Small car

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Small car Opel Corsa-e

Small car is the European name for a passenger car - vehicle class above the small car and below the compact class . In the vehicle segments of the European Commission , it forms the B segment . Typical representatives are the VW Polo , the Opel Corsa , the Škoda Fabia and the Ford Fiesta .


In the 1950s and 1960s, the designation small car sometimes stood for much smaller scooter mobiles and various mini cars. Passenger cars were expensive for the population in the first years after the war. In the 1950s, numerous manufacturers tried out various small vehicle types in order to meet the demand for mass-produced cars. The first small cars included the Gutbrod Superior 600 and the Citroën 2CV , both produced from 1949. Typical representatives were later the Lloyds , the NSU Prinz , the Goggomobil and the BMW models 600 and 700 . In the GDR , these small car models, like the scooter mobiles, were considered unsuitable and therefore accelerated the development of a family-friendly car for mass motorization , based on the Lloyd Alexander . The result was the Trabant , which, after the Citroën 2CV, was one of the first cars with the features of a modern small car when it appeared in 1958 - a transverse front engine , front-wheel drive and a passenger cell that offered space for four adults and luggage ( trunk : 415 l) . A two- or four-stroke engine with a displacement of 500 to 850 cm³ and an engine output between 10 and 30  hp was characteristic of small cars of the late 1950s . The VW Beetle held a special position . Due to its large displacement, it can be classified as a lower middle class car , but price, space and performance were almost on par with small cars. A milestone was set in 1959 in Europe Mini with its new body design - a hatchback (full rear), which is shorter than was notchback - sedans . The price of the Mini was relatively high, it was significantly more expensive than a VW Beetle. Similar vehicles emerged like the Suzuki Suzulight TL, later the Honda N600 and Autobianchi A112 . With the prototypes of the 1960s, the compact design was qualified as a family-friendly car. In the Federal Republic of Germany, VW held on to the Beetle until 1974. Front-wheel drive was already established in the GDR, but the outdated two-stroke engine was retained. Progressive, series-ready prototypes such as the Trabant 603 or Wartburg 355 were politically denied entry into series production despite the four-stroke engine and modern compact body. In France and Italy this type of construction caught on faster than in Germany. Since then, it has been the standard design for this class.


The characteristic design of small vehicles on the example of the Minis

Hatchback vehicles were not common until the 1970s. For practical reasons, this design, implemented on the Austin Mini , for vehicles in the lower segment, then largely prevailed. Variants with notchback no longer play a role on the German market, but there are offshoots of numerous small car models that are or were often offered under an independent model name (Polo / VW Derby ). Small cars are used to a greater extent as family cars in the southern countries and require a large trunk and, if possible, four doors, which explains the greater spread of the notchback variants. This extended design is also used by manufacturers as a platform for small car combinations . However, station wagons are much less established than in the compact class . Some small cars were the basis for box vans .

Almost all small cars today have front-wheel drive and a transverse engine - this design was first implemented on the DKW F1 in 1931. It dragged on until the 1970s before this advantageous concept finally caught on in small cars. In contrast, the two-stroke engine of the pioneering DKW was replaced by the four-stroke engine in the early 1960s . (Only the Trabant had to get by with a two-stroke engine until 1990, due to the lack of support from the GDR government for the modernization of car production). The performance of the engines continued to increase. While 7 to 25 kW output was common in the 1950s  , there are hardly any small cars with less than 40 kW available today. However, part of the increase in performance was compensated for by the ever increasing curb weight .

Market situation

There are some aspects that speak for a small car. The small dimensions take up little traffic area, which is particularly important in terms of traffic policy in metropolitan areas. Further advantages are the great maneuverability and comparatively easy parking space search.

Today, fuel consumption is no longer an argument in favor of a small car. A VW Polo V , for example, weighs only slightly less than a VW Golf VII (Polo from 1067 kg; Golf from 1205 kg = only 13 percent more; the high weight is largely a result of the desired crash safety , see also Euro NCAP ); both models are available with 1.2-liter and 1.4-liter engines. In view of downsizing , differences in taxation due to differences in cubic capacity play an insignificant role at best. Small cars are often in a less favorable car insurance class than slightly larger car models.

Numerous models now offer a significantly higher level of occupant protection than, for example, in 2000. However, there are some models for which ESP is not available (also at an additional cost) . From November 1, 2014, ESP is mandatory for every newly sold car across the EU (details and sources here ). With many small car models, equipment options such as air conditioning cost extra; in the next larger class they are part of the standard scope. This makes the list price difference between small and compact cars appear larger than it actually is "adjusted for equipment".

With the ZOE, Renault has also been offering a purely electrically powered vehicle with 5 seats in this segment since 2013. The Opel Corsa-e and the Peugeot e-208 followed in 2019

Premium small cars are sportier and more elegant than classic small cars and are aimed at wealthy customers who want a relatively small vehicle. Typical features are more powerful engines even in the basic version and two-tone paintwork. Autobianchi is considered a pioneer of this concept in Europe and has been selling Fiat-based vehicles since the 1950s. The last Autobianchi of its kind was the Autobianchi Y10 presented in 1985 , which was also sold outside Italy as the Lancia Y10; 2000 models followed in retro design, such as the new Mini from BMW and the Fiat 500 . Other models are the Alfa Romeo MiTo , the Citroën DS3 , the Audi A1 and the Ford Fiesta Vignale . The A1 has many components in common with the VW Polo (see platform (automobile) ).


Earlier models

Not a complete catalog, but some typical representatives of their time










Current models

New registrations in Germany

For figures on the annual new registrations of passenger cars in the small car segment in Germany according to statistics from the Federal Motor Transport Authority , see the list of new passenger car registrations in Germany by segment and model series # Small car .

Small car in the film


  • Small car - yesterday, today, tomorrow . In: Motor Vehicle Technology 3/1960, pp. 92–96, and 4/1960, pp. 137–139.

Web links

Commons : Small Cars  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Small cars  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Car prices within the European Union at 1 January 2011. (PDF) European Commission , 26 July 2011, accessed on 8 February 2015 .
  2. Realities and wrong turns in small car construction. In: Motor Vehicle Technology 5/1954, pp. 145–150 and 6/1954, pp. 180–186.
  3. Construction trends in micro and small car construction. In: Motor vehicle technology 1/1956, pp. 11–15.
  4. Realities and wrong turns in small car construction. In: Motor Vehicle Technology 5/1954, pp. 145–150.
  5. From the international automotive industry - international status of the small cars and the small Trabant cars . In: Motor vehicle technology 7/1959, p. 291
  6. Small cars - yesterday, today and tomorrow In: Motor vehicle technology 3/1960, pp. 92–96.