TEST DRIVE: City Slickers - MINI Coupe, Nissan Micra, Toyota Yaris and Fiat 500
Simon Pluckrose discovers it's not all about size as he tests out four small cars that offer motorists plenty of zip and style around town...
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for MINIs. They are stylish and exciting to drive. So, it’s hard to imagine how they could get any better. Enter the MINI Coupe. This is the brand’s first two-seater, and boy is it good. However, it’s also costly, with a Dhs150,000 base price tag that can easily top Dhs160,000 with a few added extras.
The loss of the back seats means the coupe gets a sportier look with its flat silhouette and “helmet roof”. Meanwhile, a rear spoiler pops up from time to time from the eye-catching rear to optimise air flow at higher speeds. Inside, all the familiar MINI touches are there, including the oversized speedometer in the middle of dashboard that doubles up as an excellent infotainment system and its rows of metal switches that would be dull plastic buttons in other brands.
It’s unmistakably MINI and probably one of the most distinctive interiors you’ll find on the road.
There is also a surprising amount of room inside, given the overall dimensions of the car. Plus it comes in a choice of eight colours, including the lightning blue of my test drive. I took out the Cooper S, which offers 184bhp compared to the base level’s 122. The performance of the car is all MINI. It’s go kart-esque handling is a joy through the corners and the car grips with the talons of a hawk.
It is also incredibly agile, so much so I found myself avoiding highways just so I could give it something get its teeth into. However, along with all the speed and handling, come a few bumps as the suspension tries to keep up. It is, after all, a small car and there is only so much technology you can fit onboard. Overall, the Coupe is a welcome addition to the MINI range and will appeal to those with cash to spare looking for style over practicality.
Yaris is on the right road
It is easy to forget just what a great little car the Yaris is. The hatchback is such a familiar sight on the UAE’s roads that it is easy to dismiss. In fact, the Yaris wasn’t originally going to feature in this article. Then I drove it and was reminded that, pound for pound, it is probably one of the best cars around.
The 1.3l engine offers up a surprising amount of acceleration, while the handling is very agile thanks in part to the speed-sensitive power steering, both factors are ideal for nipping in and around the UAE’s clogged streets. Yet on the highways, the car still performs well and is happy enough in the fast lane.
The Yaris has also been given a thorough overhaul for 2012, featuring a more aggressive and masculine look and a 50mm longer wheelbase. The height has also been lowered by 15mm, which helps give it a sportier look.
That said, Toyota hasn’t been as adventurous as some of its rivals, think Nissan Juke. But then again, given its popularity, perhaps there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, not everyone wants quirky.
One of the most surprising things about the Yaris, though, is the roomy interior. The front of the cabin looks and feels spacious, while the boot is big enough to handle most of your day-to-day needs. And for those who shy away from small cars because they feel they aren’t safe on the UAE’s hazardous roads, you may just want to check out the Yaris’ array of safety features, such as driver and front-passenger dual-stage airbags, anti-lock braking and Toyota’s new Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening front seat, which supports all areas from the head to the lower back equally.
Fiat get cute with iconic 500
IT’S hard to imagine anyone saying they don’t like the Fiat 500. It’s like saying you don’t like puppies or the sound of a baby laughing. The thing is just so cute.
The model has been around for more than 50 years, yet remains true to its origins, with the distinctive retro, rotund shape. Add to this the two-tone alloys, chrome exhaust and body-colour bumpers and you have a real head-turner. In terms of style, Fiat can easily give MINI a run for its money with the 500. The two differ, though, in terms of performance as the 500 struggles to match the speed and zip of the MINI range, while the five-speed dual logic gearbox could inflict whiplash on a nodding dog.
The Fiat 500, though, is a lot cheaper than its main rival. And if you want something really different try the Gucci, edition, complete with the designer’s logo on the rims.
Nissan earns its colours
Nissan has produced a car with a really youthful feel with the 2012 Micra. The compact is clearly targeted at young professionals given its quirky look and funky colours. My test drive came in spring green and certainly stood out among the UAE’s sea of white, black and silver. Other colours include night veil purple and sunlight orange.
It is the type of car that says a lot about the way the owner wants to be perceived. ‘Hey’, it says, ‘look at me, I’m a bit different, a bit quirky.’ But it’s not all looks, as the 1.5l engine offers a bit more than some of its competitors and the handling is solid, although not as much fun as the Yaris.
Nissan has high hopes for the model, and seeing as it’s stylish, practical and is easy to drive, I doubt they will be disappointed.