That cars are growing ever bigger is a fact. Take the Ford Escort as an example: as the mid-sized family car of the seventies we managed very well in a vehicle that was only 4 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and weighed a featherweight 767kgs.
The current Ford Focus (the new Escort) is between 4.3 and 4.5 metres long depending on the exact model and 1.8 metres wide. It also weighs a portly 1,471kgs, making it the same size, but much heavier, than the Cortina, then the next car up in the Ford range.
Nor is the Focus an isolated example. Other manufacturers have done, and continue to do, the same; while the weight of most models is slowly inching down (albeit from an astonishingly bloated high), most are still inexorably creeping up in length and width.
This increase fuels congestion by reducing the number of car per road mile and makes slotting into car park spaces something of a challenge. Large cars also use more fuel than small cars, tend to depreciate more and cost more to buy.
So why on earth do we buy them?
Why we buy cars that are just too big
My guess is that we buy them for one or more of the following reasons. The first is that we do so on the premise that the extra space will, just like the rubbish we keep stacked up in the garage and loft, come in handy one day. And you know what? You’re probably right, it does. One day. The trouble is that your car is too big for the other 364 days.
The second reason is because we get sucked into the car manufacturer’s marketing campaigns: if big is good then even bigger is even better and if successful, rich people drive big cars then so should we; never mind the quality, feel the width. But we’re beyond needing the reassurance of a car like that, aren’t we?
Or it could be that for some of us a larger car was a necessity, back in the day. Our children and dogs and sports equipment simply wouldn’t fit into the sort of car we drove in our twenties and we got used to having all that extra space lying around. Tip runs and holidays are easier with an estate car, even if our day-to-day driving is harder and more expensive than it might otherwise be.
Finally, I think we sometimes do so out of model loyalty. If you first drove an Escort in the seventies then moving to, and staying with, the Ford Focus feels like the right thing to do. Inertia is a powerful motivator and one that car manufacturers (and banks) understand only too well.
Tips for buying your first classic car
The solution is simple: go and test drive a smaller car than you are used to. I bet you’ll be surprised at how spacious it is inside, and how sprightly it feels to drive.
Be sure to find a stretch of dual carriageway or motorway and take it up to seventy, where you’ll find it feels stable and surprisingly quiet. Modern small cars are a million miles away from small cars of the eighties and nineties and many of them are as refined and well equipped as their larger siblings; downsizing needn’t mean slumming it.
Now try parking it; assuming it doesn’t park itself (a lot can) you’ll love the feel of being able to slot it neatly into even the smallest space without breaking a sweat.
Finally, look at the running costs and compare them to those of your current car. How much is the difference? Does it add up to a decent meal out once a month? Is it a long weekend away? Or even a week in Spain?
Overcoming the obstacles
What about those days when you do need a larger car? Well, you can hire a car by the day or week and still come out on top. Many large cities will even rent you a car by the hour, making a small car a realistic proposition if you only need a larger car for the odd tip run or airport collection.
Or you could buy a small trailer for under £300 and pop the luggage/rubbish/sports gear in there. Keen cyclists can add a bike rack to their car for a hundred pounds or so, as can skiers, kayakers, and anyone else whose hobby relies on bulky equipment.
Three small cars that won't make you feel bad about downsizing
Carlton’s best of the best
The Suzuki Celerio is a brilliantly accomplished small car whose only drawback is an interior that is more functional than cossetting. The VW up!/Skoda Citigo/SEAT Mii are essentially the same car with different badges and so are all wonderful to drive and have upmarket interiors yet occupy the same amount of tarmac as a teenage mouse.
The Fiat 500 is great fun but can be thirsty and is getting a bit long in the tooth, while the Vauxhall Viva is an engaging, ultra-modern car that is unhappily saddled with an old-fashioned name.
Of course, if you’re serious about downsizing you’re free to consider cars with just two seats, in which case you could buy a Mazda MX-5 with a clear conscience.