Best urban cars

Do a lot of city driving and want a car that takes the stress out of driving around town? Here are some of the best urban cars

James Wilson
Nov 17, 2021

Urban cars have a tough task on their hands - having to do battle with traffic jams, potholed roads, narrow streets and badly parked cars, amongst other hazards. However, some cars are more suited to town driving than others - offering strong comfort levels and low fuel costs. 

Happily, car manufacturers have been focused on making cars that work well in urban environments for many years, so a number of models are packed with features to help give drivers the edge in town and city centres. These include things such as great visibility - big windows and small pillars make a big difference when whizzing around town or even parking - and various types of modern technology, including everything from hill hold assist to parking sensors.

Find a car with the right features and you can make urban driving far less stressful, letting you relax behind the wheel, however crazy the roads are. You may want something tiny for parking in the smallest spaces that has a very tight turning circle. Or an electric car with no tailpipe emissions that is very easy to drive, letting you practically drive using only one pedal. Alternatively, if you plan to regularly drive in areas with lots of pedestrians and cyclists, you might want a car that scores particularly well for pedestrian and cyclist protection in official crash tests.

Below are eight cars that are particularly well suited to driving in urban environments. They lean towards the smaller end of the car scale as driving a large car through the middle of any city is typically a recipe for high blood pressure. Prices for the second-hand models below vary from less than £10,000 to around £35,000. If you plan to use PCP finance monthly payments should amount to around £175 per month to £500 per month.

Best cars for urban driving

1. Smart ForFour

Used deals from £5,990
Monthly finance from £141*

The Smart ForFour is aptly named, as it is designed to transport up to four people. It has also been set up to be an excellent urban runabout. This is partly to do with where its engine is located. Instead of sitting underneath the bonnet, it is under the boot floor at the back. As a result, the ForFour has an incredibly tight turning circle, which is great for performing quick u-turns; perfect if you're always looking for short cuts and often find yourself at dead ends.

Smart cars aren’t as common as other small vehicles like the Volkswagen Up, which is partly due to their relatively high prices. This means that new Smart cars look quite expensive compared to small car alternatives. That said, the Smart ForFour loses value quickly from new, meaning that second-hand models offer much better value. There is also a semi-sporty Brabus ForFour, which is slightly faster but still well suited to urban driving.

SMART FORFOUR BUYERS' GUIDE

2. BMW 1 Series

Used deals from £22,495
Monthly finance from £314*

BMW launched a new version of the 1 Series in 2019 and this is a significant change from the previous model. On a practicality front, there is more space in the back thanks to the new model powering its front wheels - rather than the rear ones as in the old car - which means that fewer mechanical parts are needed under the floor. Around town, the extra space pays dividends when you have passengers to shuttle about, with the car remaining small enough to be easy to manoeuvre.

Apart from its small exterior size and practical interior dimensions, the 1 Series has a useful auto-hold feature - which is available on all modern BMWs with an automatic gearbox. Auto hold works by automatically applying the brakes when you come to a stop and releasing them when you press the accelerator to move away. This makes driving in traffic jams or stop/start traffic on hilly roads less stressful, as there is no need to worry about rolling backwards or continuously putting the hand brake on and off.

BMW 1 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Audi A1

Used deals from £17,641
Monthly finance from £245*

The Audi A1 is one of the main rivals for the Mini Hatchback thanks to both cars being small and easy to drive, but satisfyingly upmarket inside. While the Mini scores slightly better as a car for keen drivers, the Audi offers better in-car technology. One example that works particularly well is adaptive cruise control, especially when paired with one of Audi's 'S tronic' automatic gearboxes.

Adaptive cruise control keeps you a safe distance behind the car in front, maintaining a set speed until you get too close, at which stage it will slow you down and then speeding you back up if the car in front moves over. You simply select a chosen speed and then the car does the rest. Many systems allow you to select how close you want to stay behind the vehicle in front. 

Sensors monitor for a car in front and if you get too close the car’s computers automatically slow you down. The best systems can bring the car to a complete stop and then start again when the traffic moves off - this is exactly what automatic Audi A1 models with adaptive cruise control can do, making them well suited to stop-start traffic.

AUDI A1 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Mercedes A-Class

Mercedes A-Class front three quarters view

Used deals from £19,380
Monthly finance from £279*

The latest Mercedes A-Class features a slick media system with clever voice controls that allow you to change a number of settings using simple voice instructions - including setting the sat-nav destination. This is much easier to use when driving around town than a touchscreen interface that requires you to jab away at the screen and can be highly distracting. Another impressive safety feature is the A-Class's impressively high vulnerable road user crash test safety rating. The Mercedes scored 92% for this, ranking it above other safe cars tested in the same year, such as the Audi A6 (81%) and Volvo S60 (74%).

The 'MBUX' media system centres around two digital displays. One is in the middle of the dashboard and the other is in front of the driver. Its features run much deeper, though. There is a degree of machine learning, so the A-Class can learn your habits, for example tuning into the radio station you prefer on your commute back from work. And the voice controls mentioned above are particularly effective compared with those in many models.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Hyundai Ioniq 5

Used deals from £40,180
Monthly finance from £638*

The electric Hyundai Ioniq 5 looks like nothing else on the road, blending retro styling cues with super-modern details. It is really quite practical, too, and the cabin is full of modern technology. One example is Hyundai’s reversing camera. While such tech is by no means unique to Hyundai, the quality of the camera feed is very high. As a result, it makes parking in tight city spaces much easier.

Other standard equipment includes a 12.3-inch digital driver's display - which replaces traditional dials for things such as fuel level and speed - climate control, and adaptive cruise control with stop/go functionality. The Ioniq 5 has a maximum range per charge of 298 miles, which is good by today's standards and means that the Ioniq 5 could be a suitable alternative to petrol and diesel hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus - even for those who cover a number of longer journeys.

READ MORE ABOUT THE HYUNDAI IONIQ 5

6. BMW i3

Used deals from £14,900
Monthly finance from £303*

In terms of small electric cars, few are as classy and look as high tech as the BMW i3. This is impressive as the i3 has been on sale since 2013, so rivals have had plenty of time to catch up. From the outside, the i3 still looks modern, largely thanks to features such as rear lights integrated into the boot and sleek LED running lights at the front. The cabin carries on this trend with a design that is a mixture of retro and modern. Models with cloth seats and a wooden dashboard particularly stand out.

The i3 has great acceleration from a standstill and a particularly tight turning circle, which make it well suited to town driving. As a general rule of thumb, the newer an i3 you can afford the better. This is because BMW has updated the i3 numerous times throughout its life. One of the most important updates came in July 2016 when the battery pack was upgraded, giving a longer maximum range per charge.

If the worry of running out of charge is a major issue for you, there are some REx (or range extender) versions of the i3, which come with a small petrol generator onboard that can boost range if required by keeping the electric motor running, even if there's no charge left - and you can charge it or top up the small petrol tank to keep it moving.

BMW I3 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Ford Focus

Used deals from £15,149
Monthly finance from £209*

If you want an urban car that is a master of all trades then the Ford Focus is a great option. It is spacious, practical, relatively affordable to buy or finance and relatively inexpensive to run. There is also an estate version if you need more luggage space but don't want an enormous car. If the Focus doesn't quite grab you, two of its main rivals - the Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf - offer very similar packages.

When considering which engine to go for we’d suggest the 125hp petrol 1.0-litre 'EcoBoost' engine. It is powerful enough that you can nip through traffic but also economical enough you can keep trips to the petrol station down to a minimum. As for the interior, while there is a touchscreen media system mounted to the dashboard, the cabin isn’t overly techy. This can actually be a good thing when driving in busy city centres as there are fewer flashy graphics to distract you.

FORD FOCUS BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Skoda Citigo

Used deals from £5,190
Monthly finance from £100*

When it comes to city cars, size often matters. The smaller the car, the easier it is to thread down busy streets, the easier it is to park in tight spaces and generally, the less it should cost to run. One of the best small cars available is the Skoda Citigo - specifically the petrol models. Aside from anything else, the relatively large windows and light steering, gear change and pedals make the Citigo a breeze to drive around town - even in manual form.

There is a range of trims to choose from, starting at quite basic S models. If you simply need a set of wheels to get from A to B and cost as little as possible - taking into account running costs such as insurance - these are the ones to have. If you would like features such as alloy wheels, heated front seats and air-conditioning, then SE-L trim is the one for you. Should you find yourself driving out of town and on faster roads like motorways, the Citigo performs well, thanks to the low levels of wind noise and comfortable suspension setup.

SKODA CITIGO BUYERS' GUIDE

*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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