Revelation: cheap, buzzy econoboxes can be fun to drive (given the right conditions..)
We were fortunate enough to spend some time (alas, not nearly enough) in the French West Indies recently, where we had the pleasure of renting a – wait for it – Hyundai i10 for getting around. A Hyundai what? An i10, which is apparently a “city car” sold in markets other than continental North America. Wikipedia notes that city cars are referred to as “subcompacts” in North America, but then proceeds to list cars like the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit as examples thereof; we’ll counter that the i10 and other such city cars we saw make these subcompacts look positively luxurious.
But we digress. Being North Amurricans, we’ve never had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of these— city cars, that is. While we have had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of traveling in Europe, much of it has, for better or worse, heretofore been by rail. With no such option on these islands, we would have little choice but to call to duty the cheapest rental we could find. And you know what? Much to our pleasant surprise, we digged it. Oh sure, the buzzy and overwhelmed motor, tall seating position and center of gravity (they don’t make ’em long, so they make ’em tall), and skinny 70-profile tires on 13″ wheels (we checked) aren’t exactly what you’d call the makings of a sporty vehicle— but to dismiss a car as the mere sum of its parts would be to miss the point, not least of all in these conditions.
What we discovered, perhaps for the very first time (as it pertains to motoring, anyway), is that context is key, and in this particular context of narrow, winding roads on an exceptionally small, hilly Caribbean land mass, with oncoming island traffic on one side, and turquoise blue waters on the other? Brilliant. We loved beating on the motor in first every chance we got, not to mention testing the adhesion limits of those skinny tires and chirping them on corner exit (although the somewhat scary – and altogether real – possibility of rollover pulled us back from chucking its sub-1000kg into corners too hard). So yes— cheap, buzzy econoboxes evidently do have their place in fun driving, although that place decidedly isn’t, say, I-95, or I-70.
Which leads us to our second revelation— as far as small subcompacts go, one could do a lot worse than a Suzuki Swift. We have always been familiar with these cars but this marks our first time seeing them in the metal. Alas, they are slotted above the i10 so we didn’t get to try one, but we certainly wouldn’t mind springing for one on a future visit. You just know it’s going to be a fun little car based on how it looks— little wonder they’re used in cup racing and the like. Hat tip to IEDEI for first calling this one.