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A supermini is a European classification that describes cars larger than a city car but smaller than a small family car. In the United States these are more often known as subcompacts. In 2004, the best selling cars in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal were all superminis. Overall in 2005, of the fifteen best selling types of car in Europe, six were superminis.

Superminis usually have seating for four adults and a child. While twenty years ago their length was around 3700 mm, current superminis are usually around 3950 mm long in the case of hatchbacks and 4250 mm in the case of saloons and estates. A new trend of supermini-based multi-purpose vehicles and sport utility vehicles appeared in the last years, which are called the mini MPV and mini SUV respectively.

First use of term supermini

The term "supermini" appeared around 1985. The influential Consumers' Association first used the term in its annual Car Buying Guide in October of that year. Because the term was a new one, it gave an explanation at the start of a section entitled Small Hatchbacks. It said small hatchbacks were known popularly as superminis and while similar to the Mini they were more spacious inside and more versatile. This definition made clear that a "supermini" was something larger than a Mini yet smaller than a typical car of the time. In its 1985 report, it included such cars as the Austin Metro, Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta. Smaller or more basic cars were grouped under a Bargain Basement heading and included the Mini, Citroen 2CV, Fiat 126 and Renault 4.

The 1986 Car Buying Guide, published in June of that year, was more confident of the term and this time headed the section Small hatchbacks or 'superminis'. But the Mini and 2CV were still relegated to the cheaper category of Bargain Basement. By the time of the 1989 Car Buying Guide, there was no longer any need to explain what supermini meant and the title appeared without comment. In its introduction the Guide said superminis were available as three-door and five-door hatchbacks, and sometimes as saloons with a boot. The Mini and Renault 4 were still grouped separately, this year under the heading Cheapies.

But by 1990 the demand for the cheapest cars, a number of them from low-cost economies in eastern Europe, was fading. For the first time the two or three remaining examples in the new car market, including the original Mini, were grouped under the heading superminis along with the couple of dozen true superminis that now dominated the cheaper end of the market. However, in its separate guide to car reliability in June 1990, the magazine grouped the smallest cars under the heading "Minis and Superminis", indicating that the smallest cars were still perceived as being distinct from the larger and better equipped "Superminis". These smaller cars are now called city cars.



The Citroen 2CV went on sale in 1948 and became a huge success.

50s and 60s

The Fiat 500 and Mini were successful mass production mini-cars in Europe, going on sale in 1957 and 1959 respectively. The Renault 4, an early example of a car with a top-hinged tailgate, or hatch, went on sale in 1961 and sold more than 1 million in less than five years. The Innocenti A40S Combinata, an Italian version of the 1958 Austin A40, appeared in 1962 with all the features of the modern hatchback style. [[1]]

70s - oil crisis

By the 1970s, small cars were getting bigger and hatchback bodystyles were favoured over the traditional saloon. The 1973 oil crisis forced buyers to choose more economical, less powerful, lighter cars, The first successful small hatchbacks in Europe were the 1971 Fiat 127 (which was introduced as a saloon model) and the Renault 5 which were a strong sellers in Europe. Other successful superminis from the 1970s included the Volkswagen Polo (nee Audi 50), the 1976 Ford Fiesta, Opel Kadett City (Vauxhall Chevette in the UK) and Peugeot 104.


The 1980s saw the supermini market reach its peak. British Leyland began the decade by introducing the Austin Metro, which was seen as a replacement to the antiquated Mini. However, the Austin Metro was only on the scene for little more than two years before the supermini class took a giant step forward. 1983 saw two major launches on the continent: the stylish Pininfarina-penned Peugeot 205 and the Giugiaro-styled, spacious Fiat Uno. Both cars lasted well into the 1990s and were hugely popular all over Europe. Vauxhall/Opel replaced the Chevette/Kadett City with the all-new Opel Corsa.



The first major supermini launch of the 1990s was the Renault Clio, which arrived in 1990 as successor to the long-running super5. The super5 continued until 1995 but its sales slumped after the launch of the Clio, which shot straight to the top of the supermini class and set the benchmark for style, build quality, comfort and driver appeal. Peugeot launched two replacements for the 205; the smaller 106 in 1991 and the larger 206 in 1998. The 106 was Peugeot's first step in phasing out the hugely popular 205 range, which was finally superseded seven years later when the larger 206 went on sale. Nissan launched a curvy all-new Micra in 1992 and the new car, built at its Sunderland plant, was the first Japanese car to be voted European Car of the Year. The Fiat Punto replaced in 1994 the long-running Uno, and the new car set class-leading standards of style and economy. At the same time, the third generation Volkswagen Polo was launched.



The retro-styled MINI Coopers hardtop and convertible
See also List of recent superminis

The 21st century has seen several major supermini launches. In the year 2000, Volkswagen completed the transformation of the once-maligned Škoda company by launching the well-built, comfortable and economical Škoda Fabia. Within two years, the Fabia's chassis had spawned all-new versions of the Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza. 2000 also saw Vauxhall/Opel launch the completely new Corsa which became hugely popular largely thanks to its spacious and comfortable interior which gave it a big-car feel. In 2001 BMW released the MINI "retro" version of the classic Mini. This car has proven to be very popular in the United States, a country normally known for an antipathy to cars of such size although demand has been strongest in the UK due to British perception of the car as a direct successor to the Mini. Citroën replaced the Peugeot 106-derived Saxo with the five-door C3 in 2002 and the three-door C2 in 2003. Both cars were strong sellers thanks to their competitive asking price, low running costs, distinctive styling and spacious interiors.

Renault launched its third-generation Clio in 2005, and the all-new Opel Corsa, Fiat Punto and Peugeot 207 were released in 2006. Now the role of the supermini is changing for many people. These last models are on the 4000 mm range, which was typical of small family cars of the early 1990s. Some observers argue that these models are "jumping" from category, while others suggest that the categories evolve over time (i.e. size ranges of a certain category grow over time) and the descendants of a car (usually) keep in the same category.

Some people now buy small cars for the fashion statement and cool image rather than because of limited finances or practical needs. The MINI, Lancia Ypsilon and Smart Forfour are all examples of the new "fashion superminis".

See also