Best compact cars

Fancy a small car, but don't want to skimp on kit or performance? Check out the best cheap to run, well equipped and easy to drive cars here

Joe Holding
Apr 6, 2022

If you’re on the hunt for a compact car - whether that be a supermini, a hatchback, an SUV or even a small sports car - chances are that you’ll want a vehicle that ticks as many boxes as possible. Thankfully, modern small cars are a lot more sophisticated than compact cars from decades gone by.

Decent levels of equipment - including stuff like smartphone connectivity and parking sensors - might be essential in your eyes for making life on the road as easy as possible. You may also want to have the latest tech, such as a slick sat-nav system, or even voice controls. Since compact cars are getting ever more stuffed with equipment, there are plenty of appealing options - even if you're on a budget. 

A spacious interior is also likely to be high on the list for many drivers. Even if you’re not ferrying the family around every day, you want them to be comfortable when they are on board, and a large boot is always handy for big trips to the supermarket, fitting a pushchair in the boot or simply going to visit friends or family for a couple of days.

And running costs are likely to be important too. Many people are feeling the squeeze of the current economic climate and the more miles you can squeeze out of the tank, the better. There are an increasing number of small electric cars, so if you want the lowest possible fuel bills, considering ones of these could be a good idea. We’ve rounded up the best compact cars across a number of categories, each representing great value for money and offering strengths that make them stand out amongst the competition.

The best compact cars

1. Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium
Used deals from £8,931

The Ford Fiesta is the best-selling car in the UK and has been for many years. Why? It stands out against its rivals in so many key areas, with very few weaknesses to hold it back. It’s good value for money, drives well, fuel economy is excellent, it’s very practical for its size and there’s a wide range of engine and trim choices, so there’s a Fiesta for practically every driver.

The most recent iteration of the popular supermini was introduced in 2017. Entry-level, Style cars get air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic headlights as standard, while an electronic speed-limiter helps you stick to the posted speed limit if you want a helping hand. The next step up is Zetec trim, and this adds a heated windscreen and a touchscreen media system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Three year-old Fiestas can be found for less than £10,000 on BuyaCar, but if having the most up-to-date tech isn’t a massive concern for you then older, previous-generation models are available for much less.


2. Renault Clio

Our pick Renault Clio 1.0 TCe Iconic
Used deals from £12,473

A new version of the Renault Clio was launched late in 2019, and the updated car is one of the best all-rounders in its class. It’s almost as good as the Ford Fiesta to drive - which is high praise indeed - and the interior feels like it’s built better than many of the alternative models available at this sort of price.

The cheapest petrol models are a little underpowered, but in reality you won’t notice the extra fraction of a second it takes to get up to speed and the pay-off is excellent fuel economy. The E-Tech hybrid variant is particularly good, achieving 64.2mpg on paper. The 391-litre, wide-opening boot is more than adequate too. In fact it's pretty big for this type of car.

Standard features on entry-level Play versions include hill start assistance, cruise control, automatic emergency braking and a host of other driver safety aids. Step up to Iconic trim and you’ll add rear parking sensors and a seven-inch touchscreen media system that’s extremely user-friendly. These two features make Iconic models desirable while remaining affordable.

The Renault Clio tends to lose value quite quickly when new, which is bad news for people buying new, but good news for those looking for a second-hand car, as there are a number of nearly new bargains on BuyaCar right now.


3. Toyota Aygo

Our pick Toyota Aygo 1.0 VVT-i X-Press
Used deals from £5,500

The second-generation Toyota Aygo has been with us for a number of years and while it’s not as fresh-faced as it once was, it still has a lot to offer as a city car. The way it drives hasn’t changed a great deal in the most recent update, but the ride is reasonably comfortable and the light steering makes it ideal for tight roads in town.

There’s only one engine in the Aygo lineup, a 1.0-litre petrol producing 70hp. 0-62mph acceleration takes at least 14.2 seconds (and even longer in the automatic version) - so this isn't a quick car - and it can get quite loud as you need to work the engine hard to get up to speed. The good news, however, is that fuel economy is excellent, with up to 56.4mpg claimed.

The cheapest ‘X’ trim includes daytime running lights and not a lot else, so it’s worth aiming for X-Play cars at least in order to get air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a smarter interior design. If you can stretch to it, X-Press cars add a seven-inch touchscreen media system, a reversing camera and much more besides, making it feel a lot more modern. These can be found for less than £8,000 on BuyaCar.


4. Mazda MX-5

Our pick Mazda MX-5 2.0 Skyactiv-G Sport Nav
Used deals from £11,613

The Mazda MX-5 is one of the most popular convertible sports cars on the planet, with well over a million sold since the first version came out more than 30 years ago. There aren't many two-seater cars still on sale in the 2020s, but the simplicity of the MX-5 means it's still soldiering on.

It’s a fabulous car too, giving drivers exciting, open-air thrills for relatively little money. As sports cars go, it's not the fastest, with 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre models capable of 0-62mph in 8.3 and 6.5 seconds respectively, but this lightweight car is incredibly engaging to drive and feels faster than it is, as you sit low down and all the controls give you such a good sense of connection to the car. That means that the MX-5 can be outstripped by many recent high-performance hatchbacks, but none of these can match the MX-5's back-to-basics feel.

Thanks to its size and format, the MX-5 isn’t the most practical car, with a small 130-litre boot that’s more suited to day-tripping than long holidays. But if you’re keen on a two-seater sports car, this probably isn’t top of your list anyway.

A budget of £15,000 will let you strike a good balance between age and mileage on BuyaCar. We’d recommend SE-L Nav+ models, as this adds sat-nav to the already-standard climate control, cruise control, LED headlights and seven-inch touchscreen media system included in most models.


5. Skoda Kamiq

Our pick Skoda Kamiq 1.0 TSI SE L
Used deals from £15,350

The Skoda Kamiq is the Czech brand’s most compact SUV, and as it’s based on Volkswagen mechanical parts, it’s one of the best vehicles of this type, fitting a surprising amount of room and kit into a small car. 

Above all else the Kamiq is spacious, with enough headroom and legroom throughout for six-foot adults. The ride comfort is very good, making it ideal for family life, and the 400-litre boot is one of the biggest in this type of car. Drop the rear seats and you’ll have a 1,395-litre luggage space at your disposal - that's perfect for flat-pack furniture shopping, tip trips or fitting in other bulky items.

Standard equipment includes LED headlights, air-conditioning, a 6.5-inch touchscreen media system, a digital radio, Bluetooth and a swathe of safety systems that operate independently of the driver. If you want to add smartphone integration, a larger touchscreen, lumbar support for the front seats and cruise control, you’ll need to step up to the mid-range SE trim, making this an appealing option.

There are plenty of decent engines on offer with the Kamiq, but we'd be tempted to avoid the 95hp version of the 1.0-litre petrol engine if you can, as this makes the car feel a little sluggish.


6. Ford Puma

Our pick Ford Puma 1.0 EcoBoost MHEV ST-Line X
Used deals from £17,538

The Ford Puma is based on the Fiesta supermini, and that means this small SUV shares much of the Fiesta’s brilliant driving characteristics. Few vehicles of this type are as likely to put a smile on your face when driving as the Puma, and it still manages to tick plenty of other sensible boxes besides.

The engine lineup is one of the car’s main strengths, with the three-cylinder, turbocharged 'EcoBoost' petrol engines striking a great balance between performance and fuel economy. 48.7mpg is what you can expect from the entry-level engine, with a hybrid variant upping this to 50.4mpg, which are strong figures for this type of car.

Boot space with the seats up ranges from 456 to 536 litres, depending on how far forward you slide the rear bench. That's big for a car of this size and there’s an extra storage unit under the boot floor too, which comes in useful for when you’ve got taller items to transport from A to B.

The Puma is still relatively new, which means that there aren't any super affordable models on offer just yet, but as with all recent models, the prices will tumble quickly as the car gets older, so do keep an eye out for deals if it's a little out of reach now, as that won't last for long. The hybrid model tends to be more expensive, and the lower running costs are unlikely to be worth the extra cash, so we'd be tempted to stick with an ordinary petrol model.


7. BMW i3

Our pick BMW i3 120Ah
Used deals from £15,649
Electric cars are becoming more and more popular, and the BMW i3 is something of a pioneer having back arrived in 2013. A number of updates over the years since its launch have transformed it from a niche city car into something much more capable, and the sophisticated interior design is like nothing else on sale.

Newer versions can travel around 190 miles on a single charge thanks to a 42.2kWh battery that can be charged up at home in around six hours, costing around £3 on a cheap off-peak tariff. No petrol or diesel car comes close on fuel costs per mile. Acceleration is good too, with even the slowest i3 still managing to accelerate from 0-62mph in a speedy 7.3 seconds.

The i3 is quite pricey to buy new, and the standard kit list goes some way to justifying its purchase price. Sat-nav, a digital radio, parking sensors, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers are all part of the package, and the high-quality interior designs are so futuristic that BMW refers to them as ‘interior worlds’. Thankfully, as the car has been around for a number of years, there are far more affordable used versions available.

Though these older versions are usefully cheaper, it's worth doing your homework before choosing a specific car, as these tend to have significantly less range, owing to their older battery technology. If you don't often go on long trips, though, or you're happy charging up a bit more regularly, one of these could be a great option for you as they cost much less.


8. Renault Zoe

Our pick Renault Zoe ZE50
Used deals from £8,000

If the i3 is too expensive for you to contemplate, the go-to affordable electric car is without question the Renault Zoe. A significant update was introduced early in 2020, bringing the maximum range up to 238 miles on top-of-the-range models. A more powerful electric motor arrived too, adding better acceleration into the mix.

Renault’s old battery lease scheme - where the original buyer could choose to pay a lower price and have a monthly lease fee for the battery - was also killed off, meaning that for 2020-on models the cost you pay now includes the battery and the car itself. Be careful when scanning used car listings for 2020-on models though, as CCS rapid-charging was a pricey option when new which means many drivers skipped it.

As standard the Zoe now comes with a 10-inch digital instrument display and a seven-inch touchscreen media system that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The Zoe is very quiet on the move (as most electric cars are), and has a 338-litre boot, which is usefully large for a small car.

If you're looking at a 2020-on model, it’s worth looking for those with 100kW CCS charging equipped, as these give you the flexibility of travelling further afield when you need to and benefitting from faster charging.

If you're on a tighter budget, meanwhile, you may want to go for a cheaper pre-2020 model, as these still drive well and look similar. Just make sure you know the specific range of any model you're looking at, as the range per charge varies depending on the age of the car and check whether any models you're considering include the cost of the battery or if you have to budget for the cost of the battery lease, too.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


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