For decades, carmakers have been tailoring their products for various uses. Perhaps one of the most interesting is the city car – it's spawned a wealth of small, fun-to-drive cars that are right at home in cramped cities. What began as fairly bare-bones cars became fully loaded competitors that can go toe-to-toe with the larger car market.
There isn’t much needed to make a car that's at home in the city. These cars should be small, nimble, fuel efficient, well equipped, and have space to store your belongings. Many of these cars excel at that. Cars such as the Fiat 500, the Volkswagen Golf, and the Mini Cooper have been around for decades — and for good reason. These cars helped to define this segment, and have served as guiding lights for future development. Now, not only do they excel at city driving, but these cars can also be taken up a canyon road and hold their own.
There are some cars that are great… just not for city driving. Those cars mentioned on our list are either just too big for crowded city streets, bad on gas, unwieldy, or some combination of all three. For instance, a modified Jeep Wrangler is going to conquer anything in front of it on the open road or on a trail but will be put to shame by a small, nimble Miata on city streets. Drivers of these cars should stay far away from cities.
15 Good: Audi TT
For the city driver who wants to combine sporty driving with city driving, the Audi TT is the right car. The small four-seater coupe is perfect for city driving and carving up local canyon roads with ease. The TT’s 258 lb-ft of torque propels it to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, which is enough to stay nimble in the city as well as fly by traffic on the highway. If you live in a city prone to snowfall, Audi’s Quattro AWD system is an attractive feature that many of the cars on this list don't have. Keeping your $44,000 car on the road and out of snowbanks is certainly a good idea.
In addition to AWD, Audi’s Side Assist radar system warns the diver if there's a vehicle in the blind spot, further protecting the small coupe.
According to Audi, the TT gets 23 miles per gallon during city driving. While this isn’t great compared to the other small cars on this list, it could certainly be worse. For the speed, power, and luxury that comes with the TT, this is a small transgression that drivers can happily overcome.
14 Good: BMW X1
Much like the TT, the BMW X1 is a car for the city driver who's performance-minded. While small, comfortable, and low-slung, the X1 is surprisingly capable both in the city and on a canyon road. 258 lb-ft of torque powers you to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, a respectable time that’ll let you leave most Sunday drivers in your rearview mirror. At $33,900, it's cheaper than the TT and an efficient way to carve up all roads.
The turbo provides a good kick, and the X1’s large brakes keep it controlled in corners and hills.
The X1 excels at city driving, too. A well-finished BMW interior makes the X1 a pleasant place to be, leaving you unworried about sitting in traffic or waiting at lights. The X1 has a decent amount of interior space for either cargo or people, proving itself perhaps the best combination of practical and sporty on this list. The sportiness takes a toll on city gas mileage, bringing it down to 23, but one mile on a twisty road, and you’ll forget all about it.
13 Good: Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen Golf is a tried-and-true car for urbanites. Available with three or five doors with a multitude of models, the Golf is the most versatile car on this list. A base level Golf starts off at just $20,190, but buyers looking for more oomph can pick up a GTI or an R for quite a bit more money. Seeing as how the R makes almost 300 horsepower, it's well worth it. However, the base Golf is perfect for any driver. With 199 lb-ft of torque, the Golf has plenty of pep to pull you along. The turbocharged engine is paired with a nimble chassis, making it a solid contender amongst cars that cost much more.
While fun to drive, the Golf is also comfortable, with a refined German interior that makes for a nice place to spend a few hours.
Driver aids such as blind-spot monitoring and a rear-parking camera make the Golf easily operable in tight quarters, protecting the car from dents and dings. The car is especially practical, holding space for 5 or plenty of cargo. Getting 25 mpg in the city will help you carry your gear farther, longer. A 6-year, 72,000-mile warranty will make sure the Golf stays with you for years to come, offering a driving package that will outpace cars for years to come.
12 Good: Audi Q3
At $32,900, the Q3 is a reasonably priced small crossover that's perfect for the city. A torquey motor gives it pep while hauling around town, which Audi makes a pleasant experience due to the well-designed interior. Much like the X1, the i3, and the TT, the Germans have nailed how to deliver a quality interior that's a mix of simplistic design with a luxurious air. While the Q3 is great for city driving on its own, it does have some downfalls.
Firstly, its fuel economy lacks when compared to other cars in this segment. A measly 20 miles per gallon for city driving is too low to be economical in today’s automotive market, and even on this list, there are many cars that get more mileage with better performance; the Q3 meanders to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, slow for the price buyers pay. A sloped hatch means less cargo space than its competitors, and while it holds more than a TT or a Miata, buyers looking for a crossover want more space for their money.
11 Good: Mazda Miata
The Mazda Miata is a classic driver’s car that most people would choose for spirited canyon driving. However, it's great for commuting, especially if you don't anticipate guests. Fun to drive, the Miata will keep you entertained no matter what driving situation you find yourself in. Its 50/50 weight balance helps to make it perhaps one of the best engineered (and affordable) driver’s cars on today’s market. Mazda has also stepped up their interior quality and provides one of the nicest interiors you can get for under $30,000.
Starting at $25,295, the Miata comes with the aforementioned quality interior and a selection of driving aids to keep you (and your ride) safe in city traffic. Blind-spot monitoring warns you of drivers in… you guessed it, your vehicle’s blind spots. A rear cross-traffic alert system warns drivers of vehicles approaching as they back out of spaces – a handy feature when surrounded by tall crossovers and SUVs.
10 Good: Fiat 500
Small cars and European manufacturers go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise to see the Fiat 500 on this list. Starting at just $15,990, the small price tag matches the small car. In large cities, especially European ones, driving is largely unnecessary. However, when it comes time to take a weekend trip or show a friend the area, it’s not a bad idea to have this small and stylish car to whip out. The Fiat, nimble and tight, is great for meandering through cramped city streets and can be parked just about anywhere.
A 5-speed manual transmission and a small engine that makes 101 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque make the Fiat a breeze to drive through the city.
The peppy car easily maneuvers around larger, clumsier vehicles. With features such as keyless entry, a premium audio system, and an infotainment display, the Fiat is well equipped so that you won’t mind sitting in the occasional traffic jam. At 31 miles per gallon for city driving, the Fiat is an economical automotive accessory that won’t dominate your life but will be there when you come calling.
9 Good: BMW i3
Want to cruise the city in eco-friendly comfort but aren’t interested in a Leaf or a Volt? Then the BMW i3 is for you, without question. The i3 is peppy, getting to 60 in 7.2 seconds. The electric motor’s 184 lb-ft of torque is enough to keep you on your toes in traffic as you dance through clogged motorways. A starting price of $44,450 makes this car a little more expensive than some of the other small cars on this list, but that price buys you BMW build quality and luxury. A beautifully designed interior welcomes you every time you get behind the wheel, and a well-engineered suspension system delivers a comfortable ride.
For both eco-friendliness and convenience, BMW states that the i3 can go up to 114 miles on a single charge.
That's more than enough to get most people to and from work, around town, and out for the weekend on just one change. Additionally, the i3 is manufactured at the carbon-neutral BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany. The plant uses 70% less water and 50% less energy than common factories. It also runs on 100% renewable energy. This car is great for city driving and does so with very few emissions.
8 Good: Volkswagen Up!
Starting at about $12,500, the Volkswagen Up! is an economical, comfortable, and stylish ride that'll have city dwellers turning away from conventional cars to the small Up! A 1-liter turbocharged engine will have drivers smiling as they accelerate and maneuver through traffic with ease. The engine may be small, but so is the car, and the ratio provides enough pep for city driving.
The Up! has a unique selection of colors that combine with a variety of alloy wheels acting as a fashion accessory that also transports you to and from work. Features such as a panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, and a premium audio system make the Up! feel like a premium vehicle. Perhaps the best feature of all is its fuel efficiency – the Up! gets about 68 miles per gallon. Thrifty city drivers should consider this small, fun car.
7 Good: Smart Fortwo
The Smart Fortwo is perhaps the quintessential city car. The Smart is produced by Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. This translates into a well-built, quality car that can park just about anywhere. In fact, as per a number of YouTube videos, the Smart can park while facing the curb without sticking out any more than a parallel-parked car would. This is the smallest car on our list, making it easy to drive through crowded roads and cramped parking lots. Starting at $25,390, the Smart is affordable and can be used sparingly in good conscience.
Daimler has recently shifted Smart Fortwo production towards electric models, and the electric Fortwo is a great city accessory. It gets 124 mpg in the city and only takes 3 hours to fully charge. With federal tax credits, buyers can get up to $7,500 back, making the Fortwo almost as cheap as the Up! Safe to say, this car is a smart investment.
6 Good: Mini Cooper S
The Mini Cooper used to be much more of a “mini” than it is now, but the small British contribution to this list still pulls its own weight. For $21,900, buyers get a solid, well-built car for their money. A peppy, turbocharged engine propels you through town, while a sporty suspension keeps the Cooper S tight in corners and comfortable in traffic. Features such as a heads-up display (for the speed gauges) and navigation are evident of quality and convenience.
Safety features such as a rear camera and parking sensors allow drivers to easily navigate cramped parking lots.
Most impressive, a forward-collision warning system will prevent fender benders when inching along through traffic jams – or perhaps when you’re not paying attention.
5 Bad: Chevrolet Tahoe
This choice is obvious. While the Chevrolet Tahoe may be good at towing, carrying people, and plowing through whatever obstacles are placed in its path, it's not suited for city driving. The lumbering SUV is 81 inches wide and 204 inches long, making for an unwieldy package that doesn't fit well with small streets.
At $47,500, the Tahoe is far too expensive to be a viable option for driving in the city, especially given that owners aren't likely to drive every day.
The Tahoe also gets horrible mileage: 16 miles per gallon during city driving, which is well below what any of these other options make. Such abysmal numbers mean that the Chevy should be left to do what it does best: tow and haul, not canter through small city streets. According to Car and Driver, the Tahoe has a stiff and rough ride when traversing broken pavement, which is all too common in urban areas. Buyers would be better off with a small, more comfortable car.
4 Bad: Mercedes G63 AMG 6 x 6
The Mercedes G63 AMG 6 x 6 is one of the biggest vehicles that you could possibly buy and perhaps one of the worst to take to a city. It's 83 inches wide and a whopping 231 inches long – huge, by any standards. This vehicle is way too big for city driving — too wide, too long, too tall. It's at home off-road and drifting through sand dunes, as Mercedes loves to advertise. The trundling, 6-wheeled monstrosity would be impossible to control through small streets, causing carnage wherever it goes.
The 6 x 6 only gets 9 miles per gallon during city driving, far too low a number to regularly drive through metropolitan areas. The 6 x 6 is big, but the biggest thing about it is the price tag – roughly $525,000, according to Motor Trend. For city driving, this is far too much to pay when even a well-optioned A4 or 3 series would set you back just a fraction of the cost of this vehicle. The 6 x 6 is restricted by the bounds of the city, and it's only fair to let this beast roam free off-road.
3 Bad: Modified Jeep Wrangler
On the plus side, Jeep Wranglers are affordable (starting at $27,495), are excellent off-road vehicles, and are more than capable of conquering whatever weather conditions are thrown towards your area. However, they, specially modified ones, aren't ideal for city driving. At best, a stock, 4-cylinder Wrangler gets 23 miles per gallon during city driving.
Throwing big, bulky wheels and a raised, less aerodynamic suspension onto the Wrangler will make that number even worse.
Chunky off-road tires that you’ll probably put on your Wrangler won't only reduce your mileage but will also worsen the ride quality – a bumpy, loud, and harsh ride isn't ideal for city driving. The wide, offset tires that are the darlings of the off-road world will make your Wrangler stick out of its lane, scrape on curbs, and make life incredibly difficult for you when trying to park. All in all, these off-road beasts are best kept on the trails and out of the city.
2 Bad: Modified Mazda Miata
The Miata is a great car for city driving – in stock form or at least with very little modification. To begin, it's likely that your modified Miata is old — like, really old. It's unlikely that the interior quality will be solid; things will likely be falling apart, and few creature comforts will make this a sad place to spend a traffic jam. Aftermarket exhaust systems will be loud and droning, slowly increasing your road rage as you deal with crowded city streets.
The lowered suspension will make for a bumpy and uncomfortable ride, unpleasant over pockmarked city streets. A lowered suspension will also make your ride harder to see, and lifted trucks might drive over you in traffic. Perhaps worst of all, you’ll be peer-pressured into lowering your Miata more and more and adding camber. This means you’ll scrape everywhere and get stuck going into parking lots and driveways. Stay far away from the city in your modded Miata.
1 Bad: Any Supercar
This is a general but obvious entry. Supercars belong on a racetrack or in a canyon, not strolling through city lanes. For starters, this would be an incredibly expensive endeavor. Supercars, with their huge engines, get poor gas mileage. Their tires, oil changes, and general parts are far more expensive than those of a regular commuter car, which would add an unnecessary cost of ownership to the car. The low bodies of supercars will scrape and rub over just about any bump, risking expensive damage that could easily be avoided.
Long doors on 2-door supercars will prove tricky to use in tight parking lots and will make for an expensive repair bill if someone carelessly hits your door with theirs. Big engines that are prone to overheating coupled with heavy clutches will make for a tiring experience in the city, lessening the wonderful experience of owning a supercar. Lastly, you’ll be mobbed by people everywhere you go. It could be a crowd of enthusiasts chasing after your car in traffic trying to get a photo or a nonstop line of people coming to you with questions. Keep your supercar out of the city!
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