Do small car drivers have an unfair reputation?

Matt Prior opinion
Matt Prior opinion

Do small cars driving slowly bring out the worst in you?

What do you think when you come across or drive up behind a newish small car? Something like a Kia Picanto, MG 3 or Suzuki Swift.

Do you think that there must go a smart person, because compact cars are light and uncomplicated and easy on consumables? That this driver has to be pretty enlightened, confident within themselves, to choose something as practical and usually very competent and refined yet seriously unassuming?

Do you credit them for resisting the expensive drip payments that could have led them to a more glamorous yet no better badge on their driveway?


Do you look and think that there’s a reason why those consumer motoring experts at the world’s longest-established car magazine, Autocar, are so taken with cars like this?

Or do you look and think, like one of those consumer motoring experts from Autocar (me), ‘come on, Doris, get out of the way. I’m in an Audi/Mercedes/Tesla and I’ve got places to go’?

Sigh. I’m sorry about this. I genuinely am. But yesterday I came upon a small new car on a dual carriageway that exited a roundabout and stayed in the overtaking lane, showing no intention to overtake anything, and thought less kindly about it than I would have done if it were, say, a new German SUV – a car that I know would either get its skates on and start passing things or pull over to the left. I assumed the city car doggedly wouldn’t, as indeed it didn’t.

I know I’m not alone in thinking things like this. I regularly drive cars on both sides of the dial and I know you get more patient treatment from other road users in something swanky than you do in something small and cheap.

Do you drive a posh company car? The next time you take it for a service, ask for the cheapest, smallest courtesy car the garage has to find out how it feels to be bullied relentlessly by people who assume things about you.

It comes, I suppose, from years of experience and conditioning. There are back-of-mind stereotypes about small cars. See a Ford Fiesta or Fiat 500? That will be a young budget-limited buyer with places to go.

See a very old, very cheap small car? That will be driven by a middle-aged, blue-collar bloke who fixes it himself and drives everywhere at eleven-tenths. See a pretty new, very clean Honda Jazz? Come on, you old duffer – get a flipping move on.

I wonder how frequently this stops people buying what could be the best and most suitable car they will never own. I love the Picanto and its Hyundai i10 sibling.

They’re two of the best things I could and should probably buy as a family daily runner. But when it came to buying, one thing that would play on my mind would be knowing that as I passed cars on the motorway, there would be some berk behind me, impatiently gesturing me to get out of the overtaking lane, because he would be thinking exactly like, er, I would.

Will this go on forever, I wonder? The market is in its biggest phase of disruption for a century. Where do newer players sit?

Teslas seem to be driven with the same motorway, um, ‘spirit’ as Audis or Mercedes. In my mind, GWM, maker of the Ora 03 (formerly the Funky Cat), is a bit Proton and it’s a bit soon to tell about BYD.

Will new makers become the bullied, like a new kid at school? The maker of the Picanto now sells an £80,000 SUV, after all. Hyundai makes the world’s most outrageously fun EV. Will it significantly shift how we think about their smallest cars? I kind of hope so.

In the meantime: seriously, matey in that Jazz, get a move on.