Best small automatic cars

The best small automatic cars prove that you don't need an executive express to have a relaxing drive

Murray Scullion
Aug 29, 2018

Gearboxes are an usual yardstick in which to measure your nationality. The majority of drivers in the USA prefer an automatic gearshift in their right hand and for their left foot to be inactive.

Whereas here in Europe, and especially the UK, manuals are by far and away the most popular choice.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, while manual gearboxes are still the norm here, automatic gearboxes are on the rise. The number of automatic cars sold in the UK has risen 70.5% between 2007 and 2017, and as of 2017, 40% of new cars sold in the UK are automatic.

So we’re getting on for nearly half and half representatively. People love the ease of the automatic gearbox and not having to bother with a clutch. Technological advances have also helped as automatic ‘boxes are better than ever. 20 years ago even the most advanced systems could be harsh and random, but modern systems seem to be almost telepathic in knowing which gear you want.

The increased use of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles also allows you to change gear when you want to, and not to when you don’t want to.

Here’s our selection of the best small automatic cars.

Volkswagen Polo

Our pick Volkswagen Polo SE
Latest Volkswagen Polo deals from £5,995
Finance from £101 per month

The VW Polo is spacious, well made, and well equipped. A lot of people may dismiss it as ‘just a Volkswagen’, but it really feels premium inside.

Plus it benefits from Volkswagen’s excellent DSG type automatic gearbox. It’s one of the best gearboxes available in a small car because it’s smooth and makes the car feel more expensive than it actually is. Changes are quick too, making it feel less lackadaisical than some other small cars.

Officially, it can make a Polo more economical too. When it's used with the 1.4-litre TSI engine it increases fuel economy to an official 60.1mpg. Obviously it won’t get that, but it will get in the fifties, which is pretty good going for a petrol automatic.

Mercedes A-Class

Our pick Mercedes A-Class AMG Line
Latest Mercedes A-Class deals from £17,400
Finance from £244 per month

Previous generation Mercedes A-Class’ may have been a slight disappointment in comparison to other cars in the Mercedes range, but the new model released this year is a vast improvement.

Inside it’s a complete gadget-fest and well appointed. You can even specify an augmented reality sat-nav that overlays navigation instructions over realtime images from the car’s front camera.

There’s a new seven-speed automatic which is smooth, and has manual paddles that feel solid and premium when you use them. In sport mode it can hold on to gears a bit longer than you'd like, but when it’s left to its own devices it works well and is incredibly easy to use.
Mercedes A-Class buying guide

Renaultsport Clio

Our pick Renaultsport Clio
Latest Renaultsport Clio deals from £12,396
Finance from £186 per month

You might be surprised to see a performance car on this list, after all, hot-hatches probably aren't the first type of car you think of when perusing small automatic cars.

However, a current trend among sports cars is to use fast shifting automatic gearboxes, so the trend is continuing further down the performance line. Renault says that its automatic box can shift gears quicker than your hand can, at around 150 milliseconds per change.

Stick it into its race setting and it will lock itself into a manual mode and will only let you select gear via the paddle shifters, allowing you to really ring the neck of the car and extract all of its 216bhp.
Renault Clio buying guide 

Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta Titanium Ecboost 
Latest Ford Fiesta deals from £7,589
Finance from £120 per month

There’s no denying that Ford’s Fiesta, the best-selling car in the UK, is pretty much spot on for most situations. It’s small enough to weave in and out of town traffic, comfortable, and practical too.

It’s big enough for most families if you don’t regularly transport buggies, and the boot is easily big enough for the weekly shop.

The automatic gearbox in the Fiesta, while certainly not making it any faster, is solid and changes gears smoothly and without hassle.
Ford Fiesta buying guide

Renault Zoe

Our pick Renault Zoe Dynamique 
Latest Renault Zoe deals from £8,000
Finance from £116 per month

Technically, the electric Zoe doesn’t actually have a gearbox. But technically peppers are a fruit, and we bet you wouldn’t eat one whole like an apple.

It drives like an automatic, therefore it gets a pass from us. Select D and you’re good to go, just like a petrol or diesel engined auto.

It has a claimed real-world range of up to 186 miles which is plenty for most people who just want to drive it around town, and Renault claims it can cost as little as 2p a mile to run. It’s a great way to get into an electric car ownership too as the Zoe looks and behaves much like a petrol powered city car.
Renault Zoe buying guide

Skoda Fabia

Our pick Skoda Fabia 1.4TDI SE
Latest Skoda Fabia deals from £5,200
Finance from £94 per month

The Skoda badge may not hold as much cache as BMW or Mercedes, but it is significantly cheaper. The DSG gearbox used in its excellent Fabia is the same unit used in the Polo at the top too.

This means that while the Skoda may not be as nice as the Polo on the inside, it’s still got a sweet and fast changing gearbox that will let you select the gears when you choose.

Skoda offers the automatic gearbox on diesel and petrol models. We recommend the diesel if you travel more than 15,000 miles a year, otherwise the premium price isn’t worth the fuel savings.
Skoda Fabia buying guide

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