Best small cars

They might be little but the best small cars are packed with good performance and practicality

BuyaCar team
Jun 22, 2018

Some of the best things come in small packages, not least the 10 cars here.

They are what is often referred to as a supermini, although, given the model’s dominance of the class, most people refer to them as Fiesta-sized cars.

Smaller city cars like the Volkswagen up!, are a bit of a squeeze and frankly, can feel claustrophobic if there’s more than one person in the rear.

Superminis like the 10 featured here are just that bit roomier, especially in the back, and look and feel more substantial. Their boots will take a little more shopping, too, although perhaps not enough for a large family.

One or two models are a little more creative with this extra space. The Honda Jazz, for example, has back seats that fold upright so you can stand tall items in the back. Staying with practicality, three-door models can look more stylish but five-door ones are more convenient. Being shorter there’s also less danger of opening a door on to neighbouring cars when parked.

Small doesn't mean poorly equipped though. All but the most basic versions have Bluetooth and USB ports so you can connect a phone. They’ll have touchscreens for controlling the radio and other music sources, and checking various functions. Front electric windows and alloy wheels are common, too.

And best of all, as superminis are light and nimble, most of them are fun to drive. Although you can still find one or two with older, slightly more polluting engines, many now have small, modern engines that are powerful and economical. If you want more performance, there are sporty superminis such as the VW Polo GTI and all-new Fiesta ST.

Despite their compact dimensions, modern superminis are comfortable and refined. Some, such as the Mini and VW Polo, actually feel like premium cars from the class above and could well satisfy most owners’ requirements.

The best supermini? It has to be the Ford Fiesta for its combination of decent interior space, comfort and driving pleasure, and a good level of equipment. After all, it is the UK’s best-selling car.

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Seat Ibiza

Best small car for all-round excellence

List price from £13,410
2017 cars from £10,000

The new Seat Ibiza arrived in 2017, which means that the car is bang up to date, with impressive interior and boot space; good fuel economy; the highest safety rating and the latest technology for inegrating your phone. 

It's also comfortable and nimble, with light steering that also feels direct. It's not that the Ibiza has very few weak spots, but that it's a strong performer in almost every respect.

The 1.0 TSI petrol engine with 95 horsepower is a good pick, with nippy and economical performance. Annoyingly, it's not available with the best-value trim level - SE Technology, with its alloy wheels, 8in colour touchscreen and LED daytime running lights. Fortunately, the Seat ibiza discounts available make the higher-specification models with this engine more affordable.
Read the Seat Ibiza buying guide

Ford Fiesta

Best car for driving fun

List price from £13,695
2017 cars from £9,250

Britain's best-selling car was transformed last year when it was replaced by a new, slightly longer model that offers more space in the back and a larger boot. It's a big improvement over the older car, even if it is smaller than many rivals, such as the Honda Jazz, Seat Ibiza and VW Polo.

Quality and equipment levels have improved, so all but the entry-level Style version comes with a touchscreen and alloy wheels. Every Fiesta also has air conditioning and Bluetooth for connecting your phone wirelessly. Zetec trim offers the best value, and you can upgrade your Fiesta with leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and rear-view camera if you want to splash out on the top-of-the-range Vignale model.

The Fiesta remains one of the most nimble and comfortable superminis, which smooths out Britain’s broken roads beautifully. Of the engines, the 100 horsepower 1-litre petrol is the star of the show with both good performance and fuel economy.
Read the Ford Fiesta buying guide 

Mini Hatchback

Best small car for performance and precise cornering

List price from £15,160
2017 cars from £13,000

Mini pitches its cars as a cut above models such as the Ford Fiesta, but the price difference isn't as much as you might think: the list price of a 5-door Mini in One trim starts at just over £15,000 - around £1,400 more than the cheapest five-door Fiesta.

Even that cheapest Mini is fun to drive, with an engine that sounds sporty and feels powerful as soon as you press the accelerator. The steering gives you a sense of how much the wheels are turning and the amount of grip that they have, while the interior has more character than all of the dark plastic you'll find in other small cars. With five doors, the Mini is more practical than the three-door version, although the boot is still small and you feel a few more road bumps than you would in rivals such as the Fiesta.

If you can stretch to it, the Mini Cooper is even more fun, thanks to a more powerful engine and larger wheels that are grippier in corners.
Read the Mini Hatchback 5-door buying guide

Volkswagen Polo

Best small car for a premium feel

List price from £13,855
2017 cars from £10,000

On most measures the all-new VW Polo, launched towards the end of 2017, is a car that's close to the top of its class.

It feels more sophisticated than the majority of its rivals, with high-quality fixtures inside, along with a quiet and smooth ride. Even if you're trading down from a larger Golf, it doesn't feel shabby in the slightest.

The Polo's steering isn't as responsive as in the Ford Fiesta or Mini Hatchback, which makes it less fun to drive, but it's arguably a more sensible choice, with plenty of interior space front and rear, an almost-class leading 351-litre boot and excellent visibility. An 8in touchscreen and air conditioning are standard on all models.

Nissan Micra

Best small car for standard safety equipment

List price from £12,750
2017 cars from £10,500

Banish memories of frumpy Micras of old. This new model, launched at the beginning of 2017, is a world away from those. Stylish inside and out, and offering plenty of mobile phone integration and safety equipment, it’s now a proper alternative to the best superminis.

It may not look it, but it only comes in five-door form (the rear handles are hidden just behind the rear windows).

It’s bigger than the old Micra and roomier. The rear seats suffer from a lack of headroom but otherwise, there’s decent legroom here. A pity the boot isn't bigger; at 300 litres it trails the one in the Seat Ibiza by 50 litres.

There’s plenty of safety equipment, though. Lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and road sign recognition, and automatic full-beam headlamps are standard. Plump for Acenta spec for its cruise control, 7in touchscreen and sensible, mid-spec price.
Read the Nissan Micra buying guide

Vauxhall Corsa

Best small car for few compromises and cheap used car prices

List price from £11,050
2017 cars
from £7,500

The Vauxhall Corsa is good at everything. It has space for four adults and a decent amount of luggage. It's comfortable on bumpy British roads, and is also involving to drive, with direct steering that enables you to drive the Corsa precisely.

Other cars might be better in one or two areas, but the Corsa is hard to beat as an all-round car. Don't get it confused with the previous model, which was sold until 2014 and looks similar, but doesn't have the sharp-edged section cut out of the bottom of the headlights.

The car is cheap when new and extremely cheap as a used model because it loses value quickly. This is good news for second-hand buyers who can benefit from higher prices. If you're buying new, then the coist might be higher than you expect. The Corsa Design 1.4i is almost £2,300 less than the cheapest Mini One 5dr before discounts but because it loses value fast, the most popular type of finance isn't much cheaper than the Mini.
Read the Vauxhall Corsa buying guide

Honda Jazz

Best small car for boot space

List price from £14,240
2017 cars typically from £11,000

If practicality is most important to you, then the Honda Jazz should be top of your list. Despite its small car dimensions, the Jazz is (relatively) cavernous inside, with 354-litres of boot space, which is enormous for a small car. It's backed up with practical touches such as Honda's magic seats with seat cushions that fold up - as in the cinema - giving you more space in the footwells without having to fold the seats down.

The steering is light, making the Jazz easy to manoeuvre, but not particularly exciting to drive. Your only choice of engine is a bit wheezy too: you need to press the accelerator right down, and get the petrol motor to rev hard when you accelerate up to motorway speeds.
Read the Honda Jazz buying guide

Skoda Fabia

Best small car for clever design touches


List price from £10,500
2017 cars from £9,500

Skoda says that it no longer offers the cheapest prices, but the best value for money. And even in the relatively cheap SE trim, the Fabia comes with rear parking sensors, a surround sound stereo and air conditioning.

The car is designed to spend most of its time in town, where the ride is soft and comfortable, absorbing bumps, and the steering is light for easy turning and parking. At higher speeds, it performs well too, feeling comfortable and stable at 70mph.

As it's bigger inside than the average small car, the Fabia can carry four adults in reasonable comfort - even five at a push. It also has some of the practical features that Skoda describes as Simply clever, including an ice scraper inside the fuel-filler cap and a waste basket that slots into the driver's door.
Read the Skoda Fabia buying guide

Mazda 2

Best small car for a zippy drive

List price from £13,295
2017 cars from £11,995

The petrol engines fitted to the Mazda 2 might be economical but they feel sporty. The harder you rev them, the faster you’ll go, unlike some cars which run out of puff before they are really revving hard.

Pick a mid-range 90 horsepower petrol engine and you’ll have a car that can accelerate faster than similarly-priced rivals. It feels just as sporty in corners well, responding instantly to any steering, with a sharp change of direction. SE-Nav models are well-priced and include a touchscreen, sat-nav and digital radio.
Read the Mazda 2 buying guide

Suzuki Swift

Best small car for individuality

List price from £11,999
2017 cars from £10,000

The small car market would be a sadder place without the Suzuki Swift. Launched earlier this year, the model has a distinctive, upright look that was also the hallmark of its predecessor that did so much to establish the model in this country.

It’s a good car but faces a host of brilliant new rivals. Its cause isn’t helped by prices that are not as low as they once were. On the flipside, it’s lighter than before and powered by the 1.0 Boosterjet petrol engine (one of four engines that include a couple of small hybrid units), is surprisingly nippy. Dial in the Swift’s traditionally tidy handling and you’ve a recipe for real driving fun. It’s a shame it doesn’t deal with the UK’s broken roads quite so well; the ride can be quite unsettled.

The old Swift was quite a roomy car but six-footers will find this new one is short of legroom in the back. The front is perfectly fine. At 264 litres, the boot looks uncompetitive compared with the latest offerings from Seat and VW, and the Honda Jazz, too.

SZ-3 trim is well equipped – digital radio, air-conditioning and front electric windows – but SZ-T trim is worth the extra for its 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

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