Mini cars used to be a rare sight on Israel's highways. Only the Fiat Panda was available and it never emerged as a big market hit. Consumers and importers used to think that with such high prices, one might as well purchase a car for the whole family. However, that changed in 2009, and with new tax regulations favoring fuel-efficient cars, mini cars became more attractive with more affordable prices, in the NIS 60,000 range.
In 2011, 18,876 minis, also known as city cars, were sold, comprising 8% of the market, up from just 3% in the preceding year. As a class of vehicle, the cars were second in popularity only to family sedans. Sales dropped somewhat in 2012 but mini cars still maintained their market share.
One factor for the fall in sales was the appearance of cheap super-mini cars, which are slightly larger and more expensive than the older mini cars. The newer models offer comfort and safety, as well as low fuel consumption and attractive prices.
The leader of the pack is the KIA Picanto, holding 37% of the market. The Hyundai i10 and Suzuki Alto follow far behind. Below is a comparison between some of the different models that are currently available, which will help one choose the right model.
This mini car is the newest offering on the local scene. The SEAT Mii is cube shaped, similar to the Volkswagen up! and the Skoda Citigo. It's the cheapest car in its class, going for NIS 62,000.
Unfortunately, it is cheap not only in price, but also in accessories. The Mii only has two real windows, with small rear windows which only open sideways. There are no front-facing vents on the dashboard, only ones facing upwards. Passengers in the front seat get ample ventilation, unlike passengers in the rear.
However, in terms of engineering the Mii leads the pack due to its 75 hp engine, the most powerful in its class. The Mii reaches 171 kph, the highest speed in this group, with the best acceleration as well, reaching 100 kph in 13.2 seconds.
The numbers don't tell the whole story. This car feels different with its powerful engine, inspiring any driver to get behind its steering wheel. The Mii has the best internal engineering design, which unfortunately is not carried over to its external look. The car looks like a dull, un-sexy cube, lacking any Latin flair. The interior is made from hard, boring plastic. Bottom line: take it for a spin but have a close look at the interior.
Price and power
This winner of the competition we held two years ago continues to excel. This car has an excellent and impressive design, despite its small dimensions.
KIA's designers did a great job on the interior as well. It is the only car in our comparison group that has four real power windows, as well as power mirrors. It has vanity mirrors for drivers and front-seat passengers, as well as AUX and USB plug-ins. It is priced at NIS 2,000 more than the Mii, but costs NIS 4,000-NIS 5,000 less than the Aygo or Panda.
Its main drawback is the engine. In comparison to the Mii, the Picanto engine seems sluggish, making one reluctant to take this car anywhere. It lacks power and character, when compared to others in its class. Its fuel consumption is also the highest in this group, at 13.7 km per liter. Bottom line: The KIA Picanto gives the impression of a real car, trying to give its passengers a good time without insulting them.
This car is the identical twin of the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107. It has a Toyota motor with a Peugeot Citroen chassis. This is a winning combination, giving it the best road performance in the group. Mountain driving in a minicar will be easiest with the Aygo, especially on downhill sections. It is somewhat lacking in power thrust. The Aygo is a very pleasant city car, with the best fuel consumption in the group, at 18.1 km per liter. Its drawback is its tiny trunk, as well as the rear windows which only open sideways, as in the SEAT Mii. Here too, the dashboard only has upward facing vents.
There is a noticeable effort to cut costs in this car, with only a single wiper blade, as in its twins. The dashboard graphics are pleasant to look at, but operating dashboard dials is not a pleasant experience. Its cost is therefore a little overrated.
Bottom line: With all due respect to the Toyota brand, paying an extra NIS 5,000 above the Picanto with its better accessories seems unjustified.
Hard to love
Even though everyone wants to love the Panda, this is not easy. It is very old-fashioned and very cheap. Its suspension causes a lot of bouncing around, and the finish is of low quality. It feels cheap despite being quite expensive, going for NIS 68,000, only NIS 1,000 less than the Toyota, but for NIS 4,000 more than the Picanto and NIS 6,000 more than the SEAT Mii.
Nevertheless, the Panda has character and charm, with delightful external and internal design. Sitting high in the car is quite comfortable. Dashing around in it across town, playing with the gearshift, reminds one of Rome.
Bottom line: The Panda is pleasant and heartwarming, but too expensive given its old-fashioned feeling.
The winner: The SEAT Mii and KIA Picanto tie for first place in our competition. For city driving and good value for your money in terms of design and accessories, choose the Picanto. If you require performance and pleasant out-of-city driving, and are willing to compromise on accessories and design, take the Mii, which is cheaper and more fuel efficient.