The Best Cars That Navigate The City

Finally a list of cars for city dwellers to buy. Yes, they have all been rated and tested for performance driving in the city, see and read about some of the test done that determines that these cars are “CITY WORTHY” or made for city driving. ALSO the blue text links will connect you to a full overview of each vehicle.

Chances are you won’t find too many Ford Expeditions and Hummer H3s in cities like Seattle, San Francisco or Boston. That’s because, while they can be pleasant to drive, they’re a pain to park, and more difficult to maneuver around potholes, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Audi A3 performs these tasks with ease. Because it moves well in tight spaces, handles well and is loaded with safety features that help to prevent accidents and help save you in a crash, it tops our list of best cars for city dwellers. The Mazda3, MINI Cooper, Scion Xb and Honda Civic round out the top five.

With rising fuel costs and the rigorous demands of jam-packed cities in mind, auto makers–particularly the Detroit “Big Three,” GM, Ford Motor and Chrysler–are developing products that satisfy the needs of city drivers.

That’s a good thing. Traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities, creating a $78 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours of productivity and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2007 Urban Mobility report, which is based on 2005 data (the most recent available). The report also notes that congestion causes the average peak-period traveler to spend an extra 38 hours of travel time and consume an additional 26 gallons of fuel each year, amounting to a cost of $710 per driver.

But city dwellers want choices beyond the fuel-efficient subcompacts on the market. That includes comfortable vehicles with ample storage space, good road handling and good brakes.

Behind The Numbers
To find them, we looked at vehicle turning radius, car length and width, accident avoidance, routine handling, acceleration and fuel efficiency as key measures in compiling our list.

The first, a vehicle’s turning radius, shows how well it can maneuver in tight conditions and into pint-size parking spaces. The tighter a turning radius, the better it can handle small spots. Look for less than 42 feet for SUVs and less than 40 feet for cars, says David Champion, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. Anything above that creates a wider turning radius that makes it more difficult to park. The Audi A3 and the Toyota Rav 4 boast our list’s lowest turning radius, both at 35 feet.

vehicle’s overall size is also important. Long and wide vehicles may be comfortable for passengers, but they aren’t as agile as shorter, narrower vehicles. Champion says anything longer than 200 inches or wider than 74 inches becomes difficult to slip into a parking space or maneuver in tight, congested traffic. The BMW Mini Cooper, with a length of 146 inches and width of 66 inches, is our smallest pick. Our shortest SUV is the Hyundai Tucson; it measures 170 inches long and 71 inches wide.

Taking into consideration that city drivers often need to make sudden stops, swerve around potholes and dodge distracted drivers or pedestrians, we also measured accident avoidance and routine handling ratings provided by Consumer Reports. There are five grades in these categories, with “excellent” being the best and “poor,” the worse. All of our vehicles earned ratings of “good” (the third grade) or higher. The Mazda3, Audi A3 and Mini Cooper earned “excellent” in both categories.

It is also important that city drivers are able to accelerate when they need to enter fast-moving freeways or suddenly change lanes. With this in mind, we measured our vehicles against Consumer Reports acceleration ratings. Acceleration was graded on the same scale as handling, with “good” as the cut-off. City dwellers also want vehicles that only sip–not guzzle–gas as they zip around town. All of our cars get at least 20 miles per gallon in city driving; the list’s most fuel-efficient is the 28-mile-per-gallon Mini Cooper.

All of our vehicles also have electronic stability control as standard equipment. ESC combines the control of braking with that of throttle to prevent drivers from spinning out on curves or rolling over in sudden maneuvers. A 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that ESC reduced single-vehicle crashes by 34% in passenger cars and 59% for SUVs. In addition, all of our vehicles have side airbags for added protection in a crash, and additional safety technology for accident avoidance.

Added Amenities
While impressive fuel economy, good handling and manageable size put city drivers at ease, comforts add a lot to one’s journey. The Honda CR-V SUV‘s standard amenities include daytime running lights, a tire pressure monitoring system, folding power side mirrors, vehicle stability assist with traction control and indicators for low fuel and “miles-to-go.” While small, the Mini Cooper is loaded with six airbags, rear parking sensors and a full range of brake, stability control and steering technology to make it more nimble.

The Mazda3 also offers a range of features tailored for city driving, like advanced dual front airbags with weight sensors, and warning lights for an array of indicators, including low fuel, a tire pressure and engine oil pressure.

With a wider range of mid-size choices, city dwellers now have room to exhale, sip a beverage and stretch their legs while cruising along city streets. “This segment [small and mid-size vehicles] is on the verge of re-emerging,” says David E. Zoia, editorial director at, a Web site that gathers automotive data analysis.

“General Motors, Ford and Chrysler focused on pickups and SUVs, which have wider profit margins, because Americans haven’t really adopted small cars in a big way,” he says. “The imports were already out front with compact SUVs and mid-size cars that appeal to people who want some room to carry people and some things.”

So if you are about to buy a SUV to drive around the city, think again or at least consider the information provided here. I, again, have included links (found in blue text) that will bring you to complete overview of each vehicle so you can compare each one based on your needs. I live in the city and I know I see these exact cars driven the most here 🙂

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