Smallest rear-wheel drive cars

Fancy a fun rear-wheel drive car that's small and relatively affordable? Here are eight cars that prove good things come in small packages

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Feb 16, 2021

Many keen drivers are quick to big up the virtues of rear-wheel drive cars. The logic goes that a car that sends power to the rear wheels should be more fun to drive. That's because rear-wheel drive cars are typically more balanced - often with a near-even spread of the car's weight across the front and rear - and with power being sent to the rear wheels, the front ones are free to steer, without the wheel tugging in your hands as you accelerate, which often happens with more powerful front-wheel drive cars.

This is why many performance cars are rear-wheel drive. The likes of the BMW 3 Series, Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type traditionally send power to the rear wheels and have done for many years, although they’re also now offered in four-wheel drive form. But, if you don't want the extra weight, complexity or cost of four-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive could still be the way to go.

We’ve pulled together a list of the smallest rear-wheel drive cars you can buy. From an affordable city car to one of the latest electric cars to hit the market, this is rear-wheel drive motoring in fun-size form.

Small rear wheel drive cars for sale

1. Renault Twingo

Used deals from £4,390
Monthly finance from £87*

Being rear-engined and rear-wheel drive, the Renault Twingo on paper is like the Porsche 911 sports car. In reality, however, it's somewhat different as a dinky city car. In fact, many drivers could be blissfully unaware that the Twingo is rear-wheel drive, because the traction control system does its best to keep things, well… under control.

Not that this means the Twingo is hard to recommend. It’s tremendous fun in the city, where the incredibly tight turning circle is rivalled only by a London black cab - and is partly possible as the front wheels have more space to turn into the car's body with no engine or mechanical gubbins to transfer power to the wheels up front. It also looks superb, especially if you find a Twingo with go-faster decals and stylish alloy wheels.

The range-topping Twingo GT is the sportiest of the bunch, with power sourced from a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Don’t rule out the basic SCe 70 1.0-litre petrol engine, however, because it thrives on being worked hard, which makes it the choice of purist drivers who like an engaging drive.

RENAULT TWINGO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. BMW 1 Series

Used deals from £7,590
Monthly finance from £143*

The BMW 1 Series has always been a standout upmarket hatchback for anyone who enjoys driving - and that's partly because it's rear-wheel drive. Although the latest 1 Series is front-wheel drive, the model on sale from 2011 to 2019 was predominantly rear-wheel drive, with several four-wheel drive versions also available.

It’s brilliant to drive. Even those who don’t consider themselves a keen driver can appreciate the car’s balance, the precise steering and the terrific engines. The speed-sensitive steering is a particular highlight, as it’s light in towns and when parking, but heavier for when you’re enjoying a country lane to give a greater feeling of control.

There’s a good split of petrol and diesel engines on BuyaCar. For motorway use during the week and fun at weekends, the 120d and 125d diesels offer an excellent blend of performance and economy. The 118i petrol, meanwhile, is a superb entry-level option, but the high-performance M135i and M140i versions feature a sublime six-cylinder engine, which produces a distinctive engine note and enables the BMW 1 Series to rival even the fastest and best hot hatchbacks.

BMW 1 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Mazda MX-5

Used deals from £11,650
Monthly finance from £210*

What makes the Mazda MX-5 the most popular sports car in the world? Is it the fact that it’s fun to drive? Is it that it represents tremendous value for money? Is it because it’s reliable? Maybe because it’s good looking? Actually, it’s all of the above.

The current MX-5 arrived in 2015. It takes all that was great about the first three generations of the roadster - all of which were rear-wheel drive, too - then gave it a more modern twist. Today’s MX-5 is more agile, more efficient and safer than ever before. You’d have to splash out on a far more expensive Porsche 718 Boxster to find anything close to the purity of the MX-5.

Power is sourced from a pair of non-turbocharged petrol engines: a 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre. Since it was updated in 2019, the 2.0-litre has been the engine of choice. It’s more powerful and makes the most of the MX-5’s wonderful roadholding. With pre-2019 models the 1.5-litre is the engine to go for. It’s the one that’s closest to the designer’s vision for the MX-5, offering less muscle but proving extremely fun to work hard on country roads - all without having to worry much about breaking speed limits.

MAZDA MX-5 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Nissan 370Z

Used deals Limited stock

The Nissan 370Z has been on sale for more than a decade, which in automotive terms means it’s ready to draw a pension. In many ways, this is part of it’s charm. Where else can you find a sports car with an enormous 3.7-litre V6 engine sending a substantial 326hp to the rear wheels?

It’s an unashamedly old-school sports car. The six-cylinder engine thrives on being revved, so you’ll have plenty of fun testing the 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds. Opt for the more powerful 370Z Nismo, and this time drops to 5.2 seconds. That’s quick enough to rival the modern breed of hot hatchbacks, but with a much more sporty feel, due to its low-slung format and distinctive engine note.

Although the safety equipment and technology are a little dated, you do get lots of standard equipment. An update in 2018 saw the introduction of new headlights, a new design for the 19-inch alloy wheels and a choice of new colours.

NISSAN 370Z BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Smart Fortwo

Used deals from £5,558
Monthly finance from £98*

The Smart Fortwo was developed alongside the Renault Twingo, so it shares its rear-engined and rear-wheel drive layout. Unlike the Twingo, it’s a two-seater, but as the name suggests, the alternative Forfour model offers seating for four.

It’s great fun to drive in the city, where you can take advantage of its ability to park facing the kerb without sticking out into the road. You also get the same tight turning circle as the Twingo, so it’s perfect for manoeuvring into tight spaces and dodging city traffic.

The 1.0-litre engine is fine for city use, but the 0.9-litre turbocharged engine provides more power, making it better for the times when you want to stretch the car’s legs. Best of all, 60mpg is realistic from both engines, so running a Fortwo won’t break the bank. Later models are electric, so if you're happy to spend a little more upfront, you can cut your fuel bills even further.

SMART FORTWO BUYERS' GUIDE

6. BMW 2 Series

Used deals from £11,500
Monthly finance from £166*

Although the BMW 2 Series shares many parts with the 1 Series above, it looks and feels like a different car. The most obvious difference is the number of doors, as the 2 Series is available as a two-door Coupe or Convertible.

It’s a sportier proposition, pitching it closer to the likes of the Audi TT and Volkswagen Scirocco. However, because it’s rear-wheel drive, even the entry-level three-cylinder 218i is more entertaining to drive than its front-wheel drive rivals.

The six-cylinder high-performance M235i and M240i versions are tremendously fun to drive, offering the soundtrack and performance the roadholding deserves. Better still, opt for the BMW M2 Competition if you want even more power. It uses the same twin-turbocharged engine as the larger and heavier BMW M4, making this seriously fast small rear-wheel drive car.

BMW 2 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Toyota GT86

Used deals from £18,250
Monthly finance from £266*

While the BMW M2 and Nissan 370Z offer the thrill of big-engined six-cylinder performance, the Toyota GT86 relies on a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Narrow tyres from the economy-focused Toyota Prius and a power output of a relatively low-for-a-sports-car 197hp aren’t the kind of attributes that would encourage you to swipe right.

It’s also fair to say that the interior is a little dated and the media system feels distinctly analogue in a digital age. However, that’s where the criticisms end, because the Toyota GT86 has perfected the recipe of the lightweight, back-to-basics front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car.

From the perfect balance around corners to the delightfully direct steering, the GT86 is a joy to drive on a country road. It’s also surprisingly practical, even if the rear seats are a little cramped. It feels like a Mazda MX-5 with a metal roof. It’s also available used for less than the price of a new city car.

TOYOTA GT86 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Honda e

Used deals from £23,980
Monthly finance from £319*

Fancy a wildcard? The Honda e is the cutest electric car you can buy, with styling that somehow blends retro charm with modern design. It looks more like a character from a PlayStation game than a car.

It’s actually Honda’s only current rear-wheel drive model (with the rapid NSX supercar being four-wheel drive), and it was designed from the ground up to be electric. There are two versions, both of which use a 35.5kWh battery and an electric motor. A range of 137 miles makes it ideal for city driving.

Without an engine or motor in the front, the Honda e has a turning circle to rival the Renault Twingo - again since there's more space for the wheels to turn. It also features one of the most interesting and upmarket interiors you’ll find in a car of this size.

MORE DETAILS ON THE HONDA E

*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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