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Five small cars that are big on style

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 2:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 2:18pm

Hong Kong’s budding young socialites have an eye for lines and a feel for brands that only diehard shopping can hone. Their choices are limited, however. Even if they do hashtag #daddysmoney, young, dedicated followers of fashion often prefer small, chic cars that accessorise their colourful lifestyles, Instagram and park well, and don’t eat into their shopping budgets.

An increasing number of style-conscious young Hongkongers have been spotted in the all-electric, 170-horsepower BMWi3 (HK$398,000). This four-seater may look a bit on the chunky side but the design deserves a closer look. When it was launched in London in 2013, BMW’s special guest was British-American actress and tabloid target Sienna Miller. The i3 was the clock car for January’s Hong Kong Marathon and is the staff car of Hong Kong’s German consul general, Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff.

Powered by a lithium battery, the i3 weighs just 1,195kg because its passenger cells are made of carbon, yet it whacks out 250 Newton metres (Nm) of torque and has a range of 160 kilometres on a full battery. The car’s four interior style options include bright textiles with sound-absorbing and heat-managing properties, and its steering wheel ergonomics remind drivers that the road is their centre of attention, not a giant electronic screen on the central console.

Packed with hi-tech electronics, the i3 also reveals the owner’s design taste; that she has avoided the brand-slaves’ exodus to Tesla. Like most Hong Kong trendsetters, she also knows that the German consul general would never drive a trashy car.

The Renault Zoe plug-in (HK$329,800) is arguably one of the best-kept secret cars in Hong Kong, even though the French marque supplies electric vehicles to the government. Tucked into the back of Renault Hong Kong’s Gloucester Road showroom, the lithium-battery-powered supermini is airy, simply styled in neutral fabric, and with a “Take Care by Renault” pack that includes an air ioniser, toxicity sensor and fragrances. The Zoe has peak torque of 220Nm and a class-leading 240km battery range, the marque says, citing smoother, “low-rolling” Michelin EV tyres, better regenerative braking and an “Eco” driving mode. The dealer also supplies a 7kW wallbox (HK$8,000) that charges the Zoe’s battery from flat to full in about four hours.

This compact is proving a must-have in Europe: more than 50,000 have been built in Flins, France, and next year 150 more of the cars will go into use in Utrecht, Holland, where 1,000 smart solar-charging panels will power a plug-in car-sharing service that could pioneer new concepts of urban transport.

Few cars are as stylish and Mid-Levels-friendly as the Mazda MX-5 . Available in six-speed manual (HK$388,880) and automatic (HK$408,880) versions, the latest, fourth-generation MX-5 won the 2016 World Car of the Year and the World Car Design of the Year awards for looking beautiful and driving so well. Shorter, lower and wider than its predecessor, the latest MX-5 has plenty of poke for Hong Kong, with a two-litre, 157-horsepower petrol engine promising 200Nm of torque, hitting 100km/h in about 7.5 seconds and petrol consumption of 6.7 litres per 100km.

These Mazdas are traditionally well-balanced and steer well with smooth gears. Part of the fun of owning an MX-5 is stuffing the glovebox with headscarves, sunnies and suncreams, dropping the top and heading off into the big-sky beauty and greenery of the New Territories or cruising under the city’s colourful neon at night. The roof is manually operated but, with practice, can be raised quicker than more expensive convertibles’ mechanical tops in a sudden rainstorm. The boot is tiny but adequate for light shopping.

The new Smart ForTwo Cabrio (from HK$219,000) looks attractive with new LED lights and it’s easy to park at 2.69 metres long. The front passenger seat usually suffices for shopping and the roof drops in about 12 seconds. Its seats are as bright and comfortable, and are now 10mm lower than the previous version. The Cabrio is a fun drive, particularly as the marque offers Cool & Audio and Cool & Media packages with charcoal-filtered automatic climate control, and improved sounds and connectivity. The ForTwo’s three-cylinder, one-litre engine now works with a dual-clutch transmission and owner Daimler’s safety and mechanics should be reassuring to young socialities’ parents.

The 100hp Fiat 500 (from HK$168,000) is a perennial fashionista must-have, especially with the retro-look body colour dashboard option. It also has an award-winning 1.4-litre Multi-air engine, five-star European safety rating, hands-free Blue&Me system with Bluetooth technology, with voice recognition, impressive steering wheel controls and USB port connectivity. Brand slaves like the black Gucci-striped version, but a 2011 version that was recently being sold online for HK$110,000 also promises dolce vita driving.

Young fashionistas thinking of restyling secondhand cars might also be drawn to a pert but sweet 2003 Daihatsu Gino, which was offered online for HK$20,000, or a tall, pet and hat-friendly 2002 Toyota Echo Verso for similar money. A 1991 headlight-flapped Mark I version is a stylish, enjoyable drive, but the classic’s asking prices have risen online to between HK$35,000 and HK$50,000. Maybe it’s time to hashtag #daddysmoney again.