City living: Best cars for the urban jungle

They say variety is the spice of life, and that’s especially true of cars.

One of the best things about the car world is its depth, the kind of depth that allows machines as varied as a Ferrari 458 Italia and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to share space on an auto show floor.

While it’s great to see a car do everything, it’s also impressive to see one excel at one specific task or thrive in a specific environment.

The Jeep may be built for Outer Mongolia, and the Ferrari may be built for Nick Mason’s garage, but many people don’t drive in either of those places. They drive in cities.

The archetypal city car is a small hatchback with a tiny engine and a low price. There are many fine automobiles that fit this mold, but that doesn’t mean a Nissan Versa Note is the only reasonable choice for urban drivers.

Here are five cars that will help you navigate the urban jungle, while keeping you entertained.

BMW i3

BMW says its goal for the i3 was to build the ultimate city car, and it appears to have done a very thorough job.

The car’s unusual tall, one-box shape yields decent interior space despite a small overall footprint. 

That interior is also fairly upscale, although instead of the traditional leather and wood trim, buyers will find recycled wood and kenaf – a material made from recycled plant matter.

Despite a lightweight chassis made of aluminum and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, the performance from the electric motor – producing 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque – probably won’t win over M3 drivers.

However, the i3’s instant torque and aggressive regenerative braking make for very efficient driving in city traffic. There’s enough power to get the i3 to the next light in a hurry, and regeneration recaps as much energy as possible if that light turns red.

Should you decide to leave the city, BMW also offers a version with a 650-cc twin range-extending gasoline engine. It can also arrange a loaner car.

Chevrolet Spark EV

Chevy’s sole all-electric car makes a persuasive case for battery power, because while the regular Spark is nothing to write home about, the EV is decently entertaining.

That all comes down to the electric motor, which – in addition to keeping urban air clean – adds a bit of fun to this econo-pod.

It may only have 140 hp, but the electric Spark’s 400 lb-ft of torque is a lot of fun in stop-and-go traffic.

While it’s not the coolest-looking car around, visibility is excellent and the compact proportions make parallel parking fairly stress-free. 

There’s even room in the back for a week’s worth of groceries, or most of an adult human.

Kia Soul

The Honda Element and Scion xB may have invented the box-car niche, but the Kia Soul does it best.

These types of cars look cool, but are also pretty handy for city-dwellers because of their compact size, relatively capacious interiors, and crossover-like seating positions.

However, the Soul is cooler-looking than the Scion, and works better as an actual car than the Nissan Cube.

The 1.6-liter (130 hp, 118 lb-ft) and 2.0-liter (164 hp, 151 lb-ft) four-cylinder engines provide adequate performance; the Soul relies on its styling to stand out from the crowd.

Overall, the Soul a good all-rounder for people who never know what they’ll be using their car for next.

Plus, think of all the possible “you got Soul” pun opportunities.

MINI Cooper

The latest 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop may be bigger than ever, but it’s still the obvious choice when it comes to fun city cars.

Start with the styling, which looks fashionable just over 10 years after BMW launched the neo-MINI. 

It’s wrapped around a chassis that’s still genuinely mini as well, preserving valuable real estate and enabling MINI’s signature “go-kart” handling.

The 2014 MINI Cooper will be offered with a new turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, producing 134 hp and 162 lb-ft. The Cooper S returns with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger, with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft.

Both are good ways to turn a drive through Boston’s Big Dig into a stage of the Monte Carlo Rally.

Subaru WRX

Subaru’s WRX turbocharged performance sedan was designed for conquering rally stages, not boulevards. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be repurposed.

If you live in a city that experiences weather, all-wheel drive will come in handy, especially if your car gets buried in a snow bank by a plow truck.

As all-wheel drive cars go, the Subaru Impreza is a pretty good one. It’s reliable, regularly overachieves in crash tests, and is decently practical.

Add a 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer engine to that base of reasonableness, and you’ve got a winner. Whether you live in a barn or a studio apartment, 268 hp and 258 lb-ft is impressive.

The WRX is the car you’ll want to have when you’re not sitting in traffic, and it isn’t a penalty box when you are.


ABS brakes helped airlines make more money before they helped you stop

ABS -- a technology that prevents cars from skidding under heavy braking -- has been around since the 1950s, when it was first applied to airplanes. Chrysler and Bendix jointly get credit for developing four-wheel electronic ABS in 1971.
Smart Home

Amazon cuts prices of ChargePoint, JuiceBox, and Siemens home EV chargers

Amazon cut the prices on ChargePoint, JuiceBox, and Siemens Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) home chargers to help plug-in vehicle drivers recharge their car batteries much faster than plugging into a regular home electrical outlet.

The Rev-1 delivery robot is fast enough to hit the bike lane

Tootling into view is yet another wheel-based delivery robot, this one from U.S. startup Refraction A.I. The Rev-1 is designed for last-mile deliveries and is said to be faster and cheaper than many of its rivals.

Volkswagen and Ford confirm partnership on electric cars, autonomous driving

Volkswagen and Ford have confirmed a major tech-sharing deal. It will give Ford access to VW's MEB platform, which will underpin many of the German automaker's future electric cars. The Ford MEB electric car launches in 2023.

2020 Buick Enclave three-row crossover will give you a back massage

The 2020 Buick Enclave gets a number of small updates, including massaging front seats and a new infotainment system compatible with SiriusXM's 360L streaming service. The updated Buick Enclave goes on sale later this summer.

Amazon Prime Day 2019 deal dishes 15% discount on the Garmin Dash Cam 55

Amazon Prime Day 2019 promises great discounts on lots of items. Aside from the usual gadgets and appliances, deals for the Garmin Dash Cam 55 and other automotive tech products are also popping up.

10 crazy technologies and innovations banned from Formula One

Formula One prides itself on being at the pinnacle of racing technology, but that means teams sometimes push things over the edge. Here are 10 examples of tech that was banned from Formula One.

Fiat wants to transform the cheeky 500 city car into an urban Tesla

Fiat is finally preparing a new 500. Scheduled to make its debut in early 2020, the retro-chic city car will go electric in part to comply with looming emissions regulations.

How selectable driving modes are able to turn your car from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde

If you don’t have unlimited cash to spend on buying a whole stable of cars to fit every need and occasion, you’re going to need your current car to fill multiple roles.

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Drone lens, laser synth, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

You can unlock Lincoln’s massive 2020 Navigator with your phone

The 2020 Lincoln Navigator adds a phone-as-key feature that lets the driver use a smartphone in place of a traditional key fob. Other changes for 2020 include more standard convenience features, and some new trim packages.

Best automotive deals for Amazon Prime Day

Christmas in July has arrived again with Prime Day 2019, and we're here to be your Santa Claus for all things car tech. We scoured through all the best deals for this non-bank holiday to find you the very best swag to keep your ride on the…

The best Amazon Prime Day deals on dashboard cameras for your car

The dash cam market grows annually, so these devices are rarely on sale. Prime Day 2019 is a stellar opportunity to modernize your car, keep yourself safe behind the wheel, and possibly capture something hilarious on film.

Waze now tells you the cost of toll roads along your route

Navigation app Waze now tells you how much you'll be paying for toll roads, should you decide to take them. Enter your route and the app will display the various tolls you'll be paying on that particular trip.