City Cars, what makes sense and what makes you nauseous: Are they CRAP or credible?

Most of us live and work in cities. Peak hour traffic jams can be a bore but living in cities makes traffic an ugly fact of life. If you could sprinkle fairy dust and transport yourself from place to place, you wouldn’t need to worry about petrol and parking and road rules, but since you can’t, here are a selection of cars for under 7L/100k in a series of mini tests.

Barina Spark $14490 drive away, 5l/100k avg



Holden bases their teensy bug eyed super-mini on the Daewoo Matiz. Love it or hate it, it is very cheap and very small with a tiny engine and a meagre appetite for petrol. It’s all plastic inside (including the seating) is made to a price but if you can fold yourself into the tiny seats your pocket will thank you. A taller person has to hold their inner thighs close together in order to get their feet to the pedals, so the car is aimed at a crowd with smaller bums and shorter legs.  If you keep the revs up you won’t notice that you don’t have a lot of power at your disposal which is only an issue if you need to get out of a spot of bother. This brings us neatly to the cars biggest drawback and that is there is only a manual on offer can you believe it? If you only have an auto licence you’ll have to keep on looking.

It drives ok for a super mini, but bumps in corners have you jumping all over the place which can be very unsettling. Importantly, you have an acceptable sound system with inputs for your mp3 player but no bluetooth. There is also plenty of safety gear to make sure you don’t hurt yourself if you are suddenly stopped by a brick wall. There are 5 safety stars worth of ABS (not abs silly), cornering and traction controls and lots of airbags. For the money, a smaller person is going to think this option isn’t too bad.

Does anyone else think the lights were off a bigger car?

Toyota Prius. $43,900 drive away. For the base model 4.9l/100k avg

Toyota Camry Hybrid $43,000 drive away for the top model 7l/100k avg


Don’t moan just because I say the word “Prius”. Say the word hybrid and you think of Toyota and it’s eco poster-queen, the Prius. The Prius and Camry hybrid both use electric and petrol engines together or individually to propel you along at an Olympic rate but use mere sips of petrol. There is a boot full of batteries that charge from the petrol motor so the only limit on how far you can drive is the amount of fuel you can buy. They both have a fabulous keyless entry and start system which means rotting around in your pocket of small change for a key that is inevitably in another pocket is a thing of the past. Just walk right up to the door and open it, get in, sit down, and start the car (and lock it by pressing a button on the outside door handle). When you press the start button nothing happens until you release the brake and put it in drive. I won’t bore you with the whiz-bangery that keeps it all going, but suffice to say the petrol motor is only on when it’s needed. The Prius gets 3.6 and the Camry 7 l/100k. The star-trek-like interior will appeal in the Prius whereas the Camry is conventional inside and just a little diagram on the dashboard to indicates it’s running on batteries. The whole system is mindblowingly complex and only a genius knows how it works or how to fix it if it all goes tits-up.

The cloth interior of the pov model Prius is actually my preference as the leather can be cold on the buns on a winter’s day and stinking hot when scorched for a few hours in the unforgiving summer sun. The odd shape screams “I’m a Prius. Look at me look at me, I’m a hybrid and I care”. Hollywood celebs are buying them by the bucket load and to date over 2 million have been sold. The Camry feels similar to the Prius to drive but is a much bigger car. They both soak up the bumps and comer smoothly with the electric steering feeling slightly like porridge at times. It’s not sporty by any means but not so horrible that either, just odd. There is a little too much insulation from the road for my liking. There is no feeling through the steering wheel and the suspension has an eerie disjointed sensation. You just have to have the confidence that the wheels will go where you steer them and of course they do.

Once you get used to the stop/start of the petrol engine, both hybrids, though a little dull, are very good cars. The only down side is that there is a lot of computer gear that can go wrong and would be hideously expensive to repair if out of warranty. Similarly the batteries, just like in your remote controls at home, need replacing at $3,000. This will happen after about 8 years because Toyota guarantees them for that amount of time. Both boots are on the tight side because of the need to have a million kilos of rechargeable batteries in them. You still get fold down seats and for the most part you don’t have to compromise on space just to be green. The only annoying thing was the leather clad seats in the Camry made my bum numb after an hour on the road. I can’t imagine what it would be like driving it any further. Over all though, I was surprised at how nice the experience was and I would have no doubts in saying they both are ideal city cars. It’s also where they are going to get the best fuel consumption. Beware, you will get looks from strangers at the lights when they think your motor has conked out and there are only the dulcet tones of Kylie for company. The stereos, by the way, are fantastic.





Holden Cruze CDX diesel Auto 29,900 drive away 7.5 l/100avg

This is the last of the 4 cars this week. It’s another Holden made in the Daewoo factory and was chosen for the fresh look and the fact that it is a diesel. Holden’s engine is mighty rowdy and does intrude into the cabin and gets raucous under hard acceleration. You can both feel and hear in the cabin but not enough to annoy you if you don’t mind a tractor sound from the front of the car. For under 30k you don’t get too many extras but this is a big car for the class. It feels roomier than its opposition such as the corolla, and is a much better drive. There is good old fashioned feeling that reaches you through the steering and lets you know what the wheels are doing. It feels very safe and assured in the corners but the little blast of energy from the Turbo can be a bit of a shock if you’re not expecting, it especially at the traffic lights. She can really lifts her skirts when the light goes green after the merest hint of hesitation. Like the other cars tested, there is a host of air bags and electronic driver aids and although they keep you safe, can also interfere with your driving as they apply brakes and throttle to control the grip on the road, or more particularly, the lack of grip on the road..

We had the top model which has leather but the seats, like in the Camry, were a bit firm. As in all cars, the top model will give you MP3 and AUX inputs for your radio and better air conditioning. As far as the looks go, it’s not too bad and there is an Australian made hatchback following shortly. Rumour has it that the suspension is even better than in the sedan so time will tell. So it’s nice to drive and not bad too look at. It is cheap to run and doesn’t need fresh batteries after 8 years. It has plenty of get up and go in traffic so makes a perfect city car. The omission of Bluetooth in this day and age is just unforgivable.

The conclusion

We can’t possibly compare the 4 cars in anything but fuel consumption. The Prius claims 3.6 l/100k while the Camry and the Cruze are around 7 l/100k and the Spark a little less than that. They range in size from the tiny spark to the full sized Camry with the Cruze and Prius in between.

If you have a small bum than you can consider the Spark but taller folk just won’t be comfortable. My inner thighs ached for days after driving it, and not in a good way, so it just isn’t meant for someone tall. The other 3 would all make good cars for around town. The price varied as did the equipment levels, but the reversing camera of the Camry was a stroke of brilliance and should, Bluetooth,  be in every new car. It would end touch parking in a single blow. Leather always makes me think of the inside of an S&M bar minus the drinks, but most people like it though you’ll change your mind on hot days. In most vehicles the leather is almost always black for some reason and gets so hot you could fry an egg on it. All of the cars had a shed load of air bags and too many electronic safety aids to mention, so picking a favourite just can’t be done. If pressed, it would be the Cruze, and, I can’t believe I am saying this, the Camry. Toyota Bluetooth is devilishly hard to use but the manual sorts all that out.

Finally, just a few words on buying cars generally. Never sign until you have had a really long test drive. By long, I don’t mean a 10 minute dawdle around the block. Car sales people rely on getting as many people to sign on the dotted line as they can, after all that’s how they are paid. Always insist on several opinions especially if you have a trade in. Don’t believe the “someone else is coming in to buy it this afternoon,” line. Take your time, it’s your money, you earned it and you can spend it however you like. You don’t need their permission to shop around for the best price and you might even save yourself a few thousand. Ask for a full tank of fuel and extras when it’s time to sign up because they want your dollar. They need you, you don’t need them!

Bye for now.