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Micros cars have just never had the best of reputations here in Australia. In Europe, for example, they’re embraced by people of all ages as the perfect way to navigate cramped cities - and why not? They’re small, so they’re easy to park, easy to see out of, and they’re usually pretty economical on fuel, too.
But in Australia? Not so much. Here they’re largely a first-car consideration; a mere stepping stone on the way to bigger, better and more expensive wheels. Which is why some of the best micro cars on the planet aren't even offered here (and the ones we do sell are disappearing so fast it's hard to keep up).
In Europe, you can have a Renault Twizy, for example; a two-seat, all-electric motorbike-cum-mini car that buzz about France's biggest cities like flightless locusts.
Or you can get the Up! (their punctuation, not mine), which is now also available internationally in super-cool GTI guise. It's a really very good city car solution from Volkswagen that sunk like a three-cylinder stone when it launched in Australia a few years back, and has since been removed from sale.
The list goes on, of course, but it all points to the same thing; Australians just don't get city cars.
What is a micro car? Well, the actual definition of what makes a micro car changes the world over; in some countries, an engine of 700cc or less is required to qualify, while in others, it relates to an insurance category. But the general thrust remains the same; diminutive proportions, small engine, even smaller price.
In Australia, our smallest passenger cars are split into three groups; small cars (think the Mazda3), light cars (think Volkswagen Polo), and the smallest of the lot; micro cars (like the Kia Picanto).
And they have never been better, or better value. One the of the biggest game-changers in this segment has been the introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to use your phone’s functions (navigation, playlists, podcasts) through a car’s touchscreen. They’re functions that used to cost the world, but now appear (or should appear) as standard in our cheapest cars.
And so, as our cities only get more crowded, our parking spots more scarce and our fuel more expensive, there has never been a better time to make a micro car your primary set of wheels. So without further ado, we present to you a list of the best of the micro cars Australia bunch.
To keep things simple, we’ll keep our micro-car list to those featured in the official industry list. You’re not exactly spoiled for choice either, with just three main micro cars for sale in Australia to choose from. But should you drill down into the detail, there’s gold in them there hills. Pick the right one, and you’ll be getting jumbo value for a mini car price.
The Kia Picanto is the undisputed heavyweight of the (admittedly light) micro-car segment, selling more units in 2017 than the other options combined, and commanding a 63 per cent market share.
And value plays a huge part in that success. For a start, the Picanto is the only vehicle in its segment to offer a seven-year warranty with capped-price servicing throughout, not to mention the fact there is now AEB across the range, too.
There are but two trim options, the S (manual or auto) or the GT Line (auto only), with pricing spanning $14,190 to $17,290, and just the one engine; a 1.25-litre petrol unit.
The Picanto’s 7.0-inch screen pairs with a four- (or six- in the GT Line) speaker stereo, and comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too. And that means navigation is at your fingertips, without ticking an expensive option box.
Kia’s smallest car was awarded a four-star ANCAP safety rating in 2017, but that news needs a caveat. In terms of standard safety equipment, it’s actually the most well-equipped model on this list. But the requirements of obtaining a five-star score were harder in 2017 than they were when some of our other contenders were tested.
Either way, the Picanto’s standard reversing camera, AEB, hill-start assist and six airbags right across the range deserve kudos.
Fiat’s cute-as-a-button 500 is a rare retro-revival success story (remember the new VW Beetle? It didn’t turn out quite so well, did it?).
The 500 did huge business for Fiat back in 2013, and garnered rave reviews, when the cheapest Pop variant was relaunched with a $14k drive-away price tag. But the pint-sized micro car has slowly crept up in cost in the years since.
The range now consists of the Pop or the Lounge, with pricing stretching from $17,990 to $21,490 for a hardtop, and $21,990 to $25,490 for a convertible.
Engine choices are limited to a 1.2-litre petrol engine paired with a manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic - the latter of which has a unique operation which does take some getting used to. Hugely important, a recent upgrade saw the letterbox-style multimedia system swapped out for a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto enabled - unlocking the playlists, podcasts and navigation function of your phone.
Still, those prices do not make the 500 the most economical option on the list, and nor is it the best-equipped offering. But if you value style, you’ll find plenty in the Fiat range.
There’s cheap, and then there’s Mitsubishi Mirage cheap. The Japanese micro-machine wears a sticker price of just $13,990 - and that is drive-away pricing.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d get three wheels and a microwave motor for that money, but the Mirage is actually pretty well equipped. It arrives in two trim levels, beginning with that cheap-as-chips entry point for the ES, while an automatic gearbox will cost you another $2k. Alternatively, you can spring for the LS, at $17,250 drive-away.
Either way, you get a three-cylinder, 1.2litre petrol engine good for 57kW and 100Nm, and paired with a manual or CVT auto. Claimed combined cycle fuel use, by the way, is between 4.5 and 5.0 litres per hundred kilometres, so plenty frugal.
That said, with six airbags, hill-start assist and the usual collection of braking and traction aids are the highlights of a fairly sparse standard safety list.
Would a city-sized micro car suit your transport needs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.