Conventional wisdom dictates that luxury small cars shouldn’t work. A luxury car needs acres of space for the plutocrat in the back to stretch his legs. A long wheelbase for a sumptuous and cosseting ride. Space for the wine chiller. Enough presence to outshine all others at the ambassador’s reception.
A luxury car needs to be big, with a get-out-of-my-way-proletariat grille and badge combo on the front. Only it doesn’t. To hell with conventional wisdom.
As these luxury small cars prove, posh can be done in fun size. They’re the Gucci clutch bag to the Smythson briefcase. The tender to the superyacht. The sushi starter to the Lobster Thermidor banquet. The… well, you get the picture.
Without further ado, here are PetrolBlog’s favourite luxury small cars.
In PetrolBlog circles, the Renault Clio Baccara is le grande fromage of luxury small cars. Why order a fattening lemon meringue pie when you can have a Petits Filous? Small, tasty and perfectly formed, etc.
According to Renault, the Clio Baccara delivered “all the refinements of a luxury saloon within the framework of a practical and affordable small car. The concept was unusual. The car it produced was, and is, unique”.
In 1995, when PetrolBlog’s Clio Baccara was new, a UK buyer would have paid £14,280 for the privilege of owning this “compact limousine’. That’s around £27,500 in today’s money, which is a lot. It was also more expensive than a Clio Williams 2, which is surprising.
The spec was certainly luxurious. Leather upholstery, wood, supergloss metallic paint, tinted glass, electric sunroof with twin blinds and a six-speaker, 60-watt hifi with remote audio controls. Power was sourced from a 1.8-litre engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, although earlier versions featured a 1.4-litre unit.
It was a tough sell in the UK, so it’s no surprise to discover that there are just 11 taxed and tested examples of the Clio Baccara on the road. Things are very different in France, where prices are on the rise. André Trigano’s 1992 Clio Baccara sold for €9,030 (£8,150).
The Renault 5 Monaco was the forerunner to the Clio Baccara. Built between 1988 and 1991, it was the flagship of the Renault 5 range, featuring Connolly leather, stylish alloy wheels, suit carrier in the boot and a choice of two colours. Brown is the best colour for a luxury small car, obviously.
It also had one of the greatest steering wheels ever fitted to a Renault. Back in the days before airbags, when style was more important than your face. There’s one for sale on Car & Classic for the princely sum of £6,000. Still want that Dacia Sandero?
It’s easy to be sniffy about the Aston Martin Cygnet. Internet commenters have been throwing brickbats in its direction for a decade. Sure, £31,000 was a lot of money for a tarted-up Toyota iQ. However, time has been very kind to the Cygnet. There are three cars for sale on Auto Trader, with prices ranging from £30,000 to £38,000.
Prices dropped to around £20,000 before heading north again. The internet commenters were wrong – the Aston Martin Cygnet was actually an astute purchase. Highlights include Bridge of Weir leather, Alcantara headlining, hand-stitched door inserts and the same glass-like finish you’ll find on other Aston Martin models.
The Ford Fiesta Vignale Edition is the poor man’s Aston Martin Cygnet. It’s also the best luxury small car you can buy new in 2021. It costs between £23,500 and £24,500, depending on the engine and transmission, which is a lot when you consider that a Fiesta Trend costs as little as £16,500.
Highlights include 17-inch alloys unique to the Vignale Edition, vegan-friendly Sensico upholstery, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, Vignale floor mats and sill plates, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, active park assist and a rear-view camera. It’s also extremely good to drive.
If Hyacinth Bouquet drove a Metro, it would be a Vanden Plas. The little VP motif and the coachline marked you out as a motorist of distinction. A lady who does lunch at the Berni Inn. A man who buys his lee-zure wear at C&A. Someone who enjoys the finer things in life and orders a cheeseboard at the end of a meal.
Velour came as standard, although leather was an option. The bronze tinted glass looked reet posh, while the slices of wood on the inside looked straight outta MFI. Crucially, you could tell your friends you drove a Van-den-plass, Marlene.
The Vanden Plas 500 (pictured) was built to commemorate the building of the 500,000th Metro. Just 500 were produced, each one with a numbered plaque, leather upholstery, black paint, gold coachline and alloys from the MG Metro. Buyers also got a free bottle of Moet & Chandon, which could be kept in a pretty cabinet.
Inspired by Harold Radford’s posh Mini de Ville, coachbuilders Wood & Pickett created the Mini Margrave. The luxury small car featured a leather and walnut fascia, leather or Dralon upholstery and a host of personalisation options.
The results were wild and wonderful. On top of the standard Margrave specification, wealthy customers could add the likes of Recaro speakers in the headrests, air conditioning and wheels ranging from ‘snazzy’ to ‘bling’. There was also an extensive menu of options to choose from. Customers could even add Mercedes headlights, which involved the reworking of the front wings. A later Clubman conversion featured Vauxhall Ventora headlights.
The Wood & Pickett Margrave 50 (pictured) was built in 2009 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mini. Highlights include Rosso Corsa paint with contrasting coachline, Parchment leather upholstery, West of England cloth headlining, Moto-Lita steering wheel and leather-bound woollen carpets.
The Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet are the grandfathers of the Shatchback. A saloon version of the Mini, with an 8.5-inch ‘Riley Shelf’ added to the back. It shouldn’t work, but it does, much to the disgust of Alec Issigonis.
Of the two, the Riley Elf was slightly more upmarket and a tad more expensive. The names lent the cars a touch of class, with the posh message rammed home by wood and leather. They retained the classic Mini driving characteristics, but with added comfort, so they captured the very essence of luxury small cars.
Fancy a posh Peugeot 205 GTI? The Gentry is your best option, because it features a whiff of the GTI styling and the same 1.9-litre engine. That said, the engine was detuned to provide a similar level of performance to the 1.6-litre GTI. It’s much posher than a 205 Roland Garros.
The 1.9-litre engine was required to deal with the power-sapping four-speed automatic transmission and the weight of all that leather and wood. It looks superb – arguably the best looking 205 ever made. There are just 19 left on the road, although quite a few are listed as SORN. The 1992 example pictured is available from Stone Cold Classics for a cool £10,750.
The Lancia Y10 was one of the most avant-garde small cars of the 80s and 90s. Although it was based on the Fiat Uno, it features its own rear suspension and a stylish wedge-like body. It was designed for the fashion-led buyers of Europe and sold as the Autobianchi Y10 in its domestic market.
Aerodynamics played a key part in the exterior design, with the Y10 boasting flush fitting glass, an absence of gutters and door fittings with lip-over tops. The result: an impressive drag coefficient of 0.31. Inside, the lower half of the dashboard was finished in Alcantara, while the minimalist design and large glasshouse created a terrific feeling of space.
The Y10 Turbo added some poke to go with the luxury, but the Lancia Y10 is all but extinct in the UK. Rust is the Y10’s biggest enemy.
The Peugeot 208 XY was the spiritual successor to the 205 Gentry. It featured the styling of the 208 GTI, including the wider track and wheelarch extensions. It targeted the people who fancied the look of the GTI, but wanted the comfort of the standard GTI.
Like the GTI, the XY was a three-door model, offered with a choice of 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines. Prices in 2013 ranged from £16,600 to £18,095, so the 208 XY was only slightly cheaper than the £18,895 208 GTI. Today, you’ll pay between £3,000 and £6,000, which makes it a billy bargain.
Highlights include 17-inch alloy wheels, unique XY grille, touchscreen infotainment system, sat-nav, DAB digital radio, LED indicators, leather steering wheel and gearknob, sports seats, panoramic sunroof with ambient lighting, white LED instrument dial surround, purple Peugeot lettering on door sills and automatic dual-zone climate control.
That’s quite a package and a fitting way to end this look at luxury small cars. Still want that S-Class? Of course you don’t.