Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Chick Challenge: three small cars under the feminine microscope.

Small cars are like boyfriends really.  So hard to choose and, once you’ve picked one, you can’t help but wonder what you might have missed out on.
            I recently trialled three five door hatches in the drive-away category of $17,900 to $20,000*: Toyota Yaris, Holden Barina and the Suzuki Swift.  Just like men, they all had their good points, but only one of them rang all my bells.
     I headed straight for the Toyota Yaris for three reasons.  Firstly, its reputation preceded it, secondly I’d happily owned a Toyota for years, and thirdly every male in my sphere mentioned it when I said I was in the market for a new car. 
     I’d rubber-necked on a number of occasions as I glimpsed its muscular form gripping the tarmac beside me and I was recently so captivated by the metallic Caribbean Blue paint-job of a parked hatch that I walked into a cane-wielding gentleman who turned out to be not so gentle.
     Despite this advance guard working in favour of the Yaris, I approached it with some reservations, having heard I’d find its speedometer somewhat left of centre rather than in its “proper” place bang smack in front of me.  But, five seconds after take-off, I was impressed with the holograph-like LCD that hovered with perfect clarity within my peripheral range. And it has the added advantage of preventing your nagging partner/mother/father-in-law from seeing your speed reading from the passenger seat. The thought is strangely thrilling.
     Toyota promotes the Yaris as a car that doesn’t feel like a small car from the inside.  For me, that posed a problem.  Once inside, I floundered around, trying to find my sense of space. I didn’t feel connected to the car or to the road.  Perversely perhaps, I want a car that does feel like a small car from the inside.
     The five door Yaris offers some innovative storage compartments and recesses and the bottle drink holders in the doors add a sporty touch.
     Like many men, the Toyota Yaris has class.  It’s well-presented and stylishly dressed but once I ripped its tux off to get down and dirty, I was left feeling less than breathless and just a bit wistful.
     If my expectations for the Yaris were too high, the opposite was true for the Barina.
     Years ago, I’d known a Barina owner … not quite the classic little old lady who drove it to church on Sunday, but close.  He was a Baptist minister with a penchant for women’s shoes who rarely drove above sixty clicks-an-hour. So I wasn’t expecting the earth to move as I approached the Holden dealership.
     Disguised by wrap-around glasses and a baseball cap, lest anyone get the impression that my hip-and-happening sister-of-cool persona was on the wane, I approached with trepidation.  But hey baby, what a surprise. 
     I was instantly seduced by a five-door Sunshine Yellow cutie.  I tore off my sunglasses and cap and ruffled my tresses flirtatiously.
     This guy is all about access.  His doors open wide, invitingly, and there’s plenty of leg room.  His rear seats fold forward and then flip down gymnastically to provide heaps of cargo space. 
     Like the others tested, remote keyless central locking and power mirrors come standard and audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel.  But only the Barina has a cute little holder for my sunglasses above the driver’s window.  The six-speaker sound system has some grunt, as does the 1.6 litre engine. 
     Still, I wasn’t completely blinded by the Barina’s rear spoiler and other bewitching charms.  On closer inspection, the silver-look interior trim seems a little cheap and might not age well and the slope and positioning of the glove-box makes for difficult access, hitting the passenger’s knees.  Alas, ABS brakes don’t come standard. 
     Even so, the Barina knew he’d made one hell of an impression and his jewel effect headlamps winked at me cheekily as I walked away. 
     Suzuki isn’t a name to set my heart aflutter.  Still on a high from the ballsy little Barina, I wasn’t in the mood for anything ‘Swift’ and the only model in the showroom was red – not my favourite colour.
     And yet, hmmm.  Giving him the once-over from the outside, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his daring attitude.
     He takes you as his own, from the minute you press the key-lock to find he’ll let in only you until you deem otherwise and press the unlock button a second time.  This two-stage unlocking device is like a seductive secret pact between the masterful Swift and his mistress.
     Where I’d felt inexplicably lost surrounded by the wide chassis of the Yaris, the Swift wrapped me in its sexy folds and I felt safely anchored.
     My handbag too was safely anchored on a handy little hook at the back of the passenger seat.
     The Suzuki’s 1.5 litre engine provided no less vigour and grunt than the 1.6 litre Barina.  The Swift’s wide wheel-base claimed the road as its own, gripping the asphalt as we ripped through the corners together, an instant inseparable pair.  I may have fallen in puppy-love with the Barina, but I was head over heels in lust with the Swift.
     After letting the little Suzuki have his way with me for over twenty minutes, I took another look at the colour.  It wasn’t merely red – it was an extra shiny, strong, and sexy, Supreme Red. 
     To sum up, the Yaris deserves a certain amount of respect.  Toyota hasn’t compromised for the sake of price and none of the guys I spoke to could understand my sense of displacement.  On the other hand, it appears that Holden have cut some corners in order to provide a more affordable vehicle but that still doesn’t make the Barina unlovable.  For my money though, the Suzuki Swift is in a sporty sassy class all of its own.
     The Yaris is the kinda bloke that would get on well with your brother and all his mates down at the football club.  They’d all want to pat him on the back and buy him a beer.  The Barina is the boyfriend I’d take home to meet mum.  She’d find him dependable, well-presented and easy to talk to.  But, ah, that Suzuki Swift – he’s worth slipping out the back door for.  I’d meet him on the corner for a wild passionate fling.  We’d dance the tango, sleep under the stars and elope at dawn.
* Disclaimer: this article was written somewhere around 2007 so the prices relate to that year.  I’m only posting this up now because my adorable ‘whatever’ daughter-in-law loves it so much.
ps.  I did buy the Suzuki Swift and I named him ‘Dave’ (in honour of environmental scientist, David Suzuki)

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