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Ten great cars for the realities of city driving

More than 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities – gridlocked, overcrowded, slow-moving cities. TomTom, known for its traffic and navigation products, perennially ranks Vancouver and Toronto among North America’s 10 most congested cities. (Montreal would take first if TomTom statisticians drove during any of its numerous summer festivals.)

So choosing a city car wisely means balancing several factors beyond the obvious curb appeal. Examples?

Urban highway traffic is a kilometres-long, like a Slinky, arbitrarily expanding and contracting. When the Slinky suddenly lengthens, good thrusting power makes merging between reluctant road mates easier.

City streets abound with construction, sinkholes and messy quotidian human life. Smallness and agility are advantageous for parking, but also for last-second exits from those inexplicable half-hour delays that cities spontaneously generate.

So, here are five types of city car with lower- and higher-priced suggestions.

Condo-minimums

Nissan Micra

Base price: $9,988

A tight turning radius lubricates coagulating traffic. Don’t be fooled by the price. The Micra’s a ton of fun (but just barely, weighing only 2,301 pounds). It seats four, albeit not always comfortably. Moreover, that four-cyinder engine generates just 109 horsepower and whines like a banshee when taxed. Plan merges well.

Smart fortwo cabrio

Base price: $21,800

It’s tiny. So park it sideways – or inside your Chevy Suburban. It seats two comfortably with decent storage space for groceries or carry-on. There have been complaints but this latest generation up- and downshifts more smoothly than earlier. Fashion-conscious urbanites love to open the roof to show off that splendidly appointed interior.

Electric vehicles

First, two important points:

Driving an EV versus a traditional combustion engine is like comparing figure versus hockey skates: negligible to most, but vastly different to those who care.

Your province may offer a huge rebate for buying an EV. Ontario just increased its up to almost $14,000.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Base price: $27,998

The iMiEV is a nimble and surprisingly responsive ride. It achieves 145 lb-ft of torque – but that’s almost instant – launching just 2,350 pounds of car. Imagine driving a slingshot – or a quiet explosion.

BMW i3

Base price: $47,500

Much of the i3 is composed of carbon fibre, tougher than steel but lighter. The i3 is tall and boxy but grips tighter than the gravity on Jupiter courtesy of that battery-floor’s low centre of gravity. You’re magnetized in corners. Merging’s easy as tucking in your shirt. Finally, range anxiety is assuaged by a tiny, two-cylinder gasoline engine with a 8.7-litre fuel tank that kicks in after up to 200 kilometres, furthering powering the electric motor (plenty for the city).

Drivable CUVs

Canadians love crossovers and all-wheel drives, neither of which makes much sense in cities. AWD adds weight, costing power and fuel. Crossovers are compromises between car and ’utes. However, smaller crossovers with carefully planned interiors can make good compromises for urbanites with families and activities.

Kia Niro

Base price: $24,995

It’s new, a hybrid designed from scratch, offering superb fuel efficiency paired with that insta-torque electric motors provide. Active blind-spot warnings keep you informed in predictably unpredictable city traffic. And it’s roomy, to boot.

Audi Q3

Base price: $34,600

Hushed electric hybrids aside, there’s plenty to be said for a good new-fashioned turbo-charged engine that emits 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. The Q3 is superbly crafted, luxuriously appointed and its multiple drive modes adapt readily to changing city situations. Best compliment: It drives like a performance sedan.

Performance sedans

Buick Lacrosse

Base price: $35,545

One of last year’s best surprises, the Lacrosse looks and drives like a premium German automobile. In sport mode, it’s as nimble as a dancer with the thrust of a cannon. But Buick’s “quiet tuning,” carefully placed baffling, renders its huge 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine library-hushed.

Infiniti Q50

Base price: $54,600

A magnificently tuned V-6 engine that achieves 400 horsepower in a range of drive modes is among the first, but far from last, surprises to seize your attention. Cities are constantly busy. Rearview cameras are de rigeur to navigate narrow alleys, tight parking spots and ubiquitous, ignorant drivers. Nissan/Infiniti innovated 360-degree views years ago, displayed on-screen as though from overhead. Brilliant.

Midlife crises

Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Base price: $37,995

This roadster is terrific fun and, for early adopter/outlier types, is still almost unheard of. The low-tech roof is refreshingly easy to swing up or down but leaves just 140 litres of cargo space. Ironically, the Spider is blatantly visible anywhere in the city except on the roads. It’s low to the ground, so be wary of soccer moms texting in SUVs.

Jaguar F-Type Convertible R

Base price: $81,500

A supercharged engine in a light body gets you merging from zero to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds, while rear-wheel drive gets you there sideways. Yay! The F-Type may not be practical, but now that many of us can work remotely, neither is city dwelling.

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