, such as the Hyundai Kona. Front and rear passengers have useable legroom, and 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space in a car that measures 165.2 inches nose to tail is exceptional. The naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is eager enough for the city, but a 1.6-liter turbo is also available. With the CVT equipped, it will get you 28/33/30 mpg from the 2.0 engine or 27/32/29 mpg from the 1.6-liter lump with the dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It's nimble through narrow streets, and benefits from an excellent 34.8 foot turning circle.
At first glance, the Jeep Wrangler sounds like a terrible idea for a city car, but hear us out before hitting the comment button. The Wrangler has a small footprint due to its short front and rear overhangs and is just 166.8 inches from nose to tail. That's just 1.6 inches longer than the Kia Soul. That, along with excellent visibility and a turning radius of 34.5 feet, makes the Wrangler highly maneuverable in tight spots. Fuel economy from the optional 2.0-liter turbo engine isn't fantastic at 22/24/23 mpg, and the V6 is, unsurprisingly, worse. However, potholes and rough surface streets are a complete non-issue, and there's an added benefit of there not being a city curb that a Jeep can't roll over with ease.
If you take a car enthusiast's view of city life, then you'll enjoy the concept of urban autocross. The Toyota 86 is small, agile, and handles like a sports car because it is a sports car. The 2.0-liter engine will only get you 24/32/27 mpg with the automatic transmission installed, but you'll have fun shooting through side roads and squeezing through traffic. Its 36.1-foot turning radius is useful, but the rear seats are pointless for passengers. The trunk is very much useable day-to-day, and then at the weekend, you have a fun car to escape the city with. If you want to head for the track, the 86's party piece is the ability to fit a full set of spare wheels and tires in the back with the seats down.