Best city cars: small on size and price, big on ability

Small, nippy and economical, but with space for four. Find out which are the best city cars on sale

BuyaCar team
Nov 7, 2018

Need a small but perfectly formed car? Look no further. This breed of runaround – sometimes called a city car – has come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade or so.

The best have enough space for four adults; a boot that's big enough for a weekly shop; plus enough power and stability to tackle a long motorway drive. Some will be second cars but for many drivers, a city car could be all they'll ever need.

Low insurance costs make them especially popular amongst young or newly qualified drivers, fuel economy is impressive and servicing costs or the price of a pair of tyres are manageable.

Happily, many feature the latest technology, including dashboard screens with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for simple control over phone apps (including navigation), plus safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking.

Not every city car gets the formula right, and there's a big difference between the good and bad. Choose one from the list below and you can be sure that you’ve picked well.

 

Best city cars

1. Skoda Citigo

Best city car for value for money

Our pick Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 PS SE L GreenTech 5dr
Latest Skoda Citigo deals from £4,490
Finance from £75 per month

Cover up the badges and the Citigo looks very much like the VW up! and Seat Mii. That’s because all three are virtually identical.

The layout inside was improved last year, with all but entry-level Citigo S models getting a smartphone holder, which enables your phone to be used as a sat-nav and entertainment centre: recognition that your gadgets will probably be more advanced than a car that was designed several years ago.

Both petrol engines have enough zip for town driving, but are slow to accelerate and noisy on the motorway. A more powerful 90 horsepower engine, only available in the Volkswagen up!, is better for long-distance journeys. If you want to save money, pick the least powerful 1-litre, 60 horsepower version (badged 60PS).

Apart from this, there's little else to split the Citigo from the up! and Mii. The Skoda is often the better choice smply because it's generally a little cheaper.
Skoda Citigo buying guide

 

2. VW up!

Best city car for the feel of a bigger car

Our pick VW up! 1.0 75 High up!
Latest VW up! deals from £4,389
Finance from £73 per month

Volkswagen has taken the ingredients that made its Golf a success and downsized them into the up!. There’s no zany design: this looks like a conventional car and behaves like one, with a smooth ride in town, and enough power on faster roads, as long as you avoid the slowest 1-litre engine with 60 horsepower.

There’s space in the back for two adults, for short journeys at least, and the boot is amongst the largest of all city cars too.

A recent update has updated the car’s technology, replacing the sat-nav with the option of a VW app that you download to your smartphone, which is then used to navigate.
VW up! buying guide

 

3. Hyundai i10

Best city car for peace of mind

Our pick Hyundai i10 1.0 SE
Latest Hyundai i10 deals from £4,779
Finance from £83 per month

With a five-year warranty that has no mileage limit, the Hyundai i10 comes with peace of mind as standard, making it impressive even before you’ve tried it for size.

It feels well made and is spacious inside. With the back seats folded down, you’ll have a luggage area that no other city car can match. Put them up and you’ve got three seatbelts, so you can fit in five – so long as nobody minds rubbing shoulders. This makes it one of the most practical small cars for your budget.

Neither one of the two engines available feel sporty, but the smallest 1-litre motor has enough power in town, while the larger 1.2-litre engine is better if you’ll be taking your i10 on the motorway.

It's not worth paying more for the supposedly more frugal 1.0 SE Blue. This version only comes in four-seat form and boasts impressive official fuel economy figures, but independent testing suggests it's no more efficient than the standard 1-litre car in real-world driving.
Hyundai i10 buying guide

 

4. Smart ForTwo

Best city car for easy parking 

Our pick Smart ForTwo 71hp Prime
Latest Smart ForTwo deals from £5,000
Finance from £96 per month

Not everyone needs more than two seats. And for those that can get by with just a pair, the benefit of driving a small car like the Smart ForTwo is that parking is a doddle.

It means that drivers can laugh in the face of crowded city streets or busy car parks. If you spot a gap, no matter how small, the chances are the ForTwo will fit like a glove – and you won’t come out in a cold sweat as you guide it in.

Another thing that make this quirky small car so good about town is that you sit relatively high up, giving a commanding view of the pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers around you.

The choice of models is surprisingly broad – there are two petrol engines, an automatic gearbox on the more powerful unit, and even an electric model, called EQ. The 71 horsepower unit’s fine for zipping about town, but the 90 horsepower version gives more confidence on main roads. Cheapest of all are previous-generation cars with a curvier design.

The ForTwo’s greatest drawback is that the boot is barely any bigger than a handbag, and the car’s short proportions mean that the ride comfort is a little, well, unsettled, but if you can forgive it these, you’ll find it’s a fun runaround.
Smart ForTwo buying guide

 

5. Renault Twingo

Best city car for driving fun and personalisation

Our pick Renault Twingo Play SCe 70 5dr
Latest Renault Twingo deals from £4,212
Finance from £68 per month

Renault is the company best known for putting the va va voom into small cars with its Clio. And a lot of that playful attitude has rubbed off on its smaller sibling, the Twingo.

Designed with a bit more style than your average city car, the Renault Twingo’s looks benefit from a short bonnet because the engine isn’t underneath there - it’s fitted at the back of the car. This helps to make the Renault more manoeuvrable: able to turn in a smaller area than many other city cars.

It also helps to make the Twingo spacious inside, with four proper seats - although the rear passengers will have to make do with windows that pop out rather than wind down, which isn’t ideal for anyone suffering from travel sickness.

The car’s SCe 70 petrol engine is smooth but it needs gentle acceleration for to get anywhere close to the potential fuel economy of 67mpg.
Renault Twingo buying guide

    

6. Kia Picanto

Best city car for the longest warranty

Our pick Kia Picanto 1.0 SE 5dr
Latest Kia Picanto deals from £5,189
Finance from £97 per month

Kia's latest Picanto shares its mechanical parts with the Hyundai i10, which means that it offers a similarly-spacious boot and interior, with rear seats that can accommodate adults in relative comfort - providing the journey isn't too long.

It's nimble in town and reasonably nippy too. The larger 1.25 litre will happily zip along at motorway speeds, although you'll need a little bit of patience to accelerate to 70mph.

The Picanto is also the city car that offers the greatest peace of mind, thanks to its seven-year warranty that's 100,000 miles. It applies to the current car, which went on sale in 2017 and cheaper earlier modelsv
Kia Picanto buying guide

 

7. Fiat 500

Best city car for retro style

Our pick Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir Lounge
Latest Fiat 500 deals from £4,866
Finance from £81 per month

Say what you will about the Fiat 500 – and there is a lot that is wrong with it – you'll struggle to find anything with more chic and a lower price. Despite passing its 10th birthday, last year, it can still turn heads on the high-street and attract enviable glances.

The longest gazes are likely to be in the direction of cars in the optimum specification: pastel shades, retro wheel designs and contrasting paint schemes all enhance the car's style, and with various ways to personalise the interior, you can elevate it to catwalk status - but watch our for the less tasteful combinations on the used market. All 500 models have two doors, and it’s one of the few city cars available as a convertible.

It was updated in late 2015 but Fiat failed to tackle the car’s uncomfortable driving position, which is partly down to a steering wheel that only adjusts up and down. There are two engines, a 1.2 and a 0.9 available in two power outputs.  The 1.2 is cheaper while the 0.9 has more power, but no etter fuel economy in the real world - no matter what the official figures suggest.
Fiat 500 buying guide

 

8. Vauxhall Viva

Best city car for space at a low price

Our pick Vauxhall Viva 1.0 SL 5dr
Latest Vauxhall Viva deals from £5,825
Finance from £99 per month

The Viva may not do much to set your pulse racing or turn the neighbours green with envy, but it is fair value for money and comes with plenty of equipment. Cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and split-fold rear seats are included. If you want air-conditioning, the list price of SE A/C models is £500 more. If a sat nav is your feature of choice you’ll need to spend more on the SE Nav.

The back of the Viva is roomy enough for three people, although don’t expect the biggest boot; something had to give.

The model is best in town, where its 1.0-litre engine feels nippy. Take it on a motorway and it becomes noisy, and you’ll constantly be changing gear unless you can keep to a steady speed. If you can live with this, then you’ll almost certainly be able to get a discounted Vauxhall Viva deal: there are plenty of new car offers and reduced prices on nearly new models.
Vauxhall Viva buying guide

 

9. Citroen C1

Best city car for open-sky driving

Our pick Citroen C1 VTi 72 5dr Flair
Latest Citroen C1 deals from £4,655
Finance from £82 per month

The Citroen C1 was developed together with the Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo. It means than beneath the surface, they have much in common. However, the C1's design is more distinctive than the 108, the Aygo has the longest warranty at five years, so those are the two that we’d suggest putting on your shortlist.

Another feature that may appeal is the optional full-length fabric sunroof – a great addition that transforms this humble city car into something decidedly more glamorous - almost like a convertible.

The interior is a mix of interesting styling features but the quality is more cheap and cheerful than impress-your-friends. Space in the back seats, even on five-door versions, isn’t the best in this class.

Keeping things straightforward, there’s just the one engine to choose from, a 1-litre, 72 horsepower petrol, and Citroen offers an automatic gearbox across most of the trim levels.

It’s quite enjoyable to drive, with nippy performance in town and responsive steering but longer drives can be a little tiring.
Citroen C1 buying guide

 

10. Toyota Aygo

Best city car for a design with attitude

Our pick Toyota Aygo VVTi 1.0 x-play 5dr
Latest Toyota Aygo deals from £4,599
Finance from £83 per month

The little car with lots of attitude: that’s the Aygo. Its edgy styling won’t please everyone but those who fall for it will find plenty more to admire – including Toyota’s five year, 100,000 mile warranty.

The Japanese company has thought about how and where these sorts of cars will be used, so all but base versions of the Aygo have a rear-view camera, too, helping to make light work of parking.

Being small and light, it can nip about with vigour, but its small dimensions do make themselves felt inside. No city car has a big boot but some are better shaped than others. Unfortunately, the Aygo’s isn't one of them. It isn't exactly spacious in the back either. Cosy is a more accurate description. It’s fine for short journeys but longer ones can be a real chore.

Also wearing is the wobbling through corners: Toyota's engineers softened the Aygo's suspension to better absorb the impact from potholes but this means that the car leans over noticeably through bends.
Toyota Aygo buying guide

 

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