After what seems like an eternity, me and the fledgling family are departing the capital for a greener (cheaper) backdrop. So it's the end of a long-running urban love affair - not least with Landon's endlessly frustrating road network. Hence a rare PH tribute to the concept of the city car, which I'll kick off with BMW's game-changing effort.
The further we get from the i3's introduction, the more remarkable it seems. This is a carbon-tubbed, rear-wheel drive, electric BMW, launched almost a decade ago for less than £30,000. It weighed under 1,200kg (a Honda e weighs another quarter of a tonne more) it had an interior that redefined expectations of EVs, and it drove really nicely - stiff ride notwithstanding. It was one of the first cars I drove as a PH staff member, and really thought I'd seen the future. The exact styling of the future I wasn't sure of, but the way it worked was beyond any doubt.
That the i3 still looks so futuristic must have contributed to its relative lack of commercial success; even now plenty don't want to advertise their eco credentials too loudly, and the world is very different to 2013. Its early reliability issues certainly won't have helped the the model's cause, and it seems unlikely that BMW will attempt anything so bold ever again - see the iX3 for proof of what we're now likely to get. Pity.
Choosing the perfect city-spec i3 isn't easy. Most out there are the more powerful S, which is odd as the lower ride height is even stiffer than standard. This is a regular i3, but a 2019 car, so with the larger 42.2kWh battery and around 160 miles range. Which should be more than enough to run a week's errands. Or make a desperate return to London... MB
The Volkswagen Up GTI is a bit of a Marmite car. In my experience, there are those that love it and those that see it as nothing more than an Up with tartan seats. It isn't the best hot hatch in the world, and certainly not a successor to the Mk1 Golf GTI, as Volkswagen alluded to when it was launched. It has the same power and similar dimensions, but that's about it. Yet I am in the former camp when it comes to this little car. I've really enjoyed driving them.
I remember covering the launch. I picked one up in Crickhowell, in the Brecon Beacons, and spent the day ragging it around miles of Welsh mountain roads. And I mean ragging it, because that's what the Up - with its 115hp and a buzzing, three-cylinder TSI motor - encourages you to do, while at no point feeling like the heavy arm of the law is about to punch you in the face. And en route back to London, a wally in a Mk7 Golf GTI tried to humiliate me with his power advantage, which was consummate. Then we arrived at a long radius, two-lane, tightening lefthander onto the A40, and I simply drove around the outside of him. Silly? Yes, but it made me chuckle.
When I arrived back in London the little Up managed to make darting around town a hoot because it's a city car, and therefore small and nimble. As I said, it isn't the best hot hatch, but as city car with some flair and the ability to run rings around prats in Golf GTIs it's great. This one, with 30,000 miles, is even relatively cheap in the currently overinflated used-car market and happens looks great in Tungsten Silver. JH
Yes, I've chosen a 2CV this week. I wasn't allowed another MX-5, Monkey bike or an Oyster Card... so see this as an act of rebellion if nothing else. Growing up in London in the 90s I remember the most famous Citroen being a pretty common sight on the roads, especially those with 'deckchair' striped roofs. Fast forward to now though and the 'HowManyLeft' look up doesn't make for great reading. The fact there is only one for sale on PH rather confirms the endangered species status.
Granted, its age now makes it liable for a daily ULEZ charge so in truth is probably a terrible choice for a city car in 2022, at least financially. However if you can stomach the taxation, the 600cc engine would feel right at home in the 20mph citywide limit, safely carrying your basket of eggs over the many speed bumps back from the trendy east London farmers market, with the roof rolled back and drivers window flipped up.
The asking price doesn't seem so bad for a French slice of motoring history and the dealer assures us that a vicar appears in the ownership history (certainly handy to have the Almighty onside). Dare I say a future candidate for electric conversion and ULEZ exemption, perhaps then it would all make perfect sense again; Vive la 2CV! SL
Nothing says 'city car' like a two-door, 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12 Bentley GT, pushing out 552hp through all four wheels, right? It's definitely a lot more fun than a dour hatchback. Moreover, based on its status as a 'footballer's car', and with London boasting no less than seven teams in the Premier League, I figure there's at least a tenuous link to our great capital. Bit of a reach? Well, it's also (remarkably) ULEZ compliant, can adequately seat four, and frankly isn't a bad way to wile away the hours spent sitting in traffic.
Of course, where the GT really comes into its own is the time in between, be it an A-road commute home, or perhaps a more fitting jaunt along the French Riviera towards Monaco. You won't want for power (not something you could say about most of the other contenders), but it's not all brutish straight-line grunt - with a 50:50 torque split that varies as required, the 2.4-tonne monster has been said to corner 'as if on rails'. Nice and safe on the North Circular, then.
Despite being 18 years old, this example presents a solid value proposition. Priced at roughly a fifth of its list price at launch, with low miles, only a few owners, and the most recent one being on the V5C for nearly a decade, it seems to be a cherished example. From the pictures it looks very tidy, and I think the cream leather works really well with the bluish-grey paint. As a possible future classic, a city beater, or a commuting monster, I really can't see you going wrong here. Assuming running costs aren't a concern. AF
Best city car? What a silly question. Anyone that actually lives in a city - the hipster, avocado-eating millennials like myself - know you don't have a car in the city. Firstly because no one can afford it, but also, no one really needs it. Especially not with a parade of Priuses at your fingertips.
Except of course I wasn't allowed to choose a Prius for one of the 'best city cars' - and quite rightly. So here's the business person's alternative - a London black cab. And not just any black cab - this is the Sutton VIP LEV Taxi. And what a Very Important Prius it is. Forget Uber - we're talking uber-luxurious.
Part of a genuine, money-CAN-buy production range, this one listed in the classifieds has four seats (not the posher, private-plane style two), plus a TV, and a fridge, and real leather. There's ambient lighting to "match the passenger's mood" (i.e. stressed or drunk), a Bluetooth stereo system, and the rear doors close as if by magic, thanks to the automatic closure from a Rolls Royce. Indeed, the listing says these are "extravagant features usually reserved for superyachts and private jets".
Top speed? Who knows. Power? Who cares. You won't be driving this thing, just appreciating it from the back seats, so that's all you need to look at. But it is £120,000. Well, that's only a couple of nights at a x5 Uber surcharge and you'll have made your money back. Yes, it's tacky and awful, but it beats a Prius. Nothing fake going on here. BW
This list could hardly be taken seriously without the original city car of Great Britain. It's not the first time I've called shotgun on a Mini for Six of the Best either. I've had a hankering for one as long as I can remember as a rolling restoration project to tinker with. This 23-year-old example appears to be in fine fettle and may not need much tinkering, but since when has that stopped us...
The Cooper Sport was one of the last evolutions of the classic Mini, before it went off sale in 2000. Almost 1.6 million Minis were sold in the UK since production started in 1959 and I for one am grateful to still see so many on the road. It's prowess in an urban environment hardly needs additional explanation; suffice it to say that very few modern cars can claim to rival its combination of dinky size and gap-finding pep.
Which brings me on to my next point - how brilliant does this car look wearing its British Racing Green paint? Sure, you might get a bit of cramp in your left leg and a bit hot sat in traffic, but at least you'll be doing it in quintessential style. BL
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