City Car Comparison

Sam Smith
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Jim Fets

Our third stop lands us just a few blocks away from that legendary street, underneath an elevated railway and next door to a tax-specialty shop. Unidentified Flying Chickens is an überhip fried-chicken shop, but it's not just any überhip fried-chicken shop. It's a Korean fried-chicken shop.

We didn't know what that meant, either.

Korean fried chicken, it seems, is something of a New York phenomenon. The Koreans see fried chicken as something of a bar-top beer snack, a bite of crispy bird that you swallow while watching the latest . . . the latest broadcast of whatever sport it is that Koreans watch. (Soccer?Kim Jong Il's Comrade Deathmatch Comedy Hour bootlegs from up North?) In New York, however, Korean fried chicken is a meal.

Unidentified Flying Chickens doesn't have much of a menu, but that's OK, because what it does offer is flat-out fantastic. (New York magazine voted its birds the best Korean fried chicken in the city.) It takes about fifteen minutes - everything is made to order - but $9 gets you a small order of wings or drumsticks. Seventeen bucks gets you a whole chicken, and it's worth the price. The birds here are thin-skinned, crispy on the outside, moist but not greasy, and covered in any one of four flavor-packed glazes (hot, soy-garlic, spicy mustard, or sweet and spicy). The tart, vinegary pickled radish cubes offered as a side (you can also choose macaroni salad, a garden salad, or fries) are tongue-puckeringly addictive.

Stuffed to the gills with chicken, we hop back on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island. It's at this point that the 138-hp Saturn reveals its Achilles' heel - climbing an on-ramp, we get out-dragged by a Toyota minivan. Granted, our test car is equipped with an acceleration-sapping four-speed automatic transmission (a $1325 option), but it's still embarrassing. Adding insult to injury, the Euro-transplant interior makes few nods to American tastes, filled as it is with unfriendly ergonomics and indistinguishable, hieroglyphic-covered buttons. It's a shame, because if it weren't for these factors, the Astra would be at the top of its class.

The last stop on our quick tour of the Big Apple offers us what no visit to New York should be without: pizza.

Joe & Pat's Pizzeria on Staten Island is an institution, and while it's not as famous as some of the other New York alternatives, that just means quicker service.

My ride for the trip across Staten Island is the fourth and final car in our small group, the $15,170, Toyota-built Scion xD. Of all the cars we've gathered, the Scion is probably the most enjoyable and entertaining to drive in the city - which is ironic, because few of us would pick it for daily use elsewhere or for a blast down a winding country road. The Scion's grunty, 128-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder; its quiet, well-finished cabin; and its easygoing, nimble nature all add up to a pleasant city car. Few aspects of the xD are brilliant, but by the same token, nothing offends.

Oddly enough, you could say the same thing about the decor in Joe & Pat's. The inside of the small, narrow Italian restaurant is done up in Overwrought 1960s Greek Diner, but that's part of its charm. Yes, it smells like an old attic, and yes, the tables and chairs remind you of the furniture on Charles in Charge. But the food - oh, the food.

Let's start with the pizza: A sweet, crushed-tomato sauce. A flour-dusted, crackly, yet flexible and smooth thin crust. Cheese that runs off the top in a holy river of mozzarella. It's artful. It's delicate. It's hearty. And we love it.

Other things on the menu? A lemon, parmigiana, and arugula salad that road test editor Marc Noordeloos called, "Without a doubt, the best salad I've ever had." A fantastically ample - and yet not filling - fried calamari and cucumber salad with a sweet, thick balsamic glaze. And scattered everywhere were the juiciest, fruitiest, tartest grape tomatoes known to man. Cost? Our favorite kind of cheap - cheap by volume. Five people stuffed themselves silly, consumed a pitcher of beer, and ended up with a meal's worth of leftovers, all for eighty-five dollars. Glorious.

As for the Scion, it fared the best in our small, city-centric tour. It's easy to drive, easy to park, and relatively easy on fuel (27/33 EPA city/highway when equipped with a manual transmission). It exemplifies the qualities we look for in a city car - it disappears beneath you, it's comfortable and capable, and it feels indestructible. We came away satisfied, proving that you can eat or drive cheap in the greatest city in the world without making yourself miserable.

We took a bunch of cars to New York City. We ate well and had a good time without spending a fortune. And, yes, we did it on purpose.

The Specs{{{Ford Focus}}}{{{Saturn Astra}}}Scion xD{{{Smart}}} ForTwo
Base Price$14,920 ({{{Focus}}} S two-door)$15,995 ({{{Astra XE}}} four-door)$15,170$12,235 (ForTwo Pure coupe)
POWERTRAIN
EngineDOHC 16-valve I-4DOHC 16-valve I-4$15,170$12,235 (ForTwo Pure coupe)
Base Price$14,920 ({{{Focus S}}} two-door)$15,995 (Astra XE four-door)DOHC 16-valve I-4DOHC 12-valve I-3
Displacement2.0 liters (122 cu in)1.8 liters (110 cu in)1.8 liters (110 cu in)1.0 liter (61 cu in)
Horsepower140 hp @ {{{6000}}} rpm138 hp @ 6300 rpm128 hp @ 6000 rpm70 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque132 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm125 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm125 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm68 lb-ft @ 5800 rpm
Transmission Type5-speed manual5-speed manual5-speed manual5-speed automated manual
DriveFront-wheelFront-wheelFront-wheelRear-wheel
CHASSIS
SteeringPower-assisted rack-and-pinionPower-assisted rack-and-pinionPower-assisted rack-and-pinionRack-and-pinion
Suspension, FrontStrut-type, coil springsStrut-type, coil springsStrut-type, coil springsStrut-type, coil springs
Suspension, RearMultilink, coil springsTorsion beam, coil springsTorsion beam, coil springsde Dion axle, coil springs
Brakes F/RVented discs/drums, ABSVented discs/drums, ABSVented discs/drums, ABSDiscs/drums, ABS
Tires As TestedPirelli P6 Four SeasonsMichelin {{{Pilot}}} HX MXM4Dunlop SP Sport {{{5000}}}{{{Continental}}} ContiProContact
Tire Size205/50HR-16225/45HR-17195/60HR-16155/60TR-15 175/55TR-15 (f, r)
MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H175.0 x 67.9 x 58.6 in170.5 x 69.0 x 55.8 in154.7 x 67.9 x 60.0 in106.1 x 61.4 x 60.7 in
Wheel Base102.9 in102.9 in96.9 in73.5 in
Track F/R58.6/58.1 in58.5/58.5 in58.5/58.7 in50.5/54.5 in
Weight2588 lb2833 lb2625 lb1808 lb
EPA Mileage24/35/28 city/hwy/combined24/32/27 city/hwy/combined27/33/29 city/hwy/combined33/41/36 city/hwy/combined
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