Lesson learned. Sometimes being a cheapskate doesn't pay off. I thought that I would solicit some advice on what would make a nice small, entertaining car. There are some appealing, attractive small cars available in France, and I enjoy their tossable nature, and thought that some general input would help me decide which one might be the best choice.
I found a website where I could post a question, but it was pay-per-word. My original question of "What is the most entertaining small car available?" seemed a bit wordy and pricey, so I tried to distill it down to the essence of what I wanted to say. I came up with "Car4Play?"
Lets just say that I got lots of responses... but not really the ones I wanted... and a few suggestions that I had never even heard of before...
Back to the point. Since it came out in 2001, the 'New' Mini Cooper has been a favourite of mine. I even got to do a test drive at an abandonded airport near Toronto, Canada when it was released, and absolutely loved the go-kart feel to it. I know several people that own a Mini, and all seem to agree that the driving experience lives up to the looks. It certainly is a little tight inside, and should probably be considered a two-seater with two extra seats in back for show, but as far as small fun cars go, it's pretty well the benchmark.
One look at the Citroen DS3 is proof that Mini was the target. Citroen based their mini-chic model (introduced in 2010) on their mass-market C3 car, but turned the style dial up to 10. Park it next to a Mini and you'll see that Citroen went for the same youthful, customizable look... there are countless body and roof colour combinations, stickers, and other finishing touches. The DS3 has been a hit for Citroen, and it always turns my head. A couple sporting versions exist, but even the base model is a decent drive. It certainly isn't a hard-carving sports car, but for its price range, the DS3 handles well enough.
Opel wanted a piece of the pint-sized toy car market, and certainly wasn't getting it with their competent but mundane Corsa small car, so they came up with a much more swoopy and attractive coupe called the Adam. Certainly inspired by the success of the DS3, Opel copied their strategy and focused on the upscale look and customization options, so that each owner can personalize their car they way they like. The similarities to the DS3 continue to the driving experience; the Adam is no more a sports car than the Citroen, but it's small size and slightly improved suspension (relative to the Corsa) makes it entertaining in the twisties.
To round out the list, I wanted to include the Alfa Romeo Mito. Several other entertaining small cars exist (like the Audi A1 and Fiat 500), but the Mito is a standout to me thanks to its beautiful design. It is the oddball of this group, as it doesn't offer the personalisation options (colours and trims bits and add-ons), but it still manages to look fun even at a standstill. The base model is more looks than performance, though the Mito can at least keep up with the others, and encourages the driver to look for the longest, curviest route possible to get from point A to point B.
Lots of choices! I still haven't convinced myself to switch my current car, but when I do I want it to be a small 3-door with a 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission. All four of these cars fit the bill, and can be had with similar performance and handling. Pricing starts around 11,000 euros for the Adam, 12,500 for the Mito, and climbs to around 16,000 for the DS3 and Mini. A bit of a spread, but to get comparable equipment levels the price difference shrinks, to the point that it wouldn't be the deciding factor for me. All four cars push the 'fun' button for me. None are designed for maximum acceleration or handling, but in my opinion, that actually makes them all the more fun to drive: you really have to work to wring the most out of them. In the end it would probably come down to looks, thought that's still a toss-up.
I might need some more help. For my next poll I think I'll have to find a better question than 'Car4Play?', though...