Top 10 Urban Cars

In 2009, one in every 6.4 Americans — from New York to Honolulu — lived in the top 50 major incorporated cities, according to U.S. census data. And if you're among them, chances are you know all too well what it's like to shoehorn yourself into a tight parallel-parking spot, squeeze between Dumpsters and delivery trucks, or witness your bumpers accrue a patchwork of dimples.

It's no wonder that State Farm Insurance reports that a driver living in central Illinois would pay 30 percent lower premiums than if the driver lived in downtown Chicago. Compare upstate New York and Manhattan, and the premium difference climbs to 70 percent.

Some cars ease the urban burden better than others. Our editors set out to find just those few. We surveyed vehicle lengths, turning circles, driving visibility and parking aids. We considered our own driving impressions, looked at EPA city mileage ratings and called out cars that don't have folding side mirrors. From an initial list of 58 models — all 2011s — here are our top 10:

The Ultimate Urban Car

2011 Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper refuses to release its grip on the title of Ultimate Urban Car. Yes, it's short — just over 12 feet long — and it turns a fairly tight circle and offers rear parking sensors. But being the ultimate urban car isn't just about parking. The Cooper's wee size and nimble handling make it good for scooting around delivery vehicles or slowpokes, especially if you opt for the turbocharged S trim level. All Coopers have excellent brakes, too, so you're well-protected against the indiscretions of others, such as cellphone-obsessed pedestrians who don't know street from sidewalk. Consider the convertible if you live in a warm climate, but if you're in a wintry city, think twice about the S trim level, which rides too firmly for pothole-ridden streets.

  • Length: 146.8 inches
  • Turning circle: 35.1 feet
  • Seats: 4
  • City MPG: 28-29 (premium gas)
Other Worthy Contenders

2011 Chevrolet Cruze
It's not flashy — OK, it's really not flashy — but the Cruze satisfies the basic transportation needs of any driver extremely well. Chevy also delivers one of its highest-quality interiors along with good fuel economy and, most importantly in the city, a suspension that eats up potholes. Unlike many other small cars, the Cruze also has a sizable backseat for taking friends out to dinner, and the trunk is as big as those you find in some midsize sedans. Plus, if it gets a ding, you're really not going to be too heartbroken.

  • Length: 181.0 inches
  • Turning circle: 35.8-36.4 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 22-28

2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback
Ford's cosmopolitan-looking Fiesta is all the rage in city-flocked Europe, and it should suit urban America equally well. The manual transmission's light clutch and smooth throws suit the city better than the optional automatic, whose twin-clutch setup has the Fiesta lurching around a bit at low speeds. Either way, the car's near-30 mpg city mileage should minimize trips to the pump. The suspension ticks off manhole covers and alley ruts without lingering aftershocks, and the car's nimble steering will have you maneuvering around stopped taxicabs without breaking a sweat. Ford's available Sync system should appeal to tech enthusiasts, with app integration for a number of smartphones.

  • Length: 160.1 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.4 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 28-29

2011 Honda Fit
Like an efficiency apartment, the Honda Fit is a packaging marvel, and it can hold a lot more stuff than its small exterior size would suggest. A tall roofline and low load floor help the hatchback achieve a cavernous 57.3 cubic feet of cargo room with the backseat down. The backseat also flips up, giving it versatility not normally seen in its class. When you take into account gas mileage as high as 28/35 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and the Fit's light-on-its-feet nature, this is one hatchback that's made for tackling — and moving things in — cities.

  • Length: 161.6 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.4 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 27-28

2011 Hyundai Elantra sedan
We've been impressed with the new cars coming from Hyundai lately, like the Sonata family sedan, and the redesigned Elantra compact car impresses, too. The 2011 model's all-new design brings a heavy dose of style to the small-car segment, but Hyundai delivered on the practical front, too, as all versions of the Elantra get an EPA-estimated 29/40 mpg. The emphasis on design carries over to the cabin, which is distinctive and functional. All in all, the Elantra drives, looks and feels like a more expensive car than it actually is, and it's hard to put a price on that.

  • Length: 178.3 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.8 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 29

2011 Kia Forte hatchback
Kia's Forte debuted as a compact sedan, with a coupe and four-door hatchback following in quick succession. While the two-door is fun and the four-door is sensible, the hatchback may be the best option for city dwellers. You get the same well-designed interior and a capable engine, along with the numerous standard features and the low price of the sedan. And don't forget the extra cargo room. It may not drive as sportingly as the Mazda3 or even the Toyota Matrix, but the Forte costs significantly less and delivers better gas mileage. Those are two convincing reasons to go with the Kia.

  • Length: 170.9 inches
  • Turning circle: 33.8 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 22-25

2011 Kia Soul
The Soul's boxy lines liken a sort of Mini-Me version of the delivery trucks crawling any city street. Get one in brown, and the UPS driver might give you a friendly honk. (Not that you'd be able to distinguish it from the other honks.) The Soul's four-cylinder engine — most trims have a 2.0-liter — gets the job done, if unremarkably, and the highly assisted steering comes in handy at urban speeds. The trendy interior will appeal to a certain type of city dweller, with available features that include speakers that illuminate in sync with your music. Not surprisingly, they tend to work better with Lady Gaga than Lynyrd Skynyrd.

  • Length: 161.6 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.4 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 24-26

2011 Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf is perfect for the city, and vice versa. With a range as high as 100 miles, the battery-electric Leaf is great for the average commute. It's more efficient at moderate speeds than on the highway, so trips around downtown areas are where it's most capable. Unlike gas-powered cars, which waste fuel in traffic jams, the Leaf's battery isn't depleted as it crawls along, barring excessive use of the heat or air conditioner. City centers are where public charging is proliferating, which should diminish range anxiety. An optional backup camera is a coup for parking purposes.

  • Length: 175.0 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.2 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 106 MPGe

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI
With the diesel-powered Golf TDI, fuel economy and driving fun happily coexist. The Golf TDI is rated at 30/42 mpg in all its forms, and the diesel four-cylinder's robust torque — combined with a nimble chassis — will have you slicing through urban traffic in no time. This is an entertaining driver's car. Inside, the Golf TDI features a level of quality that not many competitors can match, and whether you get the two- or four-door hatchback model, the cabin is versatile, capable of swallowing loads of cargo for that crosstown move. It's a car that will turn diesel skeptics into believers.

  • Length: 165.4 inches
  • Turning circle: 35.8 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 30 (diesel)

2011 Toyota Yaris hatchback
Not many cars can turn a full circle in under 35 feet. The fact that the Yaris does it in under 31 feet is extraordinary — and handy in tight corners and parallel parking. The car's basic exterior leaves no fog lights or chrome trim at risk for curb encounters, and in hatchback form, its stubby dimensions should make it easy to wedge into tight spaces. Inside, the cabin's three glove compartments allows space to stash valuables away from prying eyes, and the car's four-cylinder is peppier than its 106 horsepower might suggest. The car also starts under $13,000 — which gives at least one cheap aspect to city living.

  • Length: 150.6 inches
  • Turning circle: 30.8 feet
  • Seats: 5
  • City MPG: 29
© Cars.com 05/1/2012