With a growing demand for cost-effective cars with good mileage, the compact car segment is witnessing tremendous growth.

In these days of high-performance cars, well-engineered roads and unavoidable traffic snarls, many of us spend a substantial amount of time in our cars. So it is not surprising that they have almost become homes for us.

The passenger car market in the UAE is one of the most advanced and dynamic in the Middle East. According to industry experts, new dealers sold approximately 160,000 cars last year. In keeping with the economic growth of the UAE, the number of cars sold is sure to increase. But with rising prices - for everything from fuel to food - a growing number of buyers are now looking to get small cars at economical prices with less fuel consumption.

Usually, buyers in the compact car market are in the 20 to 30 age group - a segment of the UAE population that is growing - and for many it will be their first car. These buyers, both men and women, want a car that is affordable, reliable and fuel-efficient besides being stylish and easy and fun to drive.

Quick, smart, stylish, zippy and nippy cars like the Toyota Yaris, Honda City, Nissan Tiida, Suzuki Swift, Peugeot 206 and others have made significant inroads into the market.

The new Toyota Yaris sedan, like the Yaris hatchback, is a car that is easy and fun to drive, with a stylish and sporty design. Both the Yaris sedan and hatchback, have a responsive 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder VVTi petrol engine that delivers excellent driving performance, quietness, low emissions and economy.

Tony Barlow, General Manager - Sales and Marketing for Al- Futtaim Motors, says, "The standard in every Yaris is the build quality, durability and reliability for which Toyota is renowned the world over, and which makes Toyota owners such a loyal and satisfied body of customers."

The new Honda City brings to the fore Honda's most advanced automotive technology that is reflected in its contemporary design, high collision safety and impressive cabin space. The new high performance 1.5 VTEC engine has been designed for maximum efficiency.

The Nissan Tiida, both hatchback and sedan versions, have become very popular. "Hatchbacks are seeing a revival with many people going for these models of small cars. We are seeing increased sales of the Tiida hatchback and sedan to both individual as well as fleet customers," explains Abhijeet Pandit, Marketing Manager of Arabian Automobiles Company.

"The success of any automobile product depends on its ability to blend style and convenience. So whatever make the car may be, it should not only feel good to be driving it but also to be seen driving it. And the Swift gives you that," says Austin Mathews, Marketing Manager for Suzuki. He is all praise for the new Suzuki Swift, which was voted Car of the Year UK 2005, Car of the Year 2005 in Japan and Car of the Year 2005 in Iceland.

The Swift is a 1.5-litre five-door compact car from Suzuki with a lightweight engine that allows excellent handling. It is the only small car in its class, that has a multi-functional steering wheel and has everything that goes to make it a great car to drive. "A small car with a big car feel," is how one owner describes his Swift.

The rising success of the small cars has not taken away the gloss of sales for the medium sized sedans, the small, big and huge sports utility vehicles (SUV) or the super luxury brands of cars and high performance sports cars. There has been steady growth in all the segments. Buyers of expensive super cars continue to buy them as fuel prices are not affecting their lifestyles.

Triggered by technical innovations, new launches and novel marketing strategies for its hugely popular Civic and Accord models, sales of Honda cars hit record levels in 2005. Guy Edmonds, Sales and Marketing Manager for Trading Enterprises - Honda, says, "The Honda brand was bolstered by significant developments in design, technology and performance. The all-new passenger car versions combined the best of luxury, style and efficiency, which sped up sales and maximised value for Honda's customers in the UAE."

Last year saw the launch of several exciting new additions to the Toyota range, including the flagship Avalon, the eight- seater Innova MPV, the Hiace and Hilux ranges, the Fortuner SUV and the youthful Yaris hatchback. The Lexus stable also saw the addition of two new thoroughbred luxury sports sedans, the GS300 and GS430. The new RX350 is powerful yet offers a smooth, quiet ride in a luxurious interior.

Highest sales

Al Tayer Motors, which represents major European and American automobile manufacturers Jaguar, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Ferrari and Maserati across the UAE and Land Rover, MG and Rover in Dubai and the northern emirates, recently received an award for achieving the highest sales for Ford vehicles. Land Rover, Middle East and North Africa, congratulated Al Tayer Motors and Premier Motors for the highest worldwide per capita sales at a glittering ceremony.

Over the years, Mitsubishi Motors has proven itself to be a sure winner in the various motor sports held across the world, especially at the off road desert challenges and Dakar Rally, thus reinforcing its image as a durable, reliable and quality vehicle manufacturer. Its range of four-wheel drives, starting with Pajero and completed with Nativa and Outlander, are specially designed to match the Gulf requirements.

Peugeot has introduced the restyled and more dynamic version of its popular 307 model and will shortly be launching Coupe 407. "Both the 307 and 407 range of Peugeot models are popular with customers who are looking for a medium sized car with luxury equipment such as bluetooth, fancy yet comfortable interior, etc and also offers style, quality and value for money," says Nazih Massoud, Area Manager for Peugeot Middle East.

Kia has introduced two new models this year - Kia Carnival and Kia Optima. "We do not have any particularly popular model because all our cars offer real value for money. We are also one of the very few manufacturers who offer almost the entire range of cars including SUVs and family vans," says P. Abraham, Head of PR and Corporate Communications for Kia Motors, Dubai.

Suzuki Grand Vitara's performance has been legendary for the past few decades and the new one comes with great looks too. According to Mathews, the smaller SUVs are becoming very popular with those who want to drive an SUV but not spend too much to buy one. The Grand Vitara is the answer to the needs of such people.

The new Nissan Pathfinder is completely new in size and design. Just as its promotions say, it is 'More Pathfinder' in size, features and horsepower. Nissan currently has a large SUV line up. "We are always short of Armada stock as it has become very popular in the luxury SUV category. Both Murano and Armada have outsold our expectations due to their competitive pricing and attractive features," says Pandit.

'A family car that thinks it's a sports car and vice versa' - that's how the Porsche Cayenne is portrayed. The Cayenne will fit a family of five but can tow a large boat and get all the passengers carefully and confidently across the desert and over the most difficult terrain, with power to spare. Georg Brune, General Manager of Al Nabooda Automobiles, Porsche Centre, says, "A Cayenne seats five people in total luxury and as you revel in the sheer enjoyment of your Porsche experience, you can rest assured that your family is enveloped in a completely secure and comfortable environment."

From the luxury super car like Jaguar and big gas-guzzlers such as the Hummer to the cute little fuel-efficient Peugeot 206 and Suzuki Swift - all have takers in this market - a market that is zooming into an even more vibrant future.