At the Los Angeles Auto Show, there are lots of serious and seriously expensive cars. I walked right past them all in search of just a few cars that were cute and actually affordable. (Okay, I admired the expensive ones, too.) I was in luck, because three small cars made their debuts at the show within hours of one another—and they are all going on sale soon. Here's what I found out about them.
Gold: Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Here at the Los Angeles show, backed by a Motown-style remix of the old Muzak hit “Sunny,” VW reaffirmed the droptop Beetle’s place in the chick-car pantheon. To be young, preferably with long, blond hair, and driving to the beach was the aesthetic. I’m none of those three things, but I still appreciate the idea of a cute little car that is all about having some fun while you drive.
What I really like about this car is that VW retains the old-school soft convertible top, not a hard top, so it looks more like the original Beetles. That top goes down in 9.5 seconds and back up in 11.0 seconds, and you can be going as fast as 31 mph while doing so.
Three Beetle convertibles were shown, each representing a decade. The 50s Edition is black, with a black soft top, a tan interior, seventeen-inch black alloy wheels, and chrome door mirrors. The 60s Edition is denim blue (or it can be white), with black-and-blue leather seats and a black soft top. The 70s Edition has a beige soft top, leather sport seats, and a choice of toffee metallic or gray metallic exterior paint.
The look of this third-generation Beetle convertible is a bit sportier and more assertive. That’s because VW has lowered, widened, and lengthened the body slightly, gave it a wedgier side profile, and made the iconic bulbous hood longer. The anime-style big-eyed headlights are xenon, and there’s a rear spoiler. So it’s modernized and updated, but just as cute as it ever was, if not more.
The new Beetle convertible goes on sale in December, with a base price of $24,995. The turbo starts at $31,195. Opt for the Beetle TDI ($27,895) with manual transmission and the two-liter TDI clean diesel, and you’ll be getting an estimated 41 mpg on the highway.
There are those who call this a “chick car.” I am hereby reclaiming that term on behalf of women and taking it as a compliment that Volkswagen thinks it’s important to make a car women will enjoy.
Silver: Fiat 500e
I love everything about Italy, and I am a sucker for a car painted orange. So when a car is painted in Electrico Arancione Perla, no contest. Fiat introduced an electric orange, electric-powered version of its 500 minicar at the show. Even though it was sitting next to two other new 500 models, the hot Abarth version and the five-door 500L, I only had eyes for the 500e.
The 500e is going to be a city car, since it’s estimated to have eighty to 100 miles of range on a charge. Its battery-electric powertrain yields a combined estimated 108 mpg-e rating and a charge time that Fiat puts at less than four hours. That could be a workable tradeoff for city dwellers.
The e-Sport package adds a touch of attitude to this cute car, with touches including blacked-out light surrounds and black-and-orange-accented aluminum wheels. Inside, the 500e’s leatherette seating has a circular-gradient pattern that was inspired by Italian design of the 1960s. Fiat calls the look of this car “retro futuristic.”
You don’t have to buy the 500e in orange, but why wouldn’t you? Okay, it comes in more subdued colors, such as black or white. The 500e goes on sale in the spring.
Bronze: Chevrolet Spark EV
Chevrolet rolled out its 2014 electric-powered Spark, which goes on sale next summer at a friendly $25,000 entry price with tax incentives. Good for those who want an EV, but won’t be springing for the much pricier Volt, the Spark also has a lot going for it besides price. Start with an optional SAE Combo DC fast charging package, which lets you charge this electric vehicle to 80 percent in twenty minutes. That ought to go a long way to combat range anxiety. GM says this new Spark is the first all-electric vehicle to get that option.
Inside, you’ll find a pair of seven-inch color LCD screens that show vehicle functions—so you can obsess over battery life—and a host of connectivity functions such as MyLink radio, navigation, Internet radio, Pandora, and Stitcher. Those with an iPhone 4S or 5 can set up to use hands-free Siri on board as well.
The Spark I saw was in Electric Blue with matching interior accents. The Spark EV will also come in black, white, silver, and Cappuccino Brown. It’s not the sexiest car I ever saw, but cute? No doubt.