Beat Blue Monday with carwow’s rundown of 10 cars that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face
The third Monday of January is generally held to be the most depressing day of the year, and few would argue that the long, dark nights and damp, dull skies can get pretty wearisome, pretty quickly.
Cars can offer some respite from this doom and gloom, sheltering us from the rain as we nestle into heated seats, stereos helping to blast away the shades of grey that pursue us through winter.
Some cars are definitely more cheerful than others, though, and to help shake off some of January’s ennui, we’ve come up with 10 models that are bound to put a smile on your face – either when you get behind the wheel, or if you spot one going by. We’ve not chosen super and sports cars that exist primarily to make owners grin – these are cars that can make everyone’s day just that little bit brighter.
1. Skoda Felicia Fun
How could we not begin this list with a car that has the word ‘fun’ in its name? Well, perhaps ‘car’ is stretching things, as the Fun was a pick-up truck based on the Skoda Felicia family hatchback of 1994.
Offered only in bright yellow paintwork, with a yellow steering wheel and dashboard details emphasising the sense of cheerfulness, just 4,016 Felicia Funs were produced, only 300 of which were right-hand-drive versions.
The Felicia Fun’s party piece was to be found at the rear, where what initially appeared to the back of the cabin would fold out to create two open-air rear seats, complete with seatbelts and rollover bar.
2. Mazda MX-5 Mk1
We’re generally going to steer clear of choosing cars simply because they’re fun to drive – there needs to be someone for everyone in order for a car to make the cut.
But while the first-generation Mazda MX-5 will undoubtedly give you an ear-to-ear grin from the driver’s seat, it also asserts itself with a cheery design, most evident in the pop-up headlights that give it an anthropomorphically happy ‘face’.
The fact the original MX-5 went on sale priced from just £14,249 in 1990, and the current version can be picked up for less than £26,000 from new only adds to the feel-good vibes.
A halfway-decent Mk1 MX-5 can be had for around £5,000, or you can browse the later, pre-loved versions of this tip-top sports car we have available.
3. Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite
If the MX-5 looks cheerful, the Frogeye Sprite of 1958 seems positively ecstatic. It’s no stretch to see a huge grin in the radiator grille, bright, wide-open eyes in the headlights, and a cute dimple nose in the maker’s badge.
Like the MX-5, the Frogeye was about as affordable as sports cars could get, priced from just £669. And while performance from the 43hp 0.9-litre Austin A Series engine may not have been stellar, taking a little over 20 seconds to go from 0-60mph, the Sprite undoubtedly felt faster and was entertaining on smaller roads.
High-speed journeys could be more challenging, though. Anecdotally, this writer’s father owned a Frogeye in the 1960s and was rear-ended on the motorway, a collision that concertinaed the back of the car right up to the passenger compartment, leaving both driver and passenger happy (and lucky) to escape with their lives.
4. Volkswagen California
A car – well, a van really – right at the other end of the scale, the VW California is neither small, nor cheap, nor sporty, but it will almost certainly put a smile on your face thanks to its versatility, while only the most curmudgeonly of us would fail to smile at the sight of a fully set-up camper.
The California can comfortably sleep four thanks to the pop-up roof bed and seats that convert into another chamber, while come daytime the generous rear cabin becomes a kitchen-diner, and the perfect home away from home.
A few minutes of packing and everything can be folded up and stowed away, leaving you free to explore the world. Another impressive thing about the California is that it drives very nicely indeed and can seat four in comfort, making it no hardship to use for day-to-day commuting duties if you intend to have it as your only vehicle.
5. Morgan Super 3
While the VW California can be used for regular school and supermarket runs, it would take a brave soul to have a Morgan Super 3 as their sole means of transport: as well as being down a wheel on a conventional car and, save for optional ‘fly screens’ in lieu of a windscreen, the Morgan is also without almost any weather protection, and is advisedly driven with a motorcycle helmet.
But there is almost no question that this is a cheerful car: manufactured by hand by a company that has been building cars for over a century and produces just 800 each year, the very fact that the Super 3 exists is cause for celebration.
Given its rarity and uniqueness, seeing a 3 out on the road will almost certainly provoke a comment and a smile, while for those lucky enough to own and drive one, it remains unlike anything else available today.
6. Ford Fiesta
We’re not including the Fiesta just because it means ‘party’ in Spanish, honest – it’s more that this is a handsome, nippy, mass-produced and affordable supermini that people would buy in droves almost regardless of whether it handled well or not.
But what makes the Fiesta such a cheerful car is how it drives: the steering is communicative, the gearbox crisp, the suspension helps it corner neatly, while the three-cylinder turbocharged engines are peppy and relish being revved out.
Ford could probably have managed to sell just as many superminis if it had designed a car that had 50% of the driver engagement as the Fiesta does, so the fact that it took the time and effort to make this affordable car as fun as it is, is well worth a smile. There’s just one detail that puts a slight damper on things, and that’s the fact that the Fiesta won’t be replaced once the current version ceases production this summer.
7. Dacia Duster
In an industry that often choses assertive names that could just as easily adorn aftershave bottles as bootlids (see Interceptor, Stinger and Countach), it’s refreshing to find a car with a moniker that gives the impression it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The Duster was in fact named to conjure up an image of a rugged 4×4 driving across the desert floor with a cloud of dust in its wake, something this Dacia is more than capable of doing, while the fact it sits alongside the Jogger and Spring in its maker’s range only adds to the impression of cheerfulness.
But the Duster has more than just a happy name: it’s a thoroughly competent and characterful SUV that offers everything today’s drivers need, while costing less than half the price of many popular 4x4s. Choose a Duster and that knowledge is likely to make you cheerful before you’ve even begun a journey, while spotting one on the road is a welcome reminder that excellent cars can still be affordable.
8. Honda e
Any car with a fish tank built into the dashboard has to be cheerful, right? Well, the Honda e’s aquarium may be digital (the crash-test results with a real goldfish bowl would hardly render a happy result), but its presence indicates Honda always intended for the e to be a feel-good car.
Sure, the 137-mile battery range could be better, but the full-width digital dashboard and nippy handling will undoubtedly raise a smile, while the same will be true if you’re out and about and spot one of these cheeky EVs, particularly if it’s finished in Acid Yellow paint.
9. Volkswagen Beetle
There’s an argument to be made that the Beetle is a more cheerful car to see than to be seen in – this was, after all, a vehicle that was once said to “not meet the fundamental technical requirements of a motorcar”.
But what the Beetle was, was cheap, and it was also produced in vast quantities, putting 21 million people (more if you count second, third and fourth owners) on the road during its 65-year production run, with over 400,000 sold in the USA in a single year.
Undeniably cute, easy to work on and reliable, the Beetle’s air-cooled rear engine gave it a unique character (if poor cabin heating). Undoubtedly a fixture of history books for the foreseeable future, the original Beetle can only provoke an irrepressible smile when spotted out and about.
10. Ora Funky Cat
We began this list with a car that included the word ‘fun’ in its name, so it seems only fitting to end with the Ora Funky Cat.
You may not have heard of Ora, but it’s a Chinese car maker that has brought the Funky Cat over to compete with established EVs like the Volkswagen ID3 and Renault Zoe, loading it up with plenty of kit and offering it for around £32,000.
As well as having a cheerful name, the Funky Cat has an interior that’s available in a nicely chosen range of interesting colours, a welcome relief when manufacturers increasingly offer various shades of grey when it comes to configuring cabins. There’s also no denying that the Funky Cat has a cheerful front design that both harks back to the Beetle, and brightens up the road.