Frankfurt Motor Show 2001 Trends - The Grown Up Small Car

11 October 2001 | by Sam Livingstone

How the 'super mini' small car sector has become mature, serious and sophisticated.

The small car class of the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa, Renault Clio, Peugeot 206 and Fiat Punto was born at the beginning of the 1970‘s with the pioneering Fiat 127 and Renault 5.

This 'super-mini‘ car type was typically the smallest and cheapest in a manufacturer‘s range. But by the mid 1990‘s the Lupo, Ka, Agilia,Twingo, 106 and Cinquecento had joined their family‘s range of cars and were all cheaper and smaller cars than their supermini siblings.

At the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show several significant additions to the small car class made their international debut, most significantly Volkswagen‘s new Polo and Ford‘s new Fiesta. These cars may not have the advanced packaging of the new Honda Jazz or be as exciting as the Smart Tridion4 concept also shown at Frankfurt, but they both illustrate the future trend for this sector.

This trend is towards a more Grown Up Small Car and this is apparent in several different areas.

The first, and most obvious area is that of substance.
The latest Polo is approximately 40cm longer than the first generation Polo of 1975. It is the same size as the second generation Golf released in1983, and weighs as much as the third generation Golf of 1991.

The new Fiesta is similarly far larger and heavier than previous generations. Peugeot, Renault, Fiat and Opel small cars are also tending towards the greater substance of the new Polo and Fiesta.

The second area when small cars are evidently 'grown up'; is in equipment levels.

Renault‘s Clio has brake assist as standard across the range and navigation with real time traffic information as an option. The new Polo has ABS, four airbags, variable rate power steering, pollen filter and rear head restraints on all models. This level of equipment surpasses that of luxury cars from a few years ago and matches that of the next sector up, the lower medium cars such as the Golf and Focus.

The third area where there is a trend for a more Grown Up Small Car is evident is in the exterior design language of the vehicles.

All cars in this class are becoming more formal and confident, heavier and stronger in their exterior design language – becoming more grown up in their design. This stems from:

Better stance
from wider tracks, larger wheels and more prominant wheel arch delineation.

Greater 'weight‘ and sense of solidity'
through shallower DLO to body side ratio, more sheer surfaced flanks which in turn extend down with less wrap into the sills.

More assertive Down Road Graphic
From larger (dark) grille area, big headlamps and more visible lower air intake area in valance (due in part to full depth body coloured bumpers with less recess at the leading edge.

Through their greater substance, higher levels of equipment and more formal and confident design, today‘s trend is for a more mature, sophisticated and serious small car class; small cars have just grown up.


Sam Livingstone is a design strategist with AG, a Frankfurt based Brand and Design Strategy consultancy with strategic, multimedia, PR and publishing capabilities. AG recently announced their new 'Trend Scan' service, live presentations covering product and marque trends, and analysis of the implications for future automotive design.

For further information, contact: Ginger Ostle at +49 (0)69 509597-154 or email

The Fiat 127 (above) and Renault 5 (below) that initiated the 'super-mini' class in the early 1970s



Ford Fiestas

The two newest examples of the new Grown Up Small Car class; the latest Ford Fiesta (above) and Volkswagen Polo (below) both launched at this year‘s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Vw Polos


Vw Polohistory

The four generations of Volkswagen Polo from the seventies, eighties, nineties and noughties, illustrating the trend of becoming more grown up in substance, equipment and design

Fiat Punto

The sheer surfaced flanks of the latest generation Fiat Punto

Skoda Fabia

Skoda‘s Fabia exhibiting strong stance.

Audi A2

Audi‘s A2 showing how small cars have increasingly shallower DLO to body side ratio.


The latest facelifted Renault Clio with particularly assertive DRG