Small cars used to be seen as strictly utilitarian, offering just enough space for the family with a reassuringly small price tag. The past decade however has seen a new market emerge, appealing to our more indulgent sides. Welcome to the world of the boutique small car.
It was the arrival of BMW's new Mini in 2001 that saw chic looks reprioritized. Whilst being significantly bigger than the 1959 Alec Issigonis-penned original, the new Mini successfully created a modern look based on a retro theme. There was just enough space to make the car practical; more than this the car featured an highly entertaining chassis.
More importantly to the new MINI class perhaps was the huge number of bespoke options that you could personalise the car's exterior and interior with.
The latest Mini (from £11,810) remains evergreen and one of the best small cars on the market to today. Its global success is testament to why we love this car so much. It's easier to park than a saloon and less stressful to hustle through city traffic, but without dreary or sneaker-like supermini looks. Such is the success of this MINI in this sector that other car makers have endeavoured to muscle in.
Launched late last year, the Audi A1 (from £13,420) is a more conventional approach to the boutique car. Although the car features a typically excellent Audi interior, the car allows buyers less in the way of options.At the other end of the spectrum is the retro-inspired but thoroughly modern looking Citroen DS3 (from £12,405). In truth this looks like the functional C3 in a party dress, featuring funky lines, a host of customisation options and a highly rated chassis.
Perhaps the most successful recent arrival has been the chic Fiat 500, yet another revamp of a classic supermini, here the 1950's 500.
What the Fiat 500 TwinAir represents perhaps is a thumbing of the nose to those unconvinced by the style-heavy method of boutique cars. By making the Fiat 500 the world's lowest carbon emissions-producing petrol car, the company has shown that drivers can have style and substance.
But for those determined to put brand above all else, they can put a deposit down on the Aston Martin Cygnet. Based on the world's smallest four-seater car, the Toyota iQ, Aston's version will cost you 30 grand. The company calls it a 'bespoke luxury commuter car'; cynics may call it 'boutique-gone-balmy'.