_EVERY _ time a manufacturer designs a new car it is bigger than its predecessor, which is why the Mazda3 - Australia's top-selling car - has the same interior room as the original Holden Commodore and why many families are shopping in the small car market.
With small cars all growing it is not surprising that manufacturers have created a new market segment, the sub-light, to slot in at the entry level.
These are compact little hatches designed specifically for urban use where traffic is heavy and parking at a premium.
Last week I had my first opportunity to spend time with one of these small hatches - a five-door Volkswagen Up which is nearly 1m shorter than the average car - and was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
The Up is powered by a tiny three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine that produces just 55kW mated to a five-speed manual transmission. There is no automatic option.
They are not power figures that are going to excite anyone but the Up is surprisingly lively.
During the week-long test I never found myself in a situation where the car felt badly under- powered. When I did get up to cruising speed I had to keep an eye on the speedo to ensure I had not crept over the limit. On a couple of runs on the freeway I was constantly lifting my right foot to keep it sitting on 100km/h.
The manual transmission is light and easy to use and the gearing has been set so that you are not constantly changing down a gear to keep the little three- cylinder engine spinning.
As you would expect - and hope for - in this type of car, the steering is light but with good feel. The suspension is on the firm side without being uncomfortable.
My fuel consumption over the week was a very economical 5.4L/100km, which makes for cheap running costs, even if the Up does require the more expensive Premium petrol.
I could sit in the back seat without my knees touching the driver's seat when it was in my preferred driving position and access through the smallish rear doors was not too difficult.
But these cars are not designed to lug a family and all their gear around; they will spend most of their lives with just one or two people aboard.
The front seats are big and comfortable, and there is enough shoulder and elbow room that you do not feel like you are sitting on top of each other.
The test car was fitted with the optional Maps and More portable infotainment device that adds $500 to its price tag of $14,990 (plus on-road costs). It also had metallic paint, which added another $500.
The Maps and More screen looks like it is an after-market job sitting on top of the centre stack but it is actually built into the car and has satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a trip computer that provides information like fuel consumption and hints on how to drive economically.
The Up comes with VW's City Emergency Braking system, which at speeds between 5km/h and 30km/h detects the risk of an impending collision and can reduce - or avoid - an impact by braking automatically.
It is also the first VW with capped-price servicing.
- VOLKSWAGEN UP *
- Model *5D Hatch
- Price *$14,990
- Engine * 1.0-litre inline three-cylinder
- Outputs * 55kW/95Nm
- Transmission *Five-speed manual
- Thirst * 4.9L/100km (95 RON Premium)
- Safety *Five stars