Best small cars to buy in 2020

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

BuyaCar team
Jan 30, 2020

We've arrived in a new decade, one that promises to introduce a new generation of motoring, as electric cars will inevitably become the standard mode of transport. Last year saw several exciting new cars introduced onto the market and a huge shift towards mass electrification, 2020 looks likely to see that trend accelerate with a lot more new cars to look forward to.

When you need a car that's versatile, turning towards a particular sector of small cars would be a good start. We've picked out 10 such cars that offer excellent day-to-day usability, while also being compact for easy parking and manoeuvrability. Their small size also makes these cars pleasingly cheap to run, with low emissions and excellent fuel economy.

Small cars like this are commonly referred to as superminis and it's a market that's grown hugely over the last decade, with manufacturers from all areas throwing in their own entry. With a variety of shape, size and price, the choices are pretty wide and that's a good thing if you're looking for a particular feature.

All but the most basic versions have Bluetooth and USB ports so you can connect a phone safely. They generally have touchscreens for controlling the radio and other music sources, and checking various functions. Front electric windows and alloy wheels are common, too. The best have enough room in the back for six-foot adults to feel comfortable and their boots can cope with a weekly shop for an average family.

Best small cars 2020

1. Seat Ibiza

Best small car for all-round excellence

Used Seat Ibiza deals from £4,700
Monthly finance from £95

The current Seat Ibiza went on sale 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 integrating your phone.

It's also comfortable and nimble, with light steering that also feels direct. There's very little to criticise - not because the Ibiza has few weak areas, but because it's a strong performer in almost every respect.

The 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine with 95hp is a good pick, with nippy performance and strong fuel economy. It's now available in great value SE Technology form, which includes alloy wheels, an eight-inch colour touchscreen and LED daytime running lights.

SEAT IBIZA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Ford Fiesta

Best car for driving fun

Used Ford Fiesta deals from £4,765
Monthly finance from £97

Britain's best-selling car is available in such a range of specifications that you're sure to find something that suits you - if you're in the market for a small car.

Zetec models offer excellent value, while B&O models add a powerful stereo and larger touchscreen media system. You'll find leather seats and a panoramic sunroof in the high-end Vignale, high-performance thrills with the Fiesta ST, and a (slightly) higher driving position in the Fiesta Active versions.

The Fiesta remains one of the most nimble and comfortable superminis, which helps to smooth out Britain’s broken roads beautifully. Of the engines, the 1.0-litre, 100hp petrol is the star of the show with both good performance and fuel economy.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Mini Hatchback

Best small car for performance and precise cornering

Used Mini Hatchback deals from £6,499
Monthly finance from £127

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 five-door Mini in One trim starts at just under £17,000 - around £1,000 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 good sense of connection with the front wheels, so you can sense the car's grip, while the interior has more character than those of its rivals that are clad in dark plastic. 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 bumps on the road 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 grip better around corners.

MINI HATCHBACK BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Polo

Best small car for a premium feel

Used VW Polo deals from £5,800
Monthly finance from £117

By 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 materials 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, a nearly class-leading 351-litre boot and excellent visibility. An eight-inch touchscreen media system and air-conditioning are standard on all models.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Nissan Micra

Best small car for standard safety equipment

Used Nissan Micra deals from £4,700
Monthly finance from £91

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’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, seven-inch touchscreen media system and sensible, mid-spec price.

NISSAN MICRA BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Vauxhall Corsa

Best small car for cheap used car prices

Used Vauxhall Corsa deals from £4,465
Monthly finance from £84

The Vauxhall Corsa is good at most things. 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 when bought at its low used car prices. 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 at the bottom of the headlights.

The car is relatively affordable 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 lower prices. The Corsa Design 1.4i is almost £2,300 less than the Mini One 5dr before discounts but because it loses value fast, monthly payments with popular PCP finance aren't much cheaper than with the Mini. So, if you're looking for a new car, the Mini may be the one to go for. Second-hand, however, the Vauxhall is far more affordable.

VAUXHALL CORSA BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Honda Jazz

Best small car for boot space

Used Honda Jazz deals from £5,499
Monthly finance from £111

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 - which you can also do when you need to load long luggage.

The steering is light, making the Jazz easy to manoeuvre, but it's not particularly exciting to drive. Your most common choice of engine - a 1.3-litre petrol - 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. The larger 1.5-litre motor makes the car surprisingly speedy if you work it hard, however.

HONDA JAZZ BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Skoda Fabia

Best small car for clever design touches

Used Skoda Fabia deals from £4,490
Monthly finance from £91

Skoda says that it no longer offers the cheapest prices, but the best value for money. And even in the relatively cheap SE trim (2017 cars cost from £7,200), the Fabia comes with rear parking sensors, a surround sound stereo and air-conditioning, so that claim sounds plausible.

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 wastebasket that slots into the driver's door.

SKODA FABIA BUYERS' GUIDE

9. Mazda 2

Best small car for a zippy drive

Used Mazda 2 deals from £5,169
Monthly finance from £104

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 working hard.

Pick a mid-range 90hp petrol model and you’ll have a car that can accelerate faster than similarly priced rivals. It feels just as sporty in corners, responding instantly to any steering inputs with a sharp change of direction. SE-L Nav models are well priced and include a touchscreen media system, sat-nav and digital radio.

MAZDA 2 BUYERS' GUIDE

10. Suzuki Swift

Best small car for individuality

Used Suzuki Swift deals from £4,545
Monthly finance from £92

The small car market would be a sadder place without the Suzuki Swift. It’s a good car with a distinctive, upright look, but faces a host of brilliant rivals.

Its cause isn’t helped by prices that are not as low as they once were. Powered by the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, it's surprisingly nippy. Combine that with its nimbleness and the Swift provides real driving fun. It’s a shame it doesn’t deal with the UK’s broken roads quite so well; the ride can be a little unsettled.

Space is at a premium: six-footers will find the rear seats lacking in legroom and, at 264 litres, the boot looks uncompetitive compared with the latest offerings from Seat and VW, and the Honda Jazz. If you want your small car to feel small and would rather something stylish and fun to drive rather than super-practical and comfortable, however, it could be perfect for you.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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