Hooniverse Asks- How Small is Too Small?

As Americans, we usually like our stuff big. We’re always super-sizing our food, embiggening our big screens, and the boobs, don’t get me started on those. Our cars traditionally reflected this bigger is better mind set, gaining both length and width until our highways resembled an armada of aircraft carriers in the mid-’70s.
Fuel price fluctuations have driven car sizes down since then, although an explosion in SUV growth in the ’90s (known as the early crass-aceous period) slowed that decline somewhat, and today we are seeing some of the smallest big-cars, as well as the smallest small cars ever offered to the American buying public. But how small is too small?

The Mini, Toyota Yaris, as well as the upcoming Mazda 2 and its funky cousin the Ford Fiesta are pushing the boundaries of bite-sized here in the U.S. And while those cars seem tiny, they’re practically huge compared to the Smart ForTwo. That commuter with the joy-killing gearbox is the smallest semi-mainstream car you can buy here in land of Bruce Springsteen and Urkelos.
But Tata is threatening to foist the Nano on us, and that may open the floodgates of moped-performance autos clogging our already overburdened roads. It’s likely that any Nano that makes it to our shores will be a more bodacious Tata as U.S. crash standards  are a little more stringent than those elsewhere.
That was the case with the Honda Fit, which wears a more Hollywood-friendly nose back home, and a larger, more punch-absorbent one here. The Fit is as small as the Mini and Yaris, and like those other two, seems very popular, owing to how many are on the road these days. That proves at least some people are open to little tykes-like transportation. But what about going down a size, Kirstie Alley style? How small would you be willing to go?
Image sources: [IndianAutoBlog, TheTruthAboutCars]

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61 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- How Small is Too Small?”

  1. damnelantra™[!] Avatar

    freeways, nothing smaller then the damnelantra™.
    streets, http://www.tommyschultz.com/photos/album/philippi

    1. jjd241 Avatar

      Or maybe a mustang?

  2. SSurfer321 Avatar

    C-Segment (compact) car is as small as I will go. I've seen the crash tests on the A and B segment cars and they scare the hell out of me. A-Pillars are NOT supposed to fold like this:
    [youtube vcTf78b8WfY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcTf78b8WfY youtube]

    1. damnelantra™[!] Avatar

      hey, good thing that cars got airbags!

      1. SSurfer321 Avatar

        If you watch the video closely, you'll notice the steering wheel airbag attempt to push the occupant out the open door.

        1. damnelantra™[!] Avatar

          thats why i made the comment.

          1. SSurfer321 Avatar

            Sorry, I missed the sarcasm in your comment.
            internet sarcasm > me

  3. Dr_Dangerously Avatar

    Last week Smart was letting people do test drives right next to my work, so I got to drive the Fortwo around Boston. I would be fine in the city with this, but no way in hell I would drive this on the highway.
    You can see why by these crash tests – http://tinyurl.com/4keeh3
    On the offset crash, the 180 spin and both back wheels leaving the ground, then the side impact where the car is plowed clean off of the testing area really concern me. I wold not want to be thrown to the other side of the highway and then punted by a massive truck.

  4. Black Steelies Avatar

    A fuselage Chrysler. That's as small as I go. As soon as I can even detect a hint of my corners off in the hazy distance, I feel unsafe!
    <img src="http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/3/3177/4101/32942050011_large.jpg"&gt;
    To the best of my knowledge those two guys are fully grown. A big fwiggin' ca'

  5. Black Steelies Avatar

    In all seriousness though, I rode back from the NYC auto show last week in a Mini Cooper Clubman. You sit pretty low and it's still pretty tiny despite being the wagon version, but I felt safe the whole way home. Thick pillars and solid road feel. I could think of worse things than enduring an offset frontal crash test in that little machine.

  6. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    In-town? Nothing. But you should be taking the bus/train/a bike.
    On the freeway, I wouldn't go smaller than an Ariel Atom….or maybe the rotary-powered Sprite from Cars and Coffee.

  7. lilwillie Avatar

    Mmmmm, I guess it is all relative. I do have the name lilwillie so to me nothing is too small if it is fun.

  8. Ash78 Avatar

    Size 13. I like walking. Sometimes people have a hard time understanding this…"but you're a car guy!" they say. Exactly. I love cars, so I try to minimize cold starting and hard, meaningless driving 😀
    For vehicular transport, it all depends on what everyone else is driving. Based on my history of zero accidents in 16 years, I'm guessing that when my day does come, it'll be someone else's fault. Unfortunately, that means I'm not willing to daily drive anything smaller than my B5 Passat (especially with my pregnant wife aboard).

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell


      1. Ash78 Avatar

        Gracias…we're finding out today whether it's a little Hoon or Hoonette.

        1. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          Nice. I remember that appointment…it's a fun one.

          1. coupeZ600 Avatar

            It is certainly one of my most intense memories. Seeing that first ultra-sound image ranks right up there with the time I almost rolled a fully-loaded Semi in heavy traffic. Had to clean my drawers both times.

    2. engineerd Avatar

      Congrats on the little creature…I mean…baby! All our friends that were without child are having kids, so I know that day isn't too long in the future for me.

  9. mdharrell Avatar

    "…today we are seeing some of the smallest big-cars, as well as the smallest small cars ever offered to the American buying public."
    Nope. Postwar to mid-'60s microcars are TINY compared to anything offered today and many will maintain highway speeds– Smart cars, for example, are conspicuously oversized at microcar shows. Early cyclecars are also itty-bitty. I imagine there's something out there even smaller than a Briggs and Stratton Model J that has been seriously offered (and accepted) for US road use, but it serves to indicate caution when using words like "smallest" and "ever" in this context:

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Very true. The Metropolitan is downright tiny next to most of today's "compacts".
      Even in the '70s and '80s, as a response to the oil crises, the small cars were smaller than they are today. The 1st gen CVCC was about 140" long by 59" wide, compared to 160"x78" for the 2011 Fiesta hatch. Of course, the Fiesta will have a 4 or 5 star crash test rating whereas the CVCC is one giant crumple zone.

    2. KillerZomBee Avatar

      You callin my wife's smart fat?!?!
      Ha-ha, Indeed, even your MG Metro seemed pretty small compared to the nearby smart at Concurs de Lemons. And of course, your KV Mini takes the cake.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        In light of the side-impact beams and such in the smart, I think it's safe to say it's not fat, just big-boned.
        As far as the Metro and KV go, I figured it was cheating to make my point with cars never intended for US consumption. Still, there are plenty of Messerschmitts, Isettas, and so forth that were sold here and can be used on the highway. Even the original Minis are astonishingly small by modern standards. To answer the original question, I don't consider any of them to be "too small."

  10. engineerd Avatar

    I've actually got the Fiesta on my list of cars to look at when I have to get something with 4 doors. So, I guess that's not too small for me.
    I would love to not have a small car at all. If it were available, I would take mass transit as much as possible. The problem is, to get from my house to the office on the SMART bus would take 3x longer than just driving, and cost almost as much. The Smart fortwo is too small, and is basically useless for anything other than commuting (unless you attach a trailer to it).

    1. TurboBrick Avatar

      I know what you mean. My commute is 25 – 45 minutes right now. If I tried to get where I'm going on the VIA bus the distance would double and time would be about 2 – 3 hours one way. The local public transit system is designed more like a giant satellite lot system where the majority of the benefit is reaped by those who wish to avoid paying for parking downtown. So, untl they come up with a bus service that goes around the loop and stops at each exit, I'll continue working towards the 300K high-mileage club badge.

      1. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        I'd be happy to take the train for my 42 mile each way commute. There's a station less than a mile from my house, and a station a ~10 minute drive from my office
        The train schedule on the reverse-commute direction is a bit wonky, making my days either a little too short or too long.
        The biggest problem is that station->office trip requires a car at the station, which erodes pretty much any savings, unless it downgrade to a total beater that I just leave up there.
        I did the math, and I think it starts to make sense if gas gets up over $4.50 (without a corresponding change in ticket prices).

  11. nofrillls Avatar

    IMHO, with cars, much like with boobs and many other applications, it's not about size, it's about proportions and design.
    No size to small with the the right engine and chassis.

  12. muthalovin Avatar

    <img src="http://www.luxury-insider.com/Current_Affairs/img/0509-world-smallest-car-UK-3.jpg"&gt;
    I was considering making this picture really small. You know, for spite.

  13. Tomsk Avatar

    Mazda Suitcase Car!
    <img src="http://www.autoracingdaily.com/images/featured/blackcase-side.jpg&quot; width="450" height="327" />
    In all seriousness, I would be uncomfortable in anything smaller than a B-segment vehicle, though my parents seem to want me in at least a C-segment.

  14. joshuman Avatar

    When I got my license my Mom had a Subaru Justy. It was a four-door and had 4-wheel-drive. I wouldn't want anything smaller than that mostly because you lose so much utility that I would rather just run or bike to my destination.
    <img src="http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/autoreview/400×266/1990-94-Subaru-Justy-91810051000101.jpg&quot; style="width: 400px; height: 266px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

  15. TurboBrick Avatar

    I'm really intrested in the Fiat 500, that wouldn't be a bad size car. Smart's biggest problem is that it's really designed to fight urban congestion & lack of parking space to the point that it has to make some serious compromises.

  16. Feds_II Avatar

    DRZ400SM. Though I would consider a CB350 done up cafe style, or a 250 2 stroke in a sportbike chassis. Either of those should make enough power to slice and dice as necessary.
    If it's got 4 wheels, a roof and a windshield, it's 150x safer than what I commute in 8 months of the year, so it'd be hypocritical to call any car out as too small to be safe.

  17. Alff Avatar

    Nothing is too small but many of the smallest cars are just too lame.

  18. soo΄pәr-bādd75 Avatar

    I drove an '84 Dodge Colt in High School and never felt unsafe once. I guess it was probably a little smaller than a Honda Fit is today, and I loved its small size. The low weight made it somewhat peppy with very little power, it was also somewhat tossable, and it was very fuel efficient. That's probably about the smallest I'd personally go, and it also seems to me that much smaller would be rather impractical. I need something with room for at least 4 on occasion, and a smart doesn't seem to have much room for a trip to the local grocer, whereas my old Colt could fit a week's worth of food under its rear hatch. So I guess my answer is, the smallest I'd go is 1984 Dodge Colt sized.

    1. KillerZomBee Avatar

      Looks can be deceiving.
      I've said it before, but we take our smart to Costco all the time. A full cart fits no problem, although sometimes the wife has to sit with the huge brick of paper towels on her lap. Our chow-chow rides in the back quite comfortably, and we even had one of our Lemons teammates riding in the back to our along with all 3 of our luggage (Long story) on the way to the hotel at Goin-for-Broken.
      I've never felt unsafe in the thing. But then again I've never felt unsafe in a Pinto, Gremlin or VW bug either.

  19. CaffeineFuelled Avatar

    I come from a part of Canada where its totally uncommon not to see big lifted trucks (rig rockets) cruising around. Being that there is a lot of oilfield work that takes place in the area, it makes sense in most cases. I can’t argue, I work in the oilfield industry and have a truck of my own and an employer’s truck as well. Roads (if there are roads where you're going) can be dicey without a 4×4.
    See reply – apparently my comment was too long… sorry.

  20. CaffeineFuelled Avatar

    A month and a half ago I was looking to move on from my first car of 11 years (a Toyota Corolla – yeah, I know) and get a newer car. After lots of test driving, my decision came down to the Volvo C30 and the Mini Cooper S. I ended up going with the Cooper S (based on performance, price point, appearance/personality) and am so happy I did. I love that little car. The manual is a blast to drive. I never thought I would buy something that small but it really doesn’t feel like it is when you’re in it. I admit, the back seat isn’t at all useful for a normal-sized person to sit in for extended periods but it is doable for short distances. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Barring heavy snowfall in winter, it will be my primary driver (I still have the truck if it gets too crappy out).
    I wouldn’t want to go any smaller than the Mini though.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      My dad recently picked up a Cooper S.
      I can think of few cars that are better suited to being primary transport for 1-2 people if you've got no specific cargo or utility needs (or a spare truck).
      I like the looks of the C30 better, and give it points for being the less common alternative to the Mini.

      1. CaffeineFuelled Avatar

        I would have agreed with you before having to deal with the morons at the Volvo dealership here. They would not listen to me or what I wanted – they constantly tried to sell me what I wasn't interested in. If I do end up buying a Volvo sometime in the future, it certainly won't be from the dealership in Edmonton.

        1. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          Arg…dealers. Hate 'em.

    2. faster,Tobias! Avatar

      I can talk about MINI's until the cows come home. I absolutely love them, but should confess I am extremely biased – I've worked at MINI Crowfoot in Calgary the past five years. I'm on my second 'S', a 2005. The first was also a 2005 JCW that I sold so I could buy a 2006 Elise, and that is probably the smallest car I have owned. Not the sort of thoughts I dwell on while driving, but it did pass through my mind on more than one occasion that, if I took a hit in the Lotus, the only things left would be me, the seat and the steering wheel. I wouldn't say I was nervous driving it, but certainly more cognisant of the type of vehicles around me. But I suppose that's no different to when I used to ride 'bikes.

      1. CaffeineFuelled Avatar

        You're at MINI Crowfoot? If I might ask, what department? I have a question about driving lamps that I've been trying to ask MINI Edmonton but they keep throwing me on hold and forgetting me/hanging up.
        (ps, I'm sorry to bug you about work on here!)

        1. faster,Tobias! Avatar

          No problem. I'm in the sales side, but I can find out what you need to know if I can't help. I'll be at work at 1pm today, give
          me a call – it's Craig.

  21. Manic_King Avatar

    I drive 5 -door Audi A3 (Sportback) and next car will def. be bigger as this expensive Golf is just too road-noisy and bouncy for my taste. Now it's springtime and roads are in god awful condition again after very cold winter and there's no money for proper road repairs this year, so with those 17 inch rims it's quite the hell driving between holes waiting to take a bite out of your wheel. Next car will have longer wheelbase and higher tires. But A3 or VW Golf size car is smallest car I'm ready to drive daily, everything smaller is just too small.

  22. chrystlubitshi Avatar

    i have never liked my eagle summit on the interstate… but that's not a size issue… that's a power/trans. issue.
    used to have a diesel beetle that i had driven thousands of highway/interstate miles in… and was just fine with that size… enough so that i drove it over 750 miles straight (by myself. stopped for food only when i had to fuel up (once.. 540 miles in to the trip).. and only made one other quick pitstop each way)… it was great! (a spring break trip to be remembered!)

  23. Ambersand Avatar

    I sat in a Smart for Two a few weeks ago at Carmax and it wasn't the best moment of my life. Anyone ever had that split second vision, sitting behind the wheel of a car that they don't *yet* own? A lot of times its that vision of you crusin around lookin all good, feeling even better…
    For me it was a slow mo movie running thru my head of that thing getting plowed in the rear end with me in it, and both of us being turned into sawdust and goo. I'd never, EVER own one, especially around Northern VA. The smallest I'll go (for real daily driving) is the Speed3. And that's probably because I drive defensively and know that I have the focus behind the wheel and power to git up n go should I quickly need to – and I've needed to quite a few times, especially with all the SUV/Minivan + cell phone chatting + 30 kids in the back soccer moms around here. Not that I'm stereotyping, but you see enough to know a lack of focus and driving ability is directly proportionate to that scenario.
    P.S. I had no intention of buying that Smart. I sat in it just to see how it felt.

  24. Ambersand Avatar

    And by female repellent you mean you drive an old cargo van with "Free Candy" painted on the side?

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Are you Hiro Nakamura?

  25. Thrashy Avatar

    I intend to make a Fiat 500 Abarth (SS, maybe? Please, Fiat?) my first new car purchase out of college, and my current daly driver makes a Fit look elephantine by comparison. When I was in the market before buying said car, my top three choices were pre-'95 Civics, NA Miatas, and first-gen MR2s.
    So, I guess my answer is "pretty damn small."

  26. skitter Avatar

    I like being able to fit everything I own into my car. So chalk up a vote for an Impreza-sized hatch or sedan from this one car household.

  27. Corvette Poncho Avatar
    Corvette Poncho

    I don't want a small car at all. I'm a taller bigger guy with a family and I want a car that has four doors and moves out. Just exchanged my 2003 SSEi Hooneville with a bazillion miles for a 2006 300c.
    As far as fuel mileage goes…yeah, I'd like to do better than 25 on the freeway with the 300c, but considering it's huge, rides fantasic and is pretty quick, I'll pay the little extra that it costs in fuel versus some match-box sized small car. Am I the only american left who likes big fast cars?

    1. ptschett Avatar

      +1. I'm considering what will be living in my '96 Thunderchicken's spot after this summer, and if I needed a people hauler I'd just go get a Charger or Magnum R/T and be done with it. We had a '93 Cadillac STS in my teenage years and it was a great car for our family at that time.

  28. coupeZ600 Avatar

    It's funny that the owner of a heavy-haul towing company right next to our Yard drives a Smart. But it kind of makes sense, now that I think about it. We drive huge Trucks all day that you're constantly thinking about power-lines and narrow bridges and weight limits and height restrictions, and the eternal question, "Can I get in there, and what's it going to take to get out if things go horribly wrong. Absolutely every Truck-Driver in the World has a story about getting somewhere awful and then having to back all the way out.
    We drive itty-bitty cars because you can always turn them around, even by hand if you need to.

  29. KillerZomBee Avatar

    I wonder if VW Bugs got as much hate when they first came to these shores… Phuck the establishment.
    "smart, because the wife thought it was cute". And at least it won't explode on impact.

  30. smoke_banshee Avatar

    I've got to go close to 200 miles to see a limit above 55 and anything more than two-lane blacktop. Most of my driving is actually done with 25 mph speed limits. My seven mile commute has about two miles where i'm allowed to 55 and another where i can go 45 if no one is clogging the road. But i need a truck for both work and lifestyle, and i need (though could probably live without) 4WD.
    I'd drive a Kei truck as my daily in minute; unfortunately, my state doesn't allow them on the road at all. (though i'm looking into passing one off as a kit car or other such shadowy behavior…) I want one bad, because it would be perfect for what i need. The SO drives the vehicle we'd take on trips anyhow…i haven't quite convinced her to go as small as a Fiesta, but a Focus is an easy sell…though i'll wait until we can get the EcoBoost in one.

  31. dmilligan Avatar

    I'm 6'3" and 21 stone, so my small car is my Suburban. I don't like cars that I have to bend over to see out of the windshield.

  32. jim-bob Avatar

    I say you almost can’t make a car too small for my tastes. Well… I wouldn’t want to drive a Peel P50 on the interstates, but I still would buy a Tata Nano if the price and fuel consumption were low enough. I would also buy a Kei car with a 660cc engine too. If I wanted something for long trips, I would prefer something the size of a Toyota Aygo or VW Fox as the Yaris and Golf are a little too large for my taste, but a Kei car just wouldn’t be comfortable enough to go 3,000 miles. As for crash safety, I know I am dead if I get in an accident with a larger vehicle, but it is a gamble I am willing to take if it means I can drive a tiny car.

  33. smokyburnout Avatar

    Small isn't really a problem for me. I had a Chevy Metro. Size wise, it was all the car I'd ever need (I rarely carry passengers, but occasionally large cargo). My issues with it were things like comfort (not that it was small inside, but in the summer a shot A/C system and a large greenhouse area are a bad combo), the cramped FWD engine bay, and the fact that it was falling apart. I don't mind putting money on a car that's easy/fun to work on, but the Metro was neither.
    The Mini marketing people have a point. A car that drives like a go-kart can be fun at legal speeds on public roads during everyday driving. I had glimpses of that in the Metro, but then the exhaust would fall out or something. Ideally my small go-karty street car would be like the Smart Roadster, only legal in the US and with a stick.
    I don't think I'm a very good judge of the size of cars. My 240D doesn't feel that big, but I tried to park it in the garage where my mom's RX300 goes, and I couldn't close the door. Probably would fit with Euro bumpers.

  34. coupeZ600 Avatar

    I know I've told you all this before, but the very first thing that my wife said when she saw my little Honda Coupe Z 600 was, "You are absolutely completely out of your mind if you think I'm going to let you take our kids in that thing!" I calmly took her over to the driver's side door and said, "The most important safety feature of any vehicle sits right there."
    She's O,K. with it now, but still doesn't like the way I drive it. Admittedly, it seems like a mad-house in it in normal traffic because of the noise of those two bad air-cooled cylinders putting out a merciless 34 hp and that you are little, a motorcycle could kill you, much less those omnipresent SUV's.
    I constantly have to tell her we haven't broken a single law (except when we had to go onto the sidewalk when we got merged on), and since I'm a Professional Driver and my license is my paycheck, this is how I have fun. Every stop-sign starts a drag-race, but we're the only ones that know we're racing.

  35. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    Around town, a 21-speed Gary Fisher. On most two-lane roads, I could live with a Fit/Fiesta.
    I like the size of my Volvo on the freeway, and wouldn't want anything much smaller/shorter in wheelbase. A little more power and stability would be nice, though.

  36. Maymar Avatar

    I want to get a motorcycle. I willingly drove a rusted out Chevette for work. There is no too small for me, just too craptastic to drive (Smart, I'm looking in your general direction).

  37. Rolf Avatar

    Ugh what a tease.