/ 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 My 80-mile-round commute by car has been replaced by a 20-mile drive with the remainder covered in the comfort of First Capital Connect’s standard class.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?

Lucky7 says:
25 May 2011

Interesting point! I have actually gone the other way – had to upsize – but what used to really bug me about owning a smaller car was other road users treating you like a learner when driving totally normally. Maybe it was because our car was that classic learner car, the Nissan Micra, but we got sick of being tailgated and overtaken (Audi and BMW drivers were most guilty) when simply keeping up with traffic! In my experience, this seems to happen less when you have a bigger car, despite not actually driving any faster… So ‘small car syndrome’ might just be about giving as good as you get?


Riders of mopeds have the same problem as drivers of small cars and perhaps the biggest cause of tailgating is obeying the speed limit!

My solution to tailgating is to flash the rear foglights a couple of times. It might not be a permitted use of foglights but it is unlikely to create a hazard for other users and could avoid an accident. It also helps to remind following drivers to dip their lights.


I’m in a similar position Rob, I have to downsize the saab 9-3 2l turbo, but I really cannot pick a car that appeals to me other than a mini. As in, a Mini cooper should have enough power and enough economy.

I used to hire cars a lot in Germany and Holland and the frustration of driving a little car with no power certainly raises the stress levels. With the saab, to get up to speed just just have to lightly press your big toe, With any little hairdryer box, you have to rag the guts out of it, which defeats the object really. If you have to work harder in the car, thats not worth paying for.

I actually think under-powered little cars cause traffic jams. The engine is too under-powered to be able to make a quick manoeuvre, or pull out quickly. Its even worse when you are on the motorway, there is just nothing to accelerate.

In my opinion, any car that CANNOT accelerate in 5th gear on a hill on a motorway should NOT be allowed on the roads. Really dangerous, lorrys struggle enough without them having to sit behind the pencil sharpeners in the middle lane, getting slower and slower.

Nathan says:
25 May 2011

A bloke with small man syndrome in a car that gives you “small car syndrome”, a dangerous mix! Looking at the picture you’ve used I’d suggest you look normal size in the small car and all you’d see is some finger tips clinging to the steering wheel in the big one!


Interesting thoughts. I may have to downsize soon. I find it hard to justify my Focus ST170 when I only do 5000 miles a year, if that. I’ll miss if it if I do.


I’m beginning to agree about the need for more bhp. I had a Honda Jazz which was excellent for reliability and versatility, but uninspiring handling and just plain underpowered. So I thought I would treat myself and just for once get something fairly small but with a bit of oomph. We looked at Mini Coopers, small BMWs, Golf GTis etc, then common sense took over realising that we did very little mileage and most of it on narrow country lanes where you’re lucky to get up to 40 mph, so we ended up with the new model Fiesta – much better steering and handling than the Jazz, and the little Zetec engine will happily rev its socks off but it’s still terribly underpowered. It’s beginning to get tiresome anticipating every uphill gradient and dropping gears just to keep the revs and speed up, and the fuel economy suffers for it.
So maybe next time I will be looking for some more bhp.

John says:
27 May 2011

I often drive my wife’s Aygo, which some might say is underpowered. However, I find it quite interesting to drive. To get the most out of it you have to drive properly, change gear at the right time and not slow down too much at corners. It is well capable of keeping up to legal speed limits but not of course the excessive speeds that Audi drivers think is their right.
My other car is a Mini Cooper S. Lots of power in any gear at any speed, which is very nice, but anyone can go fast in a car like this and the ride is awful.

Richard Sarson says:
27 May 2011

We, in our 80s, downsized from a Volvo V40 (1.8 manual) to a Skoda Roomster (1.2 automatic) earlier this year. Curiously we find the Roomster livelier than the Volvo. Being a “sit up and beg” car, we see more of the countryside, and with a vast sunroof, are bathed in sunlight, as are passengers in the back seat. Altogether a more pleasant driving experience for golden oldies.
What we do notice, though, is that other drivers think we are a van, and show us less respeck. This makes us drive more aggressively. Curious.


I too am in my 80’s and also just downsized from my automatic Qashqai to a Skoda Roomster Scout 1.2 automatic after a 9 month, yes 9 months! wait.
This is a remarkably ***** car, its performance and handling is better than the Nissan, and the automatic Skoda is more economical (around 45/49mpg) than the manual version, neither do I cruise at 30mph!
OK it looks different but would thoroughly recommend checking it out if you can wait that long for delivery. Not just for we ‘golden oldies’.