Wondering what future small cars will look like? A quick scan of some recent compact concept cars shows we've a mix of new, advanced technologies and old, revamped ideas to look forward to.
Luxury hatchbacks (Mercedes-Benz A-class Concept)
Cheap-as-heck hatchbacks (Tata Nano)
Fuel-sipping one-litre engines (Mitsubishi Global Small Car Concept)
Collapsible interiors (TRW Automotive's folding steering wheel)
Youth-oriented sport compacts (Chevrolet Code 130R)
Sickeningly green production methods (BMW i3 Concept)
Space-saving folding cars (Hiriko Concept)
Urban or city cars (Opel RAKe Concept)
A whole lot more compacts (Dodge Dart)
Small cars are no longer the bare-bones econoboxes they once were. The Mercedes-Benz A-class concept is basically just a scaled-down version of the company’s flagship S-class sedan, with amenities like smartphone integration and collision avoidance systems. Several Mercedes-Benz compacts are sure to hit Canadian shores in the near future, though no firm date has been set.
While you can expect a flood of high-end hatches on the market in the near future, some cheaper-than-ever cars may make their debut here, too. Rumours India’s Tata Nano would be coming to Canada first cropped up four years ago, but the recent buzz seems to point to it actually make a landing pretty soon. The car will be gussied up for North America, with a starting sticker price of around $8,000.
Unveiled in Canada at the Montreal Auto Show this year, the Mitsubishi Colt Global Small Car shows you can get hybrid-like fuel efficiency numbers, no batteries required. With an estimated 3.3 L/100 km (71 mpg), this three-cylinder doesn’t really even sip fuel—it hardly even breathes it. Due on Canadian roads in 2013.
The acrobatic finesse required to get in and out of certain cars is well-known, and ingress-egress is perhaps hardest in compact cars. That’s why TRW Automotive is coming out with a steering wheel that folds around the steering column and retracts wholly into the dashboard when not in use. TRW is working with several major automakers to bring this tech to market in the next five years.
There’s a trend sweeping North America, of younger people not wanting or buying cars and trucks. The automakers are working hard on “figuring out” what Generation Y wants, and a few think they have it. The Chevrolet Code 130R and Tru 140S are GM’s attempt at appeasing the youth masses; you can expect at least one of the two to come to market, along with a host of new youth-market sport compacts.
If you’re trying to toe the our-compacts-are-environmentally-friendly line, make sure the production methods used to build the car are just as green as it is. The new BMW i3 Concept will be built out of recycled materials, via methods that use water sparingly and whenever possible run on renewable energy. The electric i3 (and its i8 older brother) aren’t carving a niche, but they are deepening it. Expect them in a year or two.
The Hiriko Concept – co-developed by MIT and several Spanish firms – takes the space-saving attributes cars like the smart fortwo prided themselves on one step further. The rear of the two-seater actually folds underneath the front when parked, so it takes up less room. The length, shrunk, is a mere 1.5 metres (five feet). How’s that for compact? Should be available in the U.S. and Europe in about a year.
Automakers have been looking at urban commuter cars for a while, but the variety of city car concepts that cropped up at the Frankfurt auto show last year seems to show they might just be ready to put them into production (if people are willing to buy them). The Opel RAKe, Volkswagen NILS and Audi e-tron are three recent examples, and while they’re almost definitely going to be built, it’s not certain if we’ll see them on this side of the Atlantic.
The popularity pendulum that swings between big autos and small is on its way back toward little cars, so expect to see a whole lot more compacts like the basically-already-here Dodge Dart and Ford Fusion hybrid models enter the mainstream market. Nearly every major automaker is giving tiny a try, and some, like Mitsubishi, are even planning on spinning their whole brand around to focus on small, fuel-efficient vehicles.