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The Art of Designing a Small Car: Hyundai, Mercury Capri, Fiat, Nissan, Toyota

Updated on August 9, 2011
94 Capri
94 Capri

Designing a small car that gets good gas mileage, has adequate space, has enough power, and is functional and practical is a vexing issue with small car designers. Most of the small cars ever made had to choose which to emphasize and which to sacrifice. Few small cars manage to please everyone or balance the issues well.

Take the 2012 Hyundai Accent SE. It has five doors, has a 101 inch wheelbase, 21 cubic feet of cargo area, 30 mpg, is 162 inches long, 2400 lbs., and is powered by a 138 hp DOHC 1.6L. It is front wheel drive and offers a six speed manual tranny. It costs $15,700. It looks like a small Elantra or Sonata.The small engine does have zip but like all small cars the back seat passengers take the hit and have less room, depending on their size.

While it is new, it really is not at all. They have just reintroduced their version of the 1991-94 Mercury Capri XR2 sport car. Fiat did the same thing with the 500 and Mito recently. I suppose one could also say it is Hyundai's version of the 1990-94 Mazda Miata, also. Ironically, the Miata and the Capri shared the exact same engine- a 1.6L. That is because Capri used Mazda for the engine (at that time, Ford owned Mazda).

The Capri was only produced for three years (91-94) before Ford stopped it with only 66,000 made. Yet, since, many small cars have used the similar specifications for their design. The Capri XR2 had a 1.6L turbo DOHC with 132 hp, 5-speed tranny, 95 in. wheelbase, and its overall length was 166 in. Its cargo area was 8.6 cu. ft and weighed 2400 lbs. It was a 2-door with a rear seat that folded down. It was front wheel drive and cost $15,000. Finally, its mpg was rated at 28-35.

If you look at the other small car specs, you will find many similarities. It may be a universal small car formula with variations because cost determines several design features. The Toyota Yaris is woefully underpowered and the new ones will offer a 1.5L engine. Even that, produces only 110 hp, the same as a 1967 Corvair or a 1984 Porsche 924 or a 1994 non-turbo Capri. All are still underpowered and have slow acceleration. The two critical elements in small car design is the cargo area that is usable and the engine. The Honda Fit has a good combo but the Hyundai has done it better. The Toyota Yaris is one not to even consider. The Capri and Miata are small sport cars, between the two, the Capri is WAY more practical and functional due to its cargo space, horsepower and front wheel drive, all things the Miata lacks, yet it failed and the Miata is still around.

Since the 80's, not a lot has changed when designing a small car. The same dilemmas are faced as are the trade-offs.


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    • ian contacts profile image

      ian contacts 6 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      It is not often you read articles on the positive aspects of small cars (especially from Americans!) It took me back to the first "small car" I drove - a '72 Ford Capri (English assembled) with a V6.

    • paypalku profile image

      paypalku 6 years ago from Yogyakarta

      The designs are very unique and suitable for urban vehicles. In addition, with this simple design that hopefully can reduce fossil fuel use. So it can reduce global warming. I like your article.