those living on the edge of new car excitement, 2005 became a very good year.
An explosion of technology, of tantalizing design and multi-faceted purpose met
every seeming taste and need. The codeword for admission into the vehicle ranks
was "variety," as everything from punchy little mini cars and multipurpose
crossbreeds competed for road turf with hulking heavyweights.
of the nicest things about really small cars -- the entry
level ones that can introduce folks to owning new for the
first time -- is their flexibility with design rules. To
pack in what's needed, within size and budget constraints,
takes ingenuity. It takes adaptability, and double duty
at times. It sometimes even takes humor.
"everyone loves a cutie" mood, we couldn't resist the gutsy charm of
a droptop MINI Cooper for our Entry-Level - Most Spirited winner's circle. This
topdown version rounds out (pun intended) the variety of this curvy, spunky thoroughbred
that can blow the doors off a surprised competitor unaware of the mighty mite's
heritage under the hood. Structural measures, designed for a convertible from
the ground up -- a stiff body/chassis for one -- enhance safety while retaining
sport-tuned go-kart agility.
if topless isn't enough in itself, the automatic roof sports heated, real glass
rear window, and an integrated sliding power sunroof, one of MINI's many high-tech
advances. (When you want fresh air at 75 mph speeds, why wait.) Want more? Try
pressure-monitored runflat tires. Need to carry real cargo? An expandable cargo-loading
system eases the job.
those circular lines, plus externally-mounted hinges, add
up to surprising interior room, enough for four. And, with
its "mother-loves-me" classic bulldog face characteristics,
it is the only vehicle we can think of that is almost guaranteed
to turn any frown upside down.
With the record as best-selling small
car in the world, the Focus, that "begs to be driven," is a winner in
any language. Handsome in any of its four sporty styles including trendy three-
or five-door hatches with flexible cargo space, sedan and roomy wagon, it adapts
to mileage or performance needs depending on which four-cylinder engine powers
it. The tops, a 2.3 liter Duratec zips along with 151 horsepower. Anti-lock brakes
and side impact airbags are safety elements, with new, round fog lamps a trend-setter.
A curiously positioned CD holder snuggles next to the steering wheel. Ignore the
urge to drive it and you might hear it complain of "Focus abuse."
After establishing its Scion brand with two, uniquely funky small vehicles,
Toyota cemented the relationship with its tC sports coupe with classy, sophisticated
and distinctively grown up looks. Sleek and nimble with a luxury-touch look (panorama
power moonroof, low set wipers at rest and side mirror turn signals contribute
to that), it aims to perhaps suggest Lexus Junior for the younger, upwardly mobile
crowd on a budget. A 2.4 liter DOHC 4, 160-hp adds the "fun to drive"