Micro cars, at least in the Australian market, are what I call ‘Polarizers’. They either appeal to the youngest buyers; or the oldest.
Young buyers are chasing a low price, new technology like Bluetooth and music streaming, and the latest safety features. Older buyers downsizing from larger cars with all the bells and whistles, are looking for a small, fuel-efficient car, with lots of equipment to make up for the gear they lose when downsizing, and they’re not afraid to pay for it.
So the price leaders go to the young, and the upmarket models, to the older.
Good examples are the Holden Spark LS and LT; the Suzuki Baleno GL and GLX and so on.
I’m mixing market segments here, because the Spark sits in the micro sector, and the Baleno in the small car segment.
However in reality they are all small, but dynamic performers with impressive safety standards and equipment levels.
The latest Kia Picanto comes to Australia, mid cycle, but the upgrades and refining of Kia’s micro car mark it down as one impressive machine.
It comes in just one spec level, and whilst it may miss a few features, it is basically well-equipped, drives beautifully and is very well-priced.
Next we have another new arrival, and whilst it’s in the small car sector, the new Suzuki Swift is not a million miles away from the micro cars in size.
What it does is move the goal posts.
In Australia the Suzuki will be offered in a mind-boggling four-model structure, which quite frankly, I think is overkill.
Two models would have been fine, but here again Suzuki is using its residual affection in the market to split buyers away from competitors, by mixing the powertrains and equipment levels across its range.
However, I think the most impressive feature of them all, is their on-road performance, ride and handling, fuel efficiency and safety levels.
All of these manufacturers have turned to the use of high-strength steel for increased rigidity; well-tuned suspensions for precision handling; and an outstanding selection of light and powerful turbo-charged engines.
With one exception, a truly horrible little car - both in design and driveability - The Mitsubishi Mirage. Yes, it's cheap - but it's cheap and nasty. It's main selling strength seems to be a range of gaudy colors, aimed at what car dealers describe as the 'chick market'.
The effort invested by manufacturers in raising the credentials of these micro and small cars is very welcome, and important, whether as a parent you’re looking for a value-packed, safe small car, or older buyers who get all of the aforementioned, and all the bells and whistles.
So, once again, they may be small, but beautifully formed.