Cute Cars: 10 Lovable, Compact Rides Guaranteed To Make You Smile (2024)

Merriam-Webster defines cute as being attractive or pretty, especially in a childish, youthful, or delicate way. In the car world, it's usually a negative. If you go to a BMW car meet, your i3 would look cute, parked next to the now-iconic 1M Coupe, which has a body that looks like it's struggling to contain all the power underneath.

There's nothing wrong with owning a cute car, however. Heck, we'd love to own at least half the vehicles on this list, knowing that they're the cutest cars to ever exist. But what exactly is a cute car?

Cute Cars: 10 Lovable, Compact Rides Guaranteed To Make You Smile (1)

Cutest Cars

While researching this topic, it became clear that it must be a small car with an endearing design. If you apply a friendly face to a larger car, you end up with the SsangYong Korando, which is one of the ugliest cars ever made.

Since design is objective (except for SsanYongs), you might not agree with every car on this list. But when it comes to cute vehicles, it's all about the exterior. As you'll soon see, this list of small cars includes a sporty hatchback, an EV with a comfortable ride, and even cute convertible vehicles that will have you rethinking what you think to know about handling.

This list is not about performance, standard features, engines, fuel economy, practicality, or rear seat space. It's all about the cutest cars in the world, most of which are or were not available in America because we like them big and practical.

1. Nissan Figaro

The Nissan Figaro is one of the cutest cars ever made and a lesson in how much design matters. If we look at Nissan's range today, few cars stand out. There's the Ariya and the Z, and that's about it. You go to Nissan if you want a cheap and reliable sedan.

The last adorable car Nissan made was arguably the Juke, though we're not sure if it's adorable or fugly.

The Figaro is all about design. Nissan's Pike Factory started producing a series of limited-edition cars featuring postmodern styling. Along with the Nissan Pao, Be-1, and S-Cargo, the Figaro was available for one model year only. These design elements eventually filtered down to more mainstream cars like the second and third-generation Micra.

Even though it looks like a fun-to-drive coupe, it's a first-generation Nissan Micra with a different body.

It might have a turbocharged engine, but it's only a one-liter engine mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, and it put out a paltry 75 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque, which means it would lose a drag race against a rental-spec Nissan Versa Sedan.

Still, those round headlights and taillights gave it a surprising amount of character that many small cars lack these days. The Mitsubishi Mirage, which is 150 inches of generic hatch, is a prime example.

2. Fiat 500

Is the original Fiat 500 a cute car? It certainly fits the definition, but it feels wrong to refer to it as "delicate." The original Fiat 500 is one of four cars that revolutionized the automotive industry in Europe after WWII. With so few resources, European engineers had no choice but to build small, affordable cars with adequate performance. Despite being compact, these cars had to be practical with loads of cargo space. If you look at the OG Cinquecento, Mini, Beetle, and 2CV, they all hit these targets.

Still, there's no denying that it's one of the cutest cars ever made, and in the mid-noughties, the revamped 500 leaned hard into the original styling at the expense of usable rear seats and room in the trunk.

That being said, you can actually take a modern 500 on the highway without getting trampled. If you go for one of the desirable Abarth models, you get sporty performance and sweet handling.

The all-new, all-electric version will be on sale soon, and it's a big gamble for Fiat. Cute car models have traditionally never done well in the USA, and EV sales aren't booming as much as manufacturers hoped.

3. Mini Pick-up

The original Mini is the British take on the 500, but Sir Alec Issigonis did an even better job. The Mini Cooper, as it has become known, may very well be the cutest car ever made. You can't drive or drive past one and not smile. Any model equipped with the 1275cc four-cylinder engine is a riot to drive, and it can teach the modern models something about rear-seat space.

Because it was designed to keep a nation in motion, BMC expanded the range in 1960. It introduced the Countryman (station wagon) and the Estate Van that year. A year later, the Mini Pick-up followed. The compact truck looked silly compared to the pickups America was building in the 1960s, but it was practical, cheap, reliable, and only weighed 1,500 pounds. It was the perfect size for a small farm, though it lacked any technology.

The only feature worth boasting about was the heater, as you had to pay extra for seatbelts and sun visors.

4. Daihatsu Copen

The first-generation Audi TT was a phenomenon. It looked so good that it survived a highly-publicized roof scraping issue and became one of the best-selling coupes ever. Sadly, the world has moved on, and the TT is no longer available.

However, the TT's initial success caught the attention of Daihatsu. The Copen wasn't a blatant rip-off of the TT's design, but you can see the hints. The main difference is that the Copen had to meet Japan's Kei car regulations, so it's significantly smaller.

Daihatsu thought European countries would be fine with the Copen in JDM spec, which was right-hand drive and equipped with a 660cc turbocharged four-cylinder. Sadly, it wasn't well received in that spec. It rectified the problem by designing a left-hand-drive model equipped with a 1.3-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder to provide the same level of performance as other roadsters. It was a big flop because it's not like there was a lack of rear-wheel-drive roadsters available. You could buy an actual TT, the Mazda Miata, a BMW Z3, and the MG-TF.

At least the 1.3-liter model is equipped with an engine co-designed with Toyota, so this should be on the top of your list if you're looking for cute reliable cars.

5. Honda e

The Honda e made its debut as the Urban EV Concept in 2017. It was introduced as a cute homage to the first-generation Honda Civic, and the Japanese automaker was brave enough to produce a production version that was very similar to the concept car.

It was quite a fun car; like a Mini Cooper, it was a tiny hatchback with a short wheelbase and a wheel at each corner.

But its biggest downfall was the engine, or rather the lack of one. Honda equipped it with a 134 to 153-horsepower electric motor on the front axle. Thanks to the instant power delivery, it was tremendous fun to drive. So what went wrong?

Well, like Mazda and its MX-30 EV, the Honda e was a victim of progress. It hit the market in 2020 with a range of 137 miles, which is laughable only four years later. The problem with most EVs is that advanced technology tends to get outdated very quickly. We now live in an era where even small cars with little space for a battery have to do at least 250 miles to be considered relevant.

The Honda e only lasted four years and ended up being a net loss for Honda. Not even Max Verstappen could save it.

6. Renault Twingo

Renault's famous small car has always been cute. The first generation had those cute round eyes, while the second generation had oversized headlights and an expression of sheer joy. Even the go-faster RS and Gordini versions, with their bigger wheels and stripes, were considered pretty cars rather than lukewarm hatches. Be cautious when you come across one in Europe, however. Renault is known for being a master in suspension setup, and a well-driven version of this cute hatchback will leave most entry-level sports cars behind on a twisty back road.

The latest version is also quite interesting. Instead of going the usual front-engine front-wheel-drive recipe that most hatchback models follow, Renault made the Twingo rear-engined and rear-wheel drive, just like a Porsche... or the Smart ForFour it was based on.

But even that era is coming to an end, and the Twingo is going electric. The powertrain might be changing, but the concept previewing the new model is still as cute as ever.

7. Geely Panda

The Geely Panda (LC in some markets) was derided for being a knock-off of the first-generation Toyota Aygo, but the Chinese manufacturer did a better job. Geely called the design bionic, meant to be reminiscent of a Panda. We don't know what it's about, but it looks lovely.

Unfortunately, that was its only redeeming quality. The car suffered from so much drivetrain loss that it was a hazard on the highway. It was a hateful car to drive, and it started falling apart within weeks of leaving the dealer floor. When the crossover trend started, Geely gave the Panda a suspension lift and bolted a spare wheel to the trunk. This made it difficult to open the trunk, as you had to lift the weight of a spare tire without assistance.

This stupid little car is one of the main reasons Geely had to abandon its original plans to dominate most of the world's markets and return to the drawing board.

Its second attempt is going much better now that it has the know-how of several brands it purchased over the last decade, including Volvo, Polestar, and Lotus.

8. Lotus Elise

The Series 1 Lotus Elise is one of the cutest cars ever made, yet it takes nothing more than a short drive to prove Colin Chapman was on to something. Weight is the enemy of performance, and we can't wait to see how the modern Lotus gets around this problem with the upcoming heavyweight EVs.

The first-generation Elise still used Rover K-Series engines, but even the lowest-output model was a blast to drive. The 118 hp was enough to get the Series 1 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds because the entire car only weighed 1,598 lbs.

But the Elise was never about straight-line speed. The low weight meant you could corner harder, brake later, and even save some fuel. The Elise's successor, the Emira, is still a blast to drive but traded in its cute looks for outright sexiness.

9. Suzuki Jimny

The current Suzuki Jimny looks like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class' smaller, much cuter brother. Let's rectify that statement. The G-Class looks like the Jimny's bigger, unnecessary big brother. You might not know this, but the Jimny was launched well before the G-Class, so if anyone is poaching design ideas, it's Mercedes.

The modern Jimny is one of the cars we wish we could get in America, even though it's terrible to drive (on the road). It may have a modern infotainment system, but the interior is cramped (although a new five-door has helped things), and the performance is almost non-existent.

But we'd have one just for the looks and the fact that it can shame off-roaders that cost five times as much. It may suck on the road, but if you stick to the dirt, it's a great car.

10. Mazda MX-5 Miata (NA)

The Miata has lost its cute looks over the years, but there's no denying that the NA (first-gen) was a cutie pie. Just look at those pop-up eyes and the air intake doubling as a smile. That was by design, and the late Shunji Tanaka gave the car a face that emulated a Japanese Noh mask, giving it emotions that changed depending on what angle you looked at it.

It is one of the best-handling cars ever made, and the NA makes people in other cars happy as you drive by. The engine is also pleased to be revved out, and the chassis feels elated when you chuck it into a corner. Everything about the car is fun, but the NA's successors dropped that adorable face mainly because the government said pop-up headlights would kill pedestrians more easily. If you're going to get hit by a Miata, make sure it's an NB, NC, or ND, it's still going to suck, but at least you won't have a headlight poking out of your gut.

Our managing editor is quite a connoisseur, so if you want to know which Miata model is best, you know where to go.

Cute Cars: 10 Lovable, Compact Rides Guaranteed To Make You Smile (2024)


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