For reasons I cannot source, I get a little thrill from big things in small packages. There’s a sense of individual pleasure and secrecy from intimate products and spaces. That is, vs. blunt, loud, public experiences.
I write a lot, here, about a love of the juxtapose, as well as of unconventional wisdom—maybe that’s it. Imposing vs. compact, ultra efficient vs. grandiose.
Is bigger always better? Why do I always need to be and buy more [space, stuff]?
I like “less is more.”
Surprising people through contrast is a chief pleasure of mine in life, too.
Anyway, this post is about cars, and as usual, I’m ahead of myself and my funds on the subject. With all the certainty that next week I will change my mind, I’ve been focused on three newly rehashed models that are small in stature but overflowing with technology and style.
In many ways, they beg the question of why a larger model is even necessary.
The people’s car is of course one I currently drive, though in base form. 2013 was the first model year of this iteration, and unfortunately, the last year Volkswagen used its ancient 2.5 liter 5-cylinder in the Beetle, Jetta, and Passat. The engine lacks grunt, and even with 170 horsepower, feels sluggish and wheezy.
Oh well. The new base engine is a 1.8 liter turbo. It is physically smaller, but produces the same power and gets better mileage. Technology.
In the Beetle you can option a faster, GTI-sourced engine or a diesel too. The latter gets amazing mileage.
You can option quite a few choice upgrades, like bi-xenon headlights, a Fender sound system, and a sexy panoramic sunroof.
The best part about the second ‘new’ Beetle is how much better it looks than the one that came with a goddamn flower vase on its dash. What a joke!
I get compliments on its looks constantly. Apparently, it looks “lower, squashed, and sorta like that new Porsche.” I accept.
The decision to lease it has crept away from “oh no what have I done?” to “yeah, this is a cool car!” I actually love it now, and am happy to be paying considerably less than I was for my ’08 Mini.
Coming from a Mini, though, one cannot forget the incisive steering and low-slung seating position that makes the Cooper so fun to hop into every morning.
The new Cooper looks nearly the same, save for a nose job that would shame a plastic surgeon. Blame it on global crash standards, which now include pedestrian testing in Europe.
What the little Brit gains is a wave of new tech. The base engine is now a three cylinder, eking out even better mileage with what automotive journalists have said is plenty of punch relative to its size and displacement. The faster S is still available too.
Other exciting improvements: LED headlights (optional), more airbags, a heads-up display, automated parking assistant (steers for you), among others. And, it hasn’t grown in price, which wasn’t always true for new models.
Aside from some interior build quality complaints, and expensive out-of-warranty repairs, my Mini was a brilliant little machine.
Why would I spend the money on a 3-series, whose backseat I would mostly neglect anyway? Minis have most of the same hardware and functionality, sewn into a smaller size. A trimmer fit always looks better, amiright?
Bring on the next one.
Given a bigger budget, however, one looks to the Mini’s corporate parent, BMW, and its own ‘entry level’ model, the 2.
I drove the new M235i last month, which is fantastic. Raw and more like a mini M3 than the newfangled M3 and M4, which have grown into loud, muscle-car growlers with price tags to match.
The real seller will be the 228i, which comes with the 2.0 liter turbo-4 that is now standard across the roundel range. Car and Driver reviewed it, and griped mainly about its stingy standard equipment and that it “isn’t as good as it should be.”
Optioned up nicely, you can blow right past $40,000. Still, it’s a bargain compared to more common BMW models like the 320, 328, and x1, and can mostly be specced identically.
So what’s so great about these models? Why is small better?
Well, unlike larger models, each of these can be had with a manual gearbox. Each one is petite enough to fit into even the smallest of spaces in traffic or parking lots, and they get you some advanced German tech without dropping fiddy-thou.
They’re also somewhat unique, not to be seen on every corner. The hatch-backs of the Beetle and Cooper are super convenient for hauling—the 228 provides folding rear seats to make up for its smallish trunk.
Of course, there are other new models out there that fall into this category, many of which are great too. The Audi A3 is quite a coup, though only available with an auto tranny. The Mercedes CLA is also new and supposedly premium, but has received a cold reaction from automotive journalists for being too cheap, too stiff over rough pavement, and lacking that something that makes Mercedes special.
I dunno, I just like the idea of these rolling swiss army knives and jewelry boxes, complete with plush interiors, technologically-forward features, and humble sizes.
Like I said, I’ll change my mind soon. I do like the opposite end of the spectrum, like the Mercedes S63 AMG. Why not have both, and bounce between extremes?