/ Motoring

Has downsizing your car changed how you drive?

Cartoon of men in different sized cars

Like many others, I’ve downsized my car. My travelling needs changed and so did my vehicle. But while I looked forward to the cost-saving benefits, I didn’t think my driving style would change so drastically.

Despite working in Which? Car, I am one of the 4.8% Brits who has switched to using the railway as my main way to get to work in 2011. My 80-mile-round commute by car has been replaced by a 20-mile drive with the remainder covered in the comfort of First Capital Connect’s standard class.

This change of travel requirements has led to a change of car. I’ve sold my surprisingly frugal (but unsurprisingly unreliable) 1.9-litre diesel Alfa Romeo GT for a 1.5-litre petrol Toyota Yaris.

The switch makes complete sense. Whatever car I drive it’s going to spend most of its time sat neglected in a loose-gravel train station car park that’s a paint-chip hotbed – a location not best suited to the vulnerable Alfa. More importantly, my financial burden has been significantly reduced: insurance, tax and maintenance costs are all much lower with my Yaris.

A change in driving style

What I hadn’t considered was how my driving habits would sway, and by how much.

Its endless torque, cruise control and an ultra-comfortable interior made the Alfa stress-free, which transferred directly into my driving technique. I had presumed that this was due to my natural and maturing driving style. It appears not.

The Yaris, in contrast, offers a much more ‘basic’ package. The interior is focussed on practicality over comfort, making it a tool to get me from A to B, rather than a place to settle down in and enjoy the ride.

And since the 1.5-litre petrol engine needs to be worked hard to get up to speed, I’ve found myself trying to eke out every ounce of performance from its armoury.

Small-car syndrome

I’ve now started to refer to this as “small-car syndrome” – a motoring version of short-man syndrome, where you drive the car harder to make up for your car’s inadequacies in scale.

Because I’ve essentially lost 75 brake horsepower switching to the smaller Yaris, I’ve found myself trying to make this up by entering corners notably faster, braking later and accelerating much more aggressively.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no Lewis Hamilton. In fact, I’m not even Christine Hamilton. And I want to stress that I drive well within the limits of the law. But I’ve been left mildly appalled with my driving in recent weeks, especially as I’ve seen my average miles per gallon figure diminish dramatically.

So I want to know – is this just me? Or has anyone else noticed a change in their driving style after they’ve downsized their car?

Steve says:
28 May 2011

I’m 60 and have driven lots of cars -my first was a Ford Anglia. First thing to say is that all cars have got better, and bigger. Our neighbour, the local GP bought a Ford Zodiac in 1964 which seemed huge at the time but is about the same size as a Focus – certainly internally! My brother in law had a Morris Oxford which could, allegedly, do over a hundred, but would take eons to reach that speed. My point is that all modern cars have the power of sports cars of 20 years ago; we just expect more of them all the time. I drive an S type jag (2.7 diesel) with over 200 bhp but I think I had most fun with an 850cc mini ot about 30hp. I try to drive gently atound town but its great to be able to sweep effortlessly past traffic on the motorway and cruise at high speeds for long periods. I’m averaging around 42mpg overall which is probably better than my beloved mini.

James Cole says:
28 May 2011

Seeing all those chaps posting about how underpowered their cars seem compared to big fast ones that they had previously owned make me feel lucky that I got that all out of my system during my teenage years and early 20s. I owned powerful Triumph, BSA and Norton motorbikes and used to push them to their limits. When I grew up and bought a car, it was a Morris Minor and right up until I retired, I had always owned “chug chug” types of car as I don’t feel the need to be competitive on the road with other drivers as I did all that when I was young.

My current car is a Jazz and it returns about 50 mpg; and what I have found is that all the small cars that I have owned, have all become more powerful as technology has progressed. As for taking a train: that’s a no no! Even with a pensioner’s rail card discount, it is still cheaper and quicker for me to drive from Cornwall to London than it is to go by train.

Having driven a number of VW Passat estates for the last twenty years, I recently changed to a Toyota Auris 1.4D.
The immediate difference is the mpg – nearly 60 on average. I am using gears much more, particularly in urban areas. However, I recently drove from Central Scotland to Derry in NW Ireland and found the journey quite pleasant. Jeremy Clarkson had condemned the Toyota a s utterly bland and so this was a strong motivating factor in the purchase.
Parking is a lot easier and at this stage , I have no regrets whatsoever

James Cole says:
28 May 2011

And another thing, regarding downsizing: Apart from the reduced fuel bills, reduced insurance premiums, reduced spares including tyres; smaller grannie type cars are less attractive to thieves. According to a statistic given to me by a motor security chap I met on the Clapham Omnibus, there has never been a case of a Honda Jazz stolen by joyriders.

akr says:
28 May 2011

I recently drove a toyota auris and it was like stepping back 20 years and if you are only getting 60 mpg why bother i ran a bmw 32od as a comnpany car and was amazed at how cheap it was to run
whyhave an oreo (sorry auris)

rumrunner says:
29 May 2011

yes i have down sized my car, peugeot 207 sw, £30 road tax, mpg super, i now try and keep below 65mph on trips,the amount of fuel i save is amazing,even on short journeys still saving money.i say go for it

The response by akr surprises me. I do not recall any volume produced model of 20 years ago, loaded with the technological features and the surprising 1.4 diesel drive train of the little Auris. Diesel engines in 1991 were noisy, smoky beasts, popular only on the Continent.
His company BMW was probably an excellent machine but it comes with a price tag, not just for purchase but for service and parts.
Over the years, in common with most people, I assume, my driving style has changed; it has been affected not merely by my recent downsizing but by factors such as age, traffic volume, speed cameras and legislative change.

john w says:
31 May 2011

In 2003, upon retirement, I changed from a Renault Laguna 2.2 diesel to a Skoda 1.4 diesel – 0-62mph in 14 seconds approx. This has led me to look further ahead, make use of slopes, anticipate hills, corners & braking with a lower powered car. Result is that journeys are less stressful, more economic, almost as quick surprisingly, satisfyingly achieved through having used skills long dormant.

We sold a Subaru Forester (11 years old) on retirement to buy a Toyota yaris 1.3 as we thought it would save us money. It does if you drive everywhere at less than 50mph when we have managed 53mpg on the car’s computer. Travelling across France at 130kph or 85mph with 2 people, holiday luggage and 2 bikes on a rack and we dropped to 27.4mpg on the same computer. The forester did the same trip with the same luggage and bikes at nearly 38mpg.
Build quality does matter, the forester at 11 only ever needed service parts and reached 130,000 miles when we sold it. The yaris from 15,000 to 32,000 miles has had ABS failure (in the snow!) Air-con failure and the rear washer only works with clear water. Its a noisy engine espectially at 70-75mph! Big cars make sense if you drive a lot too as the longer wheelbase gives a smoother ride especially over the pot-holes. Looking for a nice used diesel forester wouldn’t you?

We purchased a new Yaris 1.3 for my wife to use and although she loved driving it, it never returned more than 42 mpg and that was on runs over 25 miles. Around town it was even worse. We sold it privately after a year. Surprisingly, it needed new front tyres at 11,000 miles before we sold it!

We vowed never to buy a petrol-engined super mini again. We now have a Fiesta diesel and it is another really lovely car to drive and returns 50 mpg on short runs and 60 mpg on long journeys.

As you found with the Yaris, small petrol engines are not economical if they have to work hard. The latest Fiat 500 with its silly little two cylinder engine is a prime example. Driven at a snail’s pace, it really is economical and has ultra-low emissions, but if you want to get anywhere fast, the engine has to be rev’ed to the limit with the fuel consumption dropping to the high 20s and emissions sky rocketing.

I agree entirely with the remarks above that annual distance driven is critical in vehicle choice. When I drove diesel Passats, I supplied my own transport and the mileage returned plus reliability were positive features of my driving experience. In retirement, I am doing less than a quarter of my previous journeys, obviating the need for a large motor. The little Auris is economical and so far seems ultra reliable. ‘Which’ surveys in the past have placed Toyota near, or at the top of the pole. Last summer’s glych made headline news; other manufacturers have recalls on a monthly basis and they rarely rate three lines on page 11. The rarity of the Toyota catastrophe made it ‘man bites dog’ copy

My favourite car was a Saab turbo but I am very happy with a 1 litre yaris at the moment. The roads and times I travel mean that the yaris is fine for 99 percent of journeys alone. In mid December 2010 I went to Surry in the middle of the day and this trip was acheived with an average speed of <33 mph- very frustrating, due to congestion (the Yaris happily does 70-80 mph. I was harried witless particularly by commercial vehicles on the M25 tailgating at seriously dangerous distances and this is why I support electronic control of speed and instant fines for dangerous driving.

Flintstone says:
1 June 2011

Rob’s article was very thought provoking! I found that I reacted in a similar way – in reverse. I used to drive a 1.6 litre petrol Honda. That required much stirring of the gears and keeping the revs up to maintain pace in any given situation, especially up hills. Results: 31-32 mpg over 3 years.

Since up-sizing to a 2.5 litre petrol BMW (albeit now a 13-year old model with over 200,000 miles on its odometer), with over 35% more torque, I was able to drive in a much more relaxed manner, Using the torque and smoothness of the straight 6 to stay in a higher gear for any given speed (5th is perfectly fine at a steady 30mph). Anticipating slow-downs better and using the barkes less. Result: 33 mpg over the most recent 3 years and 45,000 miles.

Maybe Andrew could explain why anybody living is this country would buy a Focus ST170 and pay all that mioney for performance he cannot legally use except on a race track. He would have paid a hefty premium over that of a more normal Focus and paid additionally on his insurance and road tax. Probably all got a very rough ride as such cars usually have firmed up susoension. Please tell why.
Surely performance is rarely usable as on motorways doing 70 is not often a problem and on ordinary roads overtaking is rarley worth the effort as the car you overtake will catch you up at the next set of traffic lights. It probably will not be at all green so more money at the pumps. It is quite beyond =me why people spend vast sums of money on vehicles which will rarely if ever be used to their full.

When I was young, many, many years ago, I too bought ludicrously fast cars. Why?

It’s the sheer exhilaration of the acceleration.

There’s also a peace-of-mind about safety; if a car has a 90mph top speed you’re pushing it very close to its design limit on the motorway; with a 150 mph top speed you’re only using using one half of the safe limit of the car’s tyres, brakes, suspension, etc. I always felt very much safer in my Volvo T5 than in my wife’s VW Polo!

And why not? We’re all ridiculously extravagant with money compared to our grandparents and great-grandparents. If I didn’t waste my money on fast cars I’d waste it on something else equally unnecessary.

Does this explain why on every journey there is always some idiot in a company Audi up my rear and then dangerously weaving in and out of traffic to overtake?
Followed closely by a BMW driver.

Jeremy Clarkson said it best – the ***** are now leaving BMW and buying Audis.

I’ve recently swapped my BMW 120 for a Toyota Prius. I find I drive much more gently in the Prius.

I’ve always driven pretty-much within the speed limit, but the character of the BMW meant that I always used its full power to get up to speed as quickly as possible and stay there. The Prius, with its Eco credentials is the exact opposite; hard acceleration just ‘feels’ wrong.

And I estimate I’m saving near-to £1,000 a year (about 40%) in fuel!

Badboy says:
7 October 2012

Downsized my 11 year old E Klasse autobahn cruiser with its straight 6 3225cc Diesel CDI car tax 290. Incredibly comfortable, reliable, averaged 37 mpg overall 56 at best BUT it was not going to survive much longer as Mercs short cut their normal bombproof engineering in that era.
I selected a C250CDI with many modern goodies, Intelligent lighting, ECo Start Stop, Command Linguatronic integrated phone and the amazing 7Gtronic auto box.
Result 50+mpg 120 cartax and its faster and more powerful and obviously properly engineered again. Yes this middle sized merc is again a contender in ALL area re BMW and the rock hard riding Audi
The little 2143cc CDI growls but cruises at 1400 revs at 70 and if you want grunt it has it in spades.
Only bettered by C350 V6 CDI but that costs a lot more to insure tax at 170 but you have to experience its deliciously smooth much underated powerplant. Wish I had the wherewithall but I’m really enjoying the slumming

AS for changed habits not really Still stick to speed limits even if they are ludicrously out dated. The more modern CC brakes the car to maintain selected speeds and charges on overun the Aircon is Magnetically clutched to disengage when not required, result no pump drain, but I’m looking forward to the 60+ mpg on a hot summer early morning cruise because that is when Mercs CDI really show their eco spots

Five out of ten for downsizing. Must try harder. 🙂

Jacqui says:
11 November 2016

I have just down sized from a sporty fiat to a peugeot 107 both Automatic
Now my FIAT was very quick. Touch the peddle and its off, ask it to go faster and it dose ,changing speed very quickly . Now I am having to get used to this new 107 tiny engine. It takes time to get it up to speed and it can’t shoot off, if I press the accelerator to quick it seem to jump from gear to gear as it try s to keep up with me. I am having to learn to drive all over again . I now worry that the car behind will get angry as I slowly pull out of a junction and slowly go from 0 to 40 . I totally love my 107 don’t get me wrong its so cheep to run and looks lovely and I find in very comfy to sit in. it can turn on a penny and once on the A- roads it will happily sit at 70mph and I even found it easy to overtake lorry’s. I just finding the slow take off and sensitive peddle very hard to get used to. But I wont give up I am sure I will learn to drive it well, 🙂