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Top 10 Urban Cars

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From squeezing between a Dumpster and a wall to holding your breath as a bus hard aports past your bumper, cities can be an automotive minefield. And cars are often the casualties. Need proof? Look no further than auto insurance rates. A 40-year-old male with a 2012 Honda Accord in Manhattan’s West Village would pay 27 percent more for the exact same coverage than if he lived across the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., according to’s analysis of six leading carriers.

Related: Top 10 Most Overlooked New Cars

Yet scores of Americans still prefer to live in the city. From New York to San Antonio, the country’s 25 largest urban centers are home to 31.9 million people within city limits, according to the 2010 Census. That’s 10.3 percent of the entire U.S. population in 2010, and given the trend of increasing urbanization, it doesn’t look like it will recede anytime soon.

Most city-zens still have to drive. Not to worry: Our latest Top 10 nominates cars best suited for urban driving. Editors considered our candidates’ overall size relative to their competitors, as well as visibility, city gas mileage, turning radius, city drivability, utility and more.

Here are our picks, in order of which cars received the most votes. In cases of a tie, we ranked by turning circle and other dimensions.

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1. 2014 Kia Soul
Kia’s hamster ads signal a car that suits the urban rat race. Long day? The redesigned Soul soothes the commute with a more refined ride, improved cabin materials and plenty of convenience features, from Kia’s Android-based UVO multimedia system (its voice recognition closes the gap between cars and smartphones) to heated front seats, rear seats and steering wheel. Urban denizens will appreciate the sheer number of options (including ventilated front seats and panoramic moonroof) in the Soul, a rarity among small hatchbacks. Affordable and city-friendly need not mean Spartan, and the 2014 Soul proves it.

  • Base price: $15,695
  • EPA city mileage: 23-24 mpg
  • Length: 163.0 inches
  • Width: 70.9 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.8 feet
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2. 2015 Honda Fit
Redesigned for 2015, the Fit preserves its predecessor’s excellent sightlines, which are crucial for city driving. Honda scored a bulls-eye with its LaneWatch side-view cameras, standard in most trim levels, which brings that bicyclist who is a few feet off your right taillight into plain sight on your dashboard monitor. The prior Fit’s roomy cabin is back, too, and ride quality has improved. Pop the hatch, and Honda’s fold-flat rear seats reveal a spacious 52.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo room.

  • Base price: $16,315
  • EPA city mileage: 29-33 mpg
  • Length: 160.0 inches
  • Width: 67.0 inches
  • Turning circle: 35.1 feet
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3. 2014 Toyota Prius c
The cheapest, smallest entry into Toyota’s efficient hybrid technology, the Prius c’s city gas mileage is still mighty impressive even as the car enters its third model year for 2014. The Prius c is 19.1 inches shorter than its third-gen Prius sibling, and the turning circle is as much as 2.8 inches narrower. Driving fun is borderline-MIA, but the car’s 53 mpg city EPA rating, and its respectable cabin materials for the commuter-grade pricing, should buy lots of forgiveness.

  • Base price: $19,890
  • EPA city mileage: 53 mpg
  • Length: 157.3 inches
  • Width: 66.7 inches
  • Turning circle: 31.4-37.4 feet
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4. 2014 BMW i3
The i3’s concept-car styling builds on a miniscule platform with tidy dimensions. An extra $3,850 gives the electric car a generator that augments the i3’s all-electric drivetrain that enables it to get an EPA-rated 81 miles of gas-free range. The tiny two-cylinder gasoline engine/generator extends total range to 150 miles. The four doors include two rear-hinged doors for the backseat, which ensure easy entry and exit in narrow spaces. And the car’s 32.4-foot turning circle is exceptionally small. The i3’s upright profile makes for excellent sightlines around the front and sides (if not quite the rear), which should keep pedestrians and cyclists in view. Oh, and did we mention how much fun it is to drive?

  • Base price: $42,300 before EV tax credits
  • EPA city mileage: 137 mpg equivalent (EV without range extender)
  • Length: 157.8 inches
  • Width: 69.9 inches
  • Turning circle: 32.4 feet
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5. 2014 Lexus CT 200h
With a starting price below $34,000, the CT 200h is one of the more affordable luxury cars on the market. The fact that it’s a hybrid is gravy. Lexus makes up for the CT’s modest acceleration with nimble handling, and the hatchback’s fuel efficiency will save enough gas cash to pay for all that downtown parking. Lexus’ NuLuxe faux leather will fool most passengers, and the hatchback cargo layout fits what many sedans cannot.

  • Base price: $32,960
  • EPA city mileage: 43 mpg
  • Length: 171.2 inches
  • Width: 69.5 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.2 feet
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6. 2015 Nissan Leaf
Tesla, BMW and GM have made big advancements on the electric-car front, but the Nissan Leaf remains one of the most affordable and widely available electric cars in the U.S. Its 84-mile EPA-estimated range suits short commutes and weekend errands, and the car’s size befits city driving. Instant torque gives the Leaf brisk acceleration at low speeds, which is crucial when stopping trucks necessitate a quick lane change. With the maximum federal tax credit applied, the Leaf costs just $22,360, less than a Nissan Altima sedan.

  • Base price: $29,860 before EV tax credits
  • EPA city mileage: 126 mpg equivalent (EV)
  • Length: 175.0 inches
  • Width: 69.7 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.2 feet
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7. 2014 Jeep Wrangler Two-Door
The Wrangler may seem like an odd candidate. City gas mileage is rated at an embarrassingly low 17 mpg, visibility is marginal and overall width puts this off-roader well past the other candidates. So why did we pick it? Because cities are no match for a Wrangler. You’ll bounce over potholes. You’ll parallel park as close as you want to the curb; it’s no problem for an SUV with most trims sporting beefy off-road tires. Those dips emerging from an alley risk your bumpers no more; you’ll laugh at ruts and parking blocks. The Wrangler seems so wrong for the city, but in many ways it’s so right.

  • Base price: $23,390
  • EPA city mileage: 17 mpg
  • Length: 152.8 inches
  • Width: 73.7 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.9 feet
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8. 2014 Scion xB
The Scion xB is in its twilight years, but this funky hatchback deserves praise for its sheer utility. When it comes to cargo space, the xB is a champion among hatchbacks, with compact dimensions plus 69.9 cubic feet of cargo room (just 0.3 of a cubic foot short of a Toyota Venza) for less than $18,000. Get ready to be the go-to friend whenever others need help moving from their apartments. (OK, maybe that’s a knock against the xB.) Either way, the xB’s combination of value and space makes it ready for plenty of urban duty.

  • Base price: $17,725
  • EPA city mileage: 22 mpg
  • Length: 168.1 inches
  • Width: 69.3 inches
  • Turning circle: 34.8 feet
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9. 2014 Buick Encore
Even smaller than the current crop of compact SUVs, the Encore’s manageable size helps drivers hack through the urban jungle. At about 10 inches shorter than a Ford Escape, Buick’s baby SUV measures just 4.7 inches longer than a Nissan Versa Note. But its footprint shouldn’t scare off SUV shoppers; the Encore still packs a high seating position and surprising cabin room. Buick’s luxury tradition benefits the Encore’s cabin materials, which beat the compact-SUV norm. And with front-wheel drive, the SUV’s turbo four-cylinder makes an estimated EPA-rated 25 mpg. Not bad for a non-hybrid/diesel SUV.

  • Base price: $25,085
  • EPA city mileage: 23-25 mpg
  • Length: 168.4 inches
  • Width: 69.9 inches
  • Turning circle: 36.7 feet
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10. 2014 Scion iQ
The Smart ForTwo should have been the poster car for cities, were it not for the car’s many shortcomings. Fortunately we have the Scion iQ, a car that’s nearly as pint-sized. More than 2.5 feet shorter than a Mini Cooper Hardtop or two-door Toyota Yaris hatchback, the iQ will fit inner-city parking spots that other cars must pass. The car is no expert handler, but gas mileage is excellent, and the turning circle is somewhere near a Radio Flyer wagon. If you need a city runabout that squeezes where no other car can go, avoid the less-than-Smart ForTwo for this higher-iQ choice.

  • Base price: $16,420
  • EPA city mileage: 36 mpg
  • Length: 120.1 inches
  • Width: 66.1 inches
  • Turning circle: 26.6 feet

All prices include destination. All cars recommend regular fuel except the BMW i3, whose range extender recommends premium fuel.

Lead image zhudifeng/iStock/Thinkstock photos by Kelsey Mays and Evan Sears, 
manufacturer images

Photo of Kelsey Mays
Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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