Currently reading: What does 'enough car' really look like?
After receiving a reader's letter Prior riffs on small wheels, considering quadricycles and Caterhams alike

'Smaller, fewer, lighter, shorter, beauty’ is a Suzuki corporate philosophy that pertains to the company’s compact cars, like the new-generation Swift that I recently drove.

Obviously they say it in Japanese (‘sho-sho-kei-tan-bi’), but the mindset translates to the Swift being 3.8 metres long, so shorter than most superminis, and weighing less than a tonne, so lighter than most by a margin too.

“We’re good at making small cars,” notes Dale Wyatt, director of Suzuki Cars UK. But if there’s a feeling that the brand flies under the radar in Europe, where it’s a relatively niche player and the Vitara SUV tends to be its best-seller, it isn’t as understated elsewhere.

Suzuki sells more cars in Japan’s kei small car segment than anyone, at more than 400,000 per year, while its Maruti Suzuki subsidiary is by far the biggest car maker in India, where it typically has six or seven of the top 10 best-selling cars, including the entire top four in 2023 (both the Swift and the Wagon R sell more than 200,000 per year there).

I’ve been thinking about little cars a lot since driving the Swift and, the week before that, the Silence S04 electric quadricycle, which is even smaller (measuring 1.29m wide by 2.28m long) and lighter (weighing just 450kg).

I’ve been wondering, partly in response to a letter from reader Clive Acaster about the Renault Twizy and Citroën Ami being ‘not enough car’: just how big is ‘enough’ and what does ‘enough car’ look like?

Could it be the S04? It has two seats, a neat boot, proper doors, movable seats, a heater, air conditioning, loudspeakers and electric windows, it can do more than 50mph and it can be recharged as quickly as you can pull out its two batteries and slide in new ones – as fast as filling a fuel tank.

That ought to be enough, but it isn’t. In truth, its narrowness confers few on-road advantages. Romans built roads so that two animal-drawn carts could pass each other, at around six metres wide, and we haven’t moved far from the idea since.

So unlike a motorcycle, which can split lanes, the two-person-wide S04 won’t get you places any quicker than any other car.

And while I enjoyed it greatly, it isn’t enough like a conventional supermini, such as the Swift, on all roads. For me, ‘enough car’ would have to cope with any type of UK road and cruise happily, rather than top out at, the speed limit. So ‘enough’ is as much about performance as size.

A Caterham Seven 170 would be ‘enough’ car for me 90% of the time. It would be a bind when it’s wet and cold. But despite that, I think the Seven is also one of the most desirable cars on sale. In general, I find the idea of ‘enough car’ offers real satisfaction and enjoyment.


Read our review

Car review

Fourth gen of supermini brings new look and new engine but keeps Suzuki's trademark compactness and lightness

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Weird. I don’t feel that way about other things in life. If in my house I got soggy elbows when it rained, like in a Seven, I would be furious with the roofer. I prefer my front room heated to above ‘enough’ levels in winter. I own more clothes than are ‘enough’. The two apple pies I ate this morning were way over ‘enough’. I would like more than ‘enough’ money. (Mostly so I could buy several ‘barely enough’ cars, but still, the point stands.)

Are we programmed to want more than enough, despite the many philosophies and religions that make a virtue of having just what one needs to get by?

That would explain why the average car is nearly two metres wide and pushing two tonnes and has more comfort, performance and space than we need. And why, just when I think that the smallest, nimblest, sparsest kei car would do me just fine, I look outside at my 2454kg, 20.5mpg Ford Ranger Raptor and swoon.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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jason_recliner 7 April 2024

Great writing. No such thing as a car that is "enough", IMO. A Caterham is not enough to carry a load from Bunnings for my renos, a Raptor is not enough fun on a good road or good enough in a car park. Two cars might just barely almost be "enough", but I'm finding it's probably three or four.

LP in Brighton 7 April 2024

More than 'enough' is often too much!

Most of the time I enjoy driving small low powered cars because of their sprightly handling, easy parking and ability to provide provide thrills at sensible speeds.  And of course there are considerable cost and environmental benefits to having a car no bigger than necessary. 

But for me the ability to control temperature and moisture levels, listen to thge radion and to maintain pace with other traffic (and possibly to survive a low speed collision) would also count as essentials!

Peter Cavellini 6 April 2024

The marketing bids must do clinics with there concepts right?, they just don't design a vehicle and say that'll do, they obviously don't get it right often,there have been some right clunkers in the past, nobody is making a vehicle that doesn't look like the others,imagine if you didn't choose what you drive,that you were given a vehicle according to your needs, what would be the most common vehicle?