Top 10 Urban Cars
In 2009, one in every 6.4 Americans — from New York to Honolulu — lived in the top 50 major incorporated cities, according to U.S. census data. And if you're among them, chances are you know all too well what it's like to shoehorn yourself into a tight parallel-parking spot, squeeze between dumpsters and delivery trucks, or witness your bumpers accrue a patchwork of dimples.
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It's no wonder that State Farm Insurance reports that a driver living in central Illinois would pay 30 percent lower premiums than if the driver lived in downtown Chicago. Compare upstate New York and Manhattan, and the premium difference climbs to 70 percent.
Some cars ease the urban burden better than others. Our editors set out to find just those few. We surveyed vehicle lengths, turning circles, driving visibility and parking aids. We considered our own driving impressions, looked at EPA city mileage ratings and called out cars that don't have folding side mirrors. From an initial list of 58 models — all 2011s — here are our top 10:
The Ultimate Urban Car
2011 Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper refuses to release its grip on the title of Ultimate Urban Car. Yes, it's short — just over 12 feet long — and it turns a fairly tight circle and offers rear parking sensors. But being the ultimate urban car isn't just about parking. The Cooper's wee size and nimble handling make it good for scooting around delivery vehicles or slowpokes, especially if you opt for the turbocharged S trim level. All Coopers have excellent brakes, too, so you're well-protected against the indiscretions of others, such as cellphone-obsessed pedestrians who don't know street from sidewalk. Consider the convertible if you live in a warm climate, but if you're in a wintry city, think twice about the S trim level, which rides too firmly for pothole-ridden streets.
Length: 146.8 inches
Turning circle: 35.1 feet
City MPG: 28-29 (premium gas)
Other Worthy Contenders
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
It's not flashy — OK, it's really not flashy — but the Cruze satisfies the basic transportation needs of any driver extremely well. Chevy also delivers one of its highest-quality interiors along with good fuel economy and, most importantly in the city, a suspension that eats up potholes. Unlike many other small cars, the Cruze also has a sizable backseat for taking friends out to dinner, and the trunk is as big as those you find in some midsize sedans. Plus, if it gets a ding, you're really not going to be too heartbroken.