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Matt Prior: Small cars are where the true luxury lies


Oh for a small, quiet car. That’s what our estimable editor-in-chief Steve Cropley craved the other week when he wondered why there isn’t a compact car offering genuine luxury; one that cossets yet isn’t impossible to park. A small car with such good noise suppression that you could appreciate the pauses on Radio 3.

I think this is a more common want than the car industry realises. It’s as if compactness is anathema to those who push expensive cars; they figure that if you want luxury, you will want it in a five-metre-long package. I’m not sure that’s the case.

I’ve met a bunch of readers who own sports or luxury cars who tell me that, ultimately, they spend more time driving their offspring’s Mini, their Volkswagen Golf R or, increasingly, something like a Toyota GR Yaris, because small cars are easier to rub along with. They reserve their supercars for special occasions; and when you see a big luxury saloon these days, I think there’s a stronger chance of a professional driver than “full lighting” seemed to be a joke. the owner being behind the wheel.

Yet true luxury makes your life easier and more comfortable, and a car that you can manoeuvre and park easily does exactly that. Why shouldn’t you want that? Small cars make much more sense than big cars – if only they were, as Steve noted, as cocooning or silent.

How much quieter is a true luxury car than a small car? By quite a bit, over even regular examples, not just budget ones. I’ve scanned through the cabin noise figures from all of this year’s road tests to date; and while there’s more to noise suppression than just the decibel (dBA) level will tell you (because some frequencies are more distracting than others and there’s a world of it I don’t quite understand), our ‘noise at 70mph’ figure is a consistent benchmark.

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At a motorway cruising speed, most cars have between 66dBA and 70dBA of cabin noise. The sample size of 2021’s tests isn’t huge, but electric cars are, on average, quieter than ICE cars – although only by a whisker, and they’re easily matched by quieter ICE cars. The Audi E-tron (66dBA), Volkswagen ID 3 (67dBA) and Toyota Mirai (66dBA) are muted, but so too are the Vauxhall Mokka (66dBA) and Kia Sorento (66dBA).

I think the size and aggressiveness of tyres, plus a rigid suspension or subframe to carry their noise, is a much bigger factor. The Peugeot 508 PSE’s 71dBA and BMW M4’s 73dBA are behind only the McLaren GT’s 74dBA (which has not only big tyres and a shouty engine but also a super-rigid carbonfibre monocoque).



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