Cities are a defining element of American life in the 21st Century. The transition from a rural nation to an urban one is becoming ever more complete, and as more of us move to ever more crowded cities, the cars that best suit that environment are changing.
All we have to do is look to Europe to see what sorts of cars are better suited to more densely populated areas. Hint: it's not jacked-up pickups and full-size SUVs. It's minicars, like the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit—small, easy-to-park cars that still offer lots of functionality and efficiency, and are most certainly up to a long road trip out of town when the weekend allows it, too.
Of course, not all of the cars in our cities are minicars—at least not yet. In fact, there are still tons of jacked-up pickups and large SUVs driving around Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, and many other large cities. So if you're going to make the move to a minicar in the name of urban practicality, you want to make sure you're buying a safe one, right?
Fortunately, Instamotor has your back with the an analysis of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash testing and Top Safety Pick awards. By digging through the data, we've compiled a list of the used minicars that were among the safest on the road when they were new. For the purposes of this list, we'll be focusing on cars built for the 2010-2015 model years—used cars that are between two and seven model-years old.
Easily one of the most practical of the small cars on the American market, the Honda Fit's interior is a masterpiece of intelligently designed passenger and cargo management. Need along, flat space? Fold the rear seat down. Need a wide, tall space? Fold the rear seat up and use the whole space from the floor to the ceiling. Add to that relatively good gas mileage, cute exterior looks, and an easy-driving demeanor, and the Fit is a car that's hard not to love.
American car brands and tiny cars aren't a natural pairing for most folks, but Ford built a fantastic small car in the form of the Fiesta. Efficient, nimble, fairly roomy for a minicar, and attractive in a gadgety, futuristic sort of way, the Fiesta is a fine daily companion in base form, and can be optioned up into a fearsomely fun but still practicaly urban daily driver with the high-performance Fiesta ST variant.
A classic that built its original reputation before Gen X was even a twinkle in Baby Boomers' eyes, the Fiat 500 traces its roots--and its looks--back to 1957. Fifty-nine years later, the 500 is still a smart, stylish choice for the urban dweller looking for efficient, compact transportation. It's not quite as roomy as some of the other cars on this list, but it's easily the most characterful thanks to its quirky retro-modern design, both inside and out.
The Nissan Versa Sedan is not pretty, it's not especially nice inside, and it's generally not very well equipped--but it is very inexpensive even when purchased new, meaning used examples are often very cheap for relatively new, low-mileage examples. That means the Versa Sedan is a definite value, especially for those who live in harsh climates or who are looking for a second (or even third) car to use in the city, absorbing all of the door dings, bumper scrapes, and other urban vehicular maladies in place of your more cherished vehicles.
Like the Versa Sedan, the Toyota Yaris Hatchback is not going to win any beauty contests. That said, it's a mite more practical than the Versa owing to the Yaris's hatchback layout, which makes more space for cargo or luggage. Like the Versa Sedan, the Yaris is inexpensive new, and often downright cheap on the used market. Buy for value, not for any particularly outstanding feature.
With Toyota's legendary hybrid drivetrain and some truly funky-awesome color options, the Prius c makes up in efficiency and personality what it lacks in wow-worthy technology or innovative interior space management. For great gas mileage, all-around practicality, and solid bang for the buck, the Prius c is hard to beat.
Again, you may not associate American brands like Chevy with small-car success, but the Spark is a funky-looking, brightly colored exception to that rule. Sized about the same as the Ford Fiesta, with similar features and functionality (though no high-performance version equivalent to the Fiesta ST), the Chevrolet Spark is a dependable, relatively efficient daily driver that wins hearts with its cute (if oddball) face and pint-sized nimbleness, perfect for city parking.
While the cars ranked higher on this list have more Top Safety Picks than those ranked lower, that doesn't necessarily make them safer. In fact, if you're in the market for the safest car possible you should buy the newest car possible, as the IIHS is constantly revising and updating its standards to include new technologies and requirements, meaning newer cars are likely held to higher standards than older ones. That said, any car that was a Top Safety Pick in the last decade is likely to be a safe car to drive every day, provided you find a well-maintained example—and that's going to be easier for cars that won Top Safety Picks in more years—there's simply more of them on the road, and on the used market.
Whichever car you pick for your needs, however, be sure to get it inspected, and know your stuff when it comes to financing if you don't have a suitcase of cash handy.
Not your typical used car salesman. Our team is here to provide honest and transparent advice about car buying and selling.