-by Thomas Zizzo
I’m not sure why I’ve always liked smaller cars. I think maybe it’s because they’re not as common and typically get better gas mileage or are easier to park, whatever it is, I love driving little cars.
I put together this list of my favorites, but there are specific reasons why I chose these cars, and I will explain. First of all, it has to be small, and I understand that while some cars are relatively small-you can call them compact, some cars are really small; I’m looking more at the really small, but not so small it would be considered a micro car, such as a classic BMW Isetta, or a late 50’s Nash Metropolitan. Those cars didn’t make my list because not only are they considered micro, they no longer exist, and haven’t for quite some time. I believe that a car is really great if it has been around for a while, and evolved over generations of drivers while maintaining its original appeal. So you will notice on my list that these cars have been around for many years and can still be found today. Of course, the popularity of small cars seems to be on the rise when you look at some newer cars available now, such as the return of the little Fiat 500 to the United States, thanks to the merger with Chrysler, and the new Scion iQ. Only time will tell with these cars; are they a passing fad or a new standard. There may be other cool small cars out there, but these are my favorites.
The Volkswagen Beetle is hands down the greatest small car ever made, and before you jump in to argue, I’ll tell you why. There have been more VW Bugs made than any other car, yes, ANY other car, including the Ford Model-T when it surpassed an astounding 15 million plus cars sold by the early 70’s. Yes, there are cars that are smaller, but overall, a Bug is pretty darn small compared to most. When referring to vintage bugs(anything made prior to the late 70’s)they’re simple, easy to work on, cheap to maintain, and despite being small, they’re quite roomy inside. I can still remember the first time I went to park my ’61 Bug on a busy street that normally would have required a complex parallel parking maneuver, it was so easy I almost laughed. What amazes me even more is that the Bug still lives on, and while the new ones are a far cry from the original models, the soul of the little German car is going strong, and shows no signs of dying any time soon.
A Mazda Miata is pretty darn small, almost micro in size, and when it first debuted in 1989, it was such a huge hit that people paid above sticker price to get one-what???! Yep, they did, in fact most dealerships had waiting lists for the little convertibles. The inspiration for the Miata came from the vintage MGs and two-seat roadsters of the late 50’s and 60’s, and for whatever reason, by the late 80’s and early 90’s, small convertible sports cars were non-existent. The Miata is still produced, although much more refined than its first inception. You might say that the age of small roadsters was destined to make a comeback with the introduction of the Miata, and why not, they’re a blast to drive, just make sure you don’t need to bring any luggage larger than a gym bag for a road trip.
The Mini of course prides itself on being small, hence the name. Much like the VW Bug, it’s hard not to fall in love with the little car, and its popularity is arguably just as big. Some might consider it micro-an original vintage one maybe, but I would argue that it isn’t quite as small as it looks. The inside of a vintage Mini is actually very roomy, considering its size. Hollywood made it uber-famous with the 1969 cult classic film The Italian Job, and when BMW took over the brand in 2001, the spirit of the Mini was kept alive, even if the new Mini is a little larger than its humble beginnings. Point being, small is still cool, and the Mini keeps that idea alive even today.
The Jeep CJ, known today simply as the Wrangler (CJ stood for Civilian Jeep) was arguably the first true SUV, and when you really look at one, they’re small, at least I think so. Not many vehicles have evolved yet remained true to its original flavor like the Jeep. It literally defined a new category of car-not a truck, but not a passenger car, it is something else. The CJ was first introduced after the vehicle’s huge success during WW2, and much like the military version, the CJ was simply unbreakable and could go just about anywhere. I think people have always had a desire for adventure, especially with their cars, and what better to fulfill that desire than with a Jeep. It has changed owners/manufacturers over the years (Willys, AMC, Chrysler) but the overall concept and look has stayed the same. Even when SUVs became all the rage in recent years, the Jeep was always a contender in its class, and thanks to its compact size, the only reason other SUVs have done well is because the Jeep is considered by many to be too small. As I have said before, time will tell, and the Jeep truly lives up to the idea that good things come in small packages.