PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) — Even city dwellers sometimes need to own a car.
You don't need to insure a bus or subway pass, you don't have to pay thousands of dollars for a car-sharing service and you don't need a ride to amenities within walking distance — and that's all wonderful. But it you're the poor sap who could only find a job in a suburb miles from the nearest commuter rail station or has family just outside the car-share radius that expects regular appearances at Sunday dinner — or just likes being able to pick up and go when you please — a car is just part of the plan.
That said, owning a car in a city can be an enormous hassle. Forget about the cost of insuring a car when driveways and garages aren't involved. Forget about the density, the traffic and the frenzied pace. Just try parking ... anywhere. Between packed city blocks, alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules, street fairs, snow plowing, non-uniform time limits and just about every other obstacle the city throws your way, just finding a place for your car can be a nightmare.
When you consider that the mere act of driving in the city kills a typical car's fuel efficiency — and that gas stations can be a tough find in an area where real estate is at a premium — you don't want to burn through a whole lot of that gas just looking for a spot. The editors at vehicle pricing site Cars.com looked at this year's vehicle offerings and weighed them by overall size, visibility, city gas mileage, turning radius, city drivability and utility. By their estimates, the following 10 cars give drivers the best chance of surviving car ownership in the city with minimal bumper taps and breakdowns:
10. 2014 Scion iQ
Base price: $16,420
EPA city mileage: 36 mpg
Length: 120.1 inches
Width: 66.1 inches
Turning radius: 26.6 feet
This car is ridiculously small — the smallest on our list by length.
But when hasn't that been a great thing for a city dweller? You tend to learn quickly that driving a boat of a sedan or SUV in just about any urban center in the U.S. means that you're either spending half your day searching for parking or a big chunk of your paycheck keeping it in a garage.
Toyota's Scion IQ is Smart small without that car's big price tag. Sure, you're packed into 74 cubic feet of passenger space and have only 3.5 cubic feet in the trunk when the rear seats are up, but that combined 36.5 miles per gallon, seven-color palate, Pioneer audio system with Bluetooth and HD Radio and myriad safety features make this microcompact more cozy than cramped.
9. 2014 Buick Encore
Base price: $25,085
EPA city mileage: 23-25 mpg
Length: 168.4 inches
Width: 69.9 inches
Turning radius: 36.7 feet
This is the first SUV on this list, but it isn't followed by many others.
Though automakers love to boast about the success of their compact SUVs, few are actually compact enough to make it worthwhile to bring them into the city. They're typically a sign you're packing up the crib and playset, bidding a tearful goodbye to your cool little neighborhood and fleeing to a backyard and school district in some anonymous suburb.
Buick knows it doesn't have to be that way and has created a tiny SUV with just enough luxury features to make you either consider continuing your city stay or downsizing your empty nest for a condo in a more lively neighborhood. The encore is nearly a foot shorter than the Honda CR-V, but you can fold the rear seats and front passenger seat flat for hauling cargo in its 48 cubic feet of space.
Did Buick leave room for some perks? Absolutely. The Encore's list of features includes heated side mirrors, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a rearview camera, split-folding rear seats, OnStar telematics and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface, an auxiliary audio jack and Buick's IntelliLink control interface with a 7-inch touchscreen and integrated smartphone apps.
8. 2014 Scion xB
Base price: $17,725
EPA city mileage: 22 mpg
Length: 168.1 inches
Width: 69.3 inches
Turning radius: 34.8 feet
The Nissan Cube, the Honda Element ... at one point, the auto industry was absolutely obsessed with creating the perfect surf wagon.
Unfortunately, just about none of them attracted surfers. Instead, they were a boon for older drivers who not only liked their maneuverability, but their space. The xB is no exception, as its paltry 12 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats up turns into an impressive 70 cubic feet when those seats go down. That's roughly the storage space of a small SUV.
Throw in standard features including a six-speaker Pioneer audio system with a 6.1-inch touch-screen display; Bluetooth; a USB/iPod interface; keyless entry; and steering wheel-mounted audio controls and you turn what was meant to be a beach wagon into a comfy urban errand runner.
7. 2014 Jeep Wrangler Two-Door
Base price: $23,390
EPA city mileage: 17 mpg
Length: 152.8 inches
Width: 73.7 inches
Turning radius: 34.9 feet
The cloth top is just impractical for street parking and the mileage requires anyone buying it to get really familiar with their nearest gas station.
So why is the vehicle most likely to be blasting MAGIC!'s Rude during rush-hour traffic so beloved by urban bros and basics? It's the utility, brah! Not only is it an easy vehicle to park in some of the city's smallest spaces, but its four-wheel drive tends to come in handy.
If you're living Chicago or Boston during a nasty snowstorm and your neighbors team up with the snowplow to shovel you in, just kick the Wrangler into four-wheel drive and demolish their day's work.
6. 2015 Nissan Leaf
Base price: $29,860 before tax credits
EPA city mileage: 126 mpge
Length: 175 inches
Width: 69.7 inches
Turning radius: 34.2 feet
While it isn't exactly a regular sight in most U.S. cities, the Nissan Leaf just swarms the West Coast's I-5 corridor.
Interstate 5 and its surrounding cities are now teeming with charging stations, and the Leaf is the cheapest electric vehicle option available after tax breaks take it down to less than $25,000. Though it's hard to believe the Leaf has been around since 2010, the roughly $6,000 price drop for last year indicates Nissan is well aware that the lack of a supercharger dates this vehicle a bit. For folks lacking a long commute and living in places where chargers are plentiful, however, it's a dream.
A bevy of audio, navigation and app support features — including maps of nearby charging station — are similar to that of the higher-priced Volt. The Leaf is just as silent, though, and with a range of 73 miles is still one of the best EV options for the money, even if advancing EV technology makes it seem like the rest of the field is passing it by. In cities, however, its tiny size makes it easily the most parkable EV on the market. (At least, until Smart's plug-in appears.)
5. 2014 Lexus CT 200h
Base price: $32,960
EPA city mileage: 43 mpg
Length: 171.5 inches
Width: 69.5 inches
Turning radius: 34.2 feet
There's no way around it: This is the Lexus Prius.
It gets less mileage than the Prius it's based on, though, and yet still takes a yawn-inducing 10 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. Why are people buying this car again? Because the Prius hatch doesn't doesn't have this car's sportwagon look or come with standard perks including key-detecting Smart Access, push-button starter, dual-zone climate control, personalized electronic settings, a safety package with assistance or a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Oh, and it's a Lexus that take tight turns and slip into tiny parking spaces. It's an opulent choice for a city car, but at least it's a practical one for crowded confines.
4. 2014 BMW i3
Base price: $42,300 before tax credits
EPA city mileage: 137 mpge
Length: 157.8 inches
Width: 69.9 inches
Turning radius: 32.4 feet
BMW doesn't get caught off guard often, but Tesla's Model S outright ambushed the German luxury automaker.
The i3 just began selling in the U.S. this year and is already well behind the Model S' pace. Of all Tesla's electric competitors, however, BMW has perhaps the best chance of biting into its lead. It has the luxury brand recognition, it has all of the wood, leather and tech that BMW drivers have come to expect and it has a standard leasing option that Tesla just doesn't.
Oh, and check out that electric range. That's greater than the cheaper, but far more compact and sparse Nissan Leaf, and for less than the Model S starting price.
3. 2014 Toyota Prius c
Base price: $19,890
EPA city mileage: 53 mpg
Length: 157.3 inches
Width: 66.7 inches
Turning radius: 31.4-37.4 feet
Ever see a Toyota Yaris and wonder what kind of mileage it would get if Toyota dropped a hybrid engine into it?
Meet the Prius c, which Toyota claims is for “city” but we assure you means “compact.” With just 87 cubic feet of seating capacity and 17 cubic feet of cargo room, the Prius c is an efficient and relatively inexpensive little urban grocery getter. That 53 miles per gallon on city streets trims the time you'll spend hunting down a gas station. The Prius c's 157-inch length, meanwhile, also means you won't spend whole nights circling for a parking spot.
2. 2015 Honda Fit
Base price: $16,315
EPA city mileage: 33 mpg
Length: 160 inches
Width: 67 inches
Turning radius: 35.1 feet
One of the subcompacts that started the class' renaissance, the colorful and convenient Fit got by on a whole lot of flexibility and user friendliness. This year, it gets a complete revamp.
Cargo space shrinks from 57.3 cubic feet with the seats down to 52.7, but the seats get a little more modular, to the point that the front passenger seat folds back to serve as a footrest for a passenger in the back who wants to sleep for this leg of the trip. Blind-spot cameras, a multi-angle rearview camera, touchscreen audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, an app suite, leather-trimmed and heated seats, a moonroof and satellite navigation all make for a pleasant, comfortable ride for driver and passenger.
But it's the mileage that's been jacked up to 33 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 41 on the highway (a combined 37 mpg) that's the Fit's most impressive new feature. That 97 cubic feet of passenger space isn't huge, but it's enough for trips to Ikea or weekend getaways.
1. 2014 Kia Soul
Base price: $15,695
EPA city mileage: 23-24 mpg
Length: 163 inches
Width: 70.9 inches
Turning radius: 34.8 feet
This wasn't such a great city ride in its early years, when it basically looked like every other boxy neo surf wagon on the street and became a minivan substitute. That's why why Kia gave the Soul an overdue overhaul in 2012 that streamlined its front and rear body, kicked its output up to 138 horsepower and improved its efficiency to a combined 31 miles per gallon.
The nine-color palate, mix-and-match accent plates and audio and sunroof upgrades still remain, but it's the Soul's versatile 60/40 rear seating and 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space (53.4 with the rear seats down) that makes it an ideal surf shack, bike shuttle or city shopping companion.
— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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