Whether you journey into the dense urban jungle for work or play, dealing with congestion, gridlock and restrictive parking situations can be extremely stressful. If crawling along in traffic, squeezing into compact parking spots and snaking through small city streets is part of your day-to-day routine, what you’re driving can have a lot to do with just how much stress, or comfort, you’re feeling behind the wheel.
In choosing a good car for the city, there are a few specific questions to start with: How well will the vehicle fit on the streets? How easy will it be to park? How is the visibility from the driver’s seat? How well does it handle and maneuver, and how comfortable is it?
The turning radius — measured as the outer radius of a circle that the car would make with the steering wheel cranked all the way in one direction — is one of the most important numbers to look at when shopping for a good city car. “It’s a measure of the car’s maneuverability and how easy it is to park,” said Gabriel Shenhar, senior auto test engineer for Consumer Reports.
The footprint of a car — its overall length and width — is also especially important. The bigger the car, the harder it will be to manage on roads crammed with double-parked vehicles and loading/unloading trucks.
Outward visibility of the road ahead and the cars around you is also an important qualifier for a city car, and there’s no easy answer as to what’s best. For example, some people covet SUVs for their outward view “over” the road and other cars, but in tall SUVs it’s often easy to miss curbs and obstacles down low. Keep in mind that the size of the driver and the positioning of the seats matters, too. This is something you’ll need to check when shopping for a car and taking it for a test-drive.
And because you will probably be getting in and out of the vehicle frequently, ease of ingress and egress is another top consideration. “It’s nice to have something that’s a little more upright, where you don’t have to duck down to get in,” Shenhar adds. Especially if you’re sandwiched between two cars in a tight parking area, this can be crucial.
Many of the more luxurious vehicles are actually not the best choices for city driving. That is, if you are the one behind the wheel. The majestic Maybach is a car best enjoyed from the rear passenger compartment, with a chauffeur at the helm, thanks to its massive turning circle. If you are doing the driving, for peace of mind designate one of your vehicles a city car. You’ll minimize your frustration as a road-raging urban warrior while making fewer compromises with the other cars that you love.
Ride comfort at low speeds is important, too. You’ll want to pick a car that’s compliant enough to soak up potholes and pavement patchwork without sacrificing handling control. The weight of the vehicle is also something you should take note of, as lighter vehicles tend to be more nimble at low speeds.
To simplify the process of elimination, we took CR’s advice and excluded sports cars, convertibles and pickups from the running. Sports cars tend to have poor visibility, difficult ingress/egress and an uncomfortable ride on city potholes; while convertibles can be easy theft and vandalism targets. Driving a pickup in the city requires hauling around the added length of an empty, probably insecure cargo bed all the time — one on stiff springs that are designed for heavy loads, not rough city streets.
Our lists of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Cars for City Driving include only vehicles covered by ForbesAutos.com. All vehicles are from the 2006 model year, unless indicated otherwise. For the 10 Best list, we looked for those cars with the smallest overall footprint (length and width) and turning radius, while for the 10 Worst list we parsed out the vehicles with the largest turning circle and overall footprint. We also took into account the recommendations from Consumer Reports in both cases. Again, these lists are based on the driving — not rear-seat riding — experience. If you are shopping for a vehicle in which you will be driven, these lists will not apply.