Small cars are some of the most popular on offer, and it's easy to see why. Here are the best small cars and superminis as picked by our experts
Small cars are some of the most popular on offer, and it's easy to see why. Here are the best small cars and superminis as picked by our experts.
Small cars are a popular choice here in the UK. Drivers love the manoeuvrability and reduced fuel economy that go hand-in-hand with compact dimensions, and the best small cars these days also provide enough practicality to satisfy a small family.
Here are some of the best on sale in 2020.
An impressive all-rounder in its latest form, and now with the option of electric-only power. Light and nippy, the Corsa also feels more spacious inside than previous versions. Inside, dashes of body-matched colour lift the cabin, while the seats are positioned lower down for a sportier feel to the drive. More expensive than before, but you feel like you’re getting more car for the money.
A step change from the previous version. Loads more kit as standard, including cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, hill-start assist and a tyre-pressure monitoring system. Extraordinary, given the starting price.
If any car suits electric power, it’s the eternally urban Mini. Comes with a wealth of bespoke design options, colours and patterns inside and out, smart leather stitching, funky LED lighting and retro dials, and now electric power. Charge it overnight at home and you’ll be good for a few days of urban trips.
Audi A1 Sportback
Smart, compact, smooth and highly desirable, the A1 Sportback has a slinkier silhouette than the A1 hatchback, while keeping nearly all the interior space bar some headroom in the rear. One for the sharp-suited town dweller who appreciates good tech and audio systems.
The coolest small electric car out in 2020. While everyone else went futuristic with their electric offerings, Honda, in a stroke of genius, went retro. One to buy with the heart and the head: Honda is known for its excellent reliability and high residuals.
A splash of French verve, the 208 now comes with the choice of petrol or electric power. All choices are spritely and refined. It looks the business from the outside, and inside has Peugeot’s clever i-Cockpit design system, keeping the steering wheel and dials low down. Gladdens the heart.
If it’s a grown-up, sober small car you’re after, the Polo is the one. This enduring city run-around looks better than ever, especially is burned orange, and has VW’s familiar mature ride and handling. It’s incredibly accomplished at motorway speeds, with very little wind and tyre noise, which is unusual for a car this small, at this end of the price spectrum. In other words, it’s very good.
Every list of the best small cars that has been created since God was a boy has contained the Ford Fiesta. Because for some reason that no one has ever managed to entirely pin down, it nails the concept of the perfect small car, every time. It feels more spacious inside than it has a right to, drives with the panache of a car costing £20k more, and, despite being more than 40 years old as a model, is still seriously hard to beat.
If you tend to drive only short distances or you don’t often carry passengers, then a small car could be ideal for you.
Small cars are usually cheaper to buy. They’ll often come with smaller engines, which can mean better fuel economy and efficiency – which in turn can mean lower running costs too.
A small car’s dinkier dimensions also make it more manoeuvrable, making it easier to park and easier to thread along congested city streets.
Small car buying advice
There’s plenty of choice on the small car market and it can become overwhelming. So, keep the following points in mind when comparing your shortlist of small cars.
Small car’s running costs and fuel economy
Smaller cars tend to do well in both areas, but that’s not guaranteed. There’s a huge difference between the best and worst in class, and even within the same model range, there can also be a big difference between the best and worst derivatives of the car.
Getting the specification you want
Entry-level models have attractively low prices, but often don’t come with equipment you’d think of as necessary (like air-con), so you need to pay more for a higher trim level or optional extras. By the time you’ve done that, you may be better off with a different car entirely, so decide early on what items you can’t live without, and make sure you always compare models like-for-like.
How practical is your small car?
Check the practicality of the boot, the space in the back seats and overall storage space. You may not carry passengers often, but there will inevitably come a time when you need to transport family or friends, and need space for them. Think about the minimum amount of space you’re likely to need on a reasonably regular basis.
On the topic of families, you should check whether your car of choice is accommodating of child car seats and whether you have enough room for prams, bags and everything else that comes with a little one.
Think about the engine you’ll need
Consider the type of driving you do regularly. While you may spend most of your time zipping around the city, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t regularly venture further. Bear in mind that a small engine may struggle with steep inclines, faster roads and when carrying heavier loads.
Can a small car tow a trailer or caravan?
This depends on the car’s kerbweight (which you can find in the owner’s manual) and the weight (called mass) of the trailer or caravan. If the tow weight is less than 85% of the car’s kerbweight, you’ll be able to tow it.
Are small cars cheaper to run?
Typically, cars with higher fuel economy and smaller engines are cheaper to run.
Small cars can perform well with small engines, which means they’re often considered by buyers looking to keep running costs down. This depends on the individual car though, so shop around.
Are small cars safe?
It’s true that bigger cars have more weight and bigger crash zones (which can help in the event of a full crash) but advances in technology mean small cars have much improved their safety in recent years.
When looking at a small car, compare safety features like airbags, anti-lock brakes, safety belts etc. and check how many stars (out of five) the car was awarded in Euro NCAP crash tests – the European security standard.
What is a supermini?
A supermini a type of small car, examples of which include the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Renault Clio and Toyota Yaris. Superminis are larger than a city car – like the Fiat Pando or Toyota Aygo - and smaller than family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
The European car industry also classifies these cars by segment, and superminis fall into the B-segment, between city cars in the A-segment and midsize family hatchbacks in the C-segment.
Superminis are popular because they’re usually affordable to buy, cheap to run and easy to drive. They usually come in a hatchback body style – with either three- or five doors – and most can fit two adults in the back seats.