A new generation of city cars

Posted on July 18th, 2014 by Rob Marshall

c1As the UK claws itself out of financial torpor (the end of which is still a long way off), a new generation of exciting city cars has descended, to meet fresh demands of the post-recession generation. The previous benchmark setters, in my opinion, were Citroën’s C1, the Peugeot 107 and Toyota’s Aygo, all of which were the same basic car that hit the market at exactly the right time, capitalising on both the UK’s car scrappage scheme and the financial downturn.

Unsurprisingly, they all sold strongly and offered basic, inexpensive, economical and dependable transport. Today, they are elderly models and the Germans have moved the game on, with a new family of Eastern European-built triplets: the Volkswagen Up!, the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii, all of which emphasise that ‘inexpensive’ need not mean ‘budget’.

Yet, both French and the Japanese are fighting back and Citroën’s version of the three newcomers that replace the brands’ originals was launched last, which I drove briefly earlier this month. With DAB Digital Radio, climate control, a smartphone touchscreen interface, hill start, speed limiter, keyless entry and a reversing camera available, there is plenty to tempt downsizers, as well as more affluent younger drivers, who can afford to meet the monthly payments, which start from £99.

As the VW, Skoda and SEAT also testify, diminutive three-cylinder engines do not mean that the car is underpowered, especially considering the new Citroën C1’s sub 900kg bulk. The tested Citroën also came with an upgraded 1.0-litre engine from its predecessor, which is reckoned to be the better seller, which is a shame, because the more modern 1.2-litre motor offers very useful extra power, a longer service interval and still retains CO2 emissions low enough to qualify for a zero road fund license, at least, for the moment. The car also drove well, with sensibly balanced controls, a surprisingly comfortable ride, a slick manual transmission and well-geared steering.

The Citroën’s cheery fascia and Toyota supplied switchgear might not have the same tangible quality as those fitted to the more soberly-designed interiors of the VW-Group competition but I detected zero rattling and nothing was about to come adrift. The same comments can be applied to the bodywork, which is tinnier but far from insubstantial. Yet, the Peugeot, Citroën and Aygo triumph over the Skoda, SEAT and VW, by not only looking less conservative and more adventurous but they also look markedly different from one another at first glance, despite being, basically, the same car underneath.

So, if you are a novice driver that does not want to lose out on the latest technology, or a more experienced car owner, who wishes to downscale, Peugeot, Citroën and Toyota’s (not forgetting VW, SEAT and Skoda) latest offerings mean that there are fewer compromises to be made now than there ever were.