Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of touring the Geneva Motor Show is seeing some fantastic cars that you won't see on U.S. roads either due to the fact that they're too small to make a go of it in our supersize market or their makers no longer have sales operations here. Still, there's no denying that some of the best design, technical innovation and packaging are being lavished on a segment loosely described the econobox. Here's our favorites from the show.
In 1992, Renault shook up the small car world when it introduced the Twingo city car at the Paris Motor Show-a car that had frog eye front headlamps and a center mounted instrument cluster. The French automaker has returned to its roots with the third generation Twingo that recaptures that fun spirit with a small 4-door hatchback inspired by the Renault 5, which was originally sold in the U.S. as Le Car. But that's not all; the racy rear-engine rear-drive variant of the front-engine front-drive 5 called the Turbo II inspired the layout of the all-new Twingo in that it features a rear-mounted 3-cylinder engine in either 90-horsepower 900-cc turbo trim or a normally aspirated 70-horsepower unit driving the rear wheels. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. This latest iteration of the Twingo was jointly developed with Daimler, which will use the same platform to underpin its next generation 4-passenger Smart ForFour. Unfortunately, both the Twingo and Smart models are not slated for sale in America.
Opel Adam Rocks
Much like the Ferrari Enzo takes the first name of its eponymous Italian exotic, the Opel Adam uses the its founder's moniker, but there the similarities end. The Opel Adam is more of a small city car than a megamillion road scorcher, but no less fun. In the new Adam Rocks version of the car, Opel displays quite a playful attitude for a serious German company. Using the car's two-tone exterior as a jumping off point, (the roofs of the stock Adam is usually white or black to contrast with the body color), the Rocks package literally rocks with bold graphics that extend from the exterior into the cabin. Also, the package allows the buyer to accessorize the vehicle to not only reflect his or her personality, but also lifestyle with such features as a pull-out bike carrier on the rear bumper to various roof racks to carry a variety of gear. While there are no plans to export the Adam, the new Rocks model could be just the ticket to inject new life into a staid Buick stateside.
Not only was Geneva jammed with all-new city cars, it also underscored the lengths that automakers are going to in teaming up to build these vehicles (like Renault an Daimler for the Twingo and Smart) as a way of increasing the economies of scale to make what were previously marginally profitable vehicles a bit kinder to the their bottom lines. Such is the case with the Toyota Aygo city car, which is part of a three-way effort among the Japanese automaker, Peugeot and Citroen. The two French brands introduced their respective 108 and C1 variants off the same platform. The Aygo is a tidy city car with crisp lines accentuated by the contrasting X-style striping across the nose. This 4-door hatch uses a 68-horsepower 1.0-liter 4-cylinder engine under the hood to drive the front wheels. The interior is surprisingly upscale for an econobox, with a large touch screen in the center console with a traditional gauge cluster mounted over the steering column. The French models are offered in 2- and 4-door hatchbacks while the Toyota is available only as a 4-door hatch.
Fiat Panda Cross
This small Fiat offering combined rugged looks of an SUV with the space-efficient two-box design turning the Panda from urban hipster to off-road warrior. About a year ago, Fiat launched the all-wheel drive version of Panda, but without the full-on body kit you see here. It's the next class down size-wise from the Jeep Renegade, which Fiat Chrysler will position as its entry level Jeep offering in the U.S. As a result, prospects are dim this smaller all-wheel drive model would make it across the Atlantic, even though it promises great fuel economy from its 80-horsepower 1.3-liter diesel or its 90 horse 900 cc turbocharged 2-cylinder engine. In addition to a 6-speed manual, the vehicle is also equipped with stop/start technology. The all-wheel drive technology is also fairly sophisticated relying on an electronic-locking center differential to deliver power to the front or both axles.
Citroen C4 Cactus
Not technically a city car, but cool nonetheless is the Citroen C4 Cactus, a crossover SUV that sadly has no chance of U.S. sales due to the fact that Citroen has not had a presence here since 1974. The Cactus is interesting for its quirky styling that has long endeared these French cars to its cultish followers. The sides sport a rubberized insert called Airbump that resembles bubble wrap, a feature that eliminates door dings. It has the rugged good looks of an SUV without an imposing ride height, which makes getting in and out of the vehicle much easier. The functional shape offers plenty of interior space, and the cabin is trimmed out with leather and features a 7-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash. A large glove box is accessed through a lid on top of the dash, this storage space made possible by the fact that the front airbags actually deploy from the roof. Power comes from a trio of 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engines driving the front wheels. With its interesting design and usable cabin, the Citroen C4 Cactus could certainly give the Jeep Renegade and Kia Soul a run for their money in the U.S.
While we are lucky to get the 2015 Audi A3, even smaller model range exists in the German automaker's lineup, one of which, the S1, could find an enthusiast niche. Based on the A1 hatchback (which is itself, a variant of the VW Polo), the diminutive S1 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter TFSI direct injection gasoline engine. Making 231 horsepower, the EA 888 power plant delivers its output to all four-wheels and can propel the 2-door hatch version of the car to 62 mph in 5.8 seconds. The 4-door Sportback takes a tenth of a second longer. Though considered a city car, the S1 is closer in size to the Ford Fiesta. With stunning styling and performance, the S1 deserves a second look for possible export to America.
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