Best lightweight cars

We've rounded up the best low-weight cars you can buy, from tiny city cars to high-performance sports cars. Check them out below

Sam Naylor
Apr 28, 2022

You might not immediately think of weight as being a core part of how a car feels to drive, but it’s up there with the most significant aspects of any car. Engineers spend countless hours agonising about how to save any weight they can when designing a new model, and if they’re successful in producing a lightweight car there are so many benefits. The lighter a car is, the less fuel it uses and the faster it should be when using a set engine.

Cars typically vary in weight from around 500kg for extremely basic stripped-out sports cars (for example, a Caterham Seven) to more than 2,500kg for supersized SUVs such as the Audi Q7. These are the outliers, though, and most cars weigh between 1,000kg and 2,000kg.

Twenty years ago, there were plenty of models that weighed about 1,000kg, but as modern cars have added more equipment, safety gear and creature comforts, that has crept up and even small cars often now weigh closer to 1,500kg. Many SUVs weigh around 2,000kg.

Here we’re taking each car in its own context, so there’s no hard limit on what we would consider to be a lightweight car - it really depends on what the car is. All city cars tend to be light, but some are lighter than others - and we’ve picked out cars that benefit from their low weight and are worth buying, rather than just collating a list of the lightest cars around.

All the cars we’ve picked - from many different parts of the market - are improved by their low weight. Like-for-like, a lighter car is faster, more efficient, more nimble and uses consumables such as tyres and brakes at a lower rate, so they’re well worth looking into.

We’re looking across the whole car market here, but if you’re after a sporty lightweight model then we have some other interesting articles to read. For cars that are great to drive, some being lighter and more nimble cars, try our articles on the best driving cars and the best cars for petrolheads.

Best lightweight cars

1. Suzuki Ignis

Best lightweight small SUV

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SUVs are often the heaviest cars on the road, but the Suzuki Ignis is one of the lightest cars around despite its raised-up stance. It weighs from just 895kg, which is really impressive. Suzuki is known for small, lightweight cars and the Ignis is one of the most striking because it’s well under a tonne.

You can feel the benefits when driving it, too. The little SUV is nimble and fun to drive, and even though it has a set of small-capacity petrol engines, performance is more than enough for city life. The controls are all light and easy to use, and it’s comfortable over potholes and bumpy city streets as well, as there's not much mass to control over the bumps.

There’s not a huge amount of space in the back seats, and the boot is only adequate, but the Ignis is a great city car if you want something with SUV-like styling. It’s cheap to buy and the low weight means it should be really cheap to run as well, especially thanks to the small engines. There is a 4x4 model but we’d avoid this if you live in the city, as you won’t ever need it and it adds weight.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Fiat Panda 4x4

Best lightweight off-roader

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Usually, four-wheel-drive cars - especially models that are designed for the task of driving off-road - are pretty heavy. All the extra parts that go into driving the other two wheels can be quite hefty, but there are some models that manage to be both lightweight and great off-road.

Our favourite is the Panda 4x4. In 'TwinAir' form, with a tiny two-cylinder engine, the car weighs just 1,050kg. That’s great for things like handling and fuel economy on the road but the real benefit here is that it helps to make the Panda a fantastic off-roader. It’s much easier to drive on rough, muddy and uneven terrain simply because it won’t sink where other heavier models would, and it’s easier to get out of a sticky situation with less weight to pull - whether you're driving the car or trying to push it out.

The Panda is still a great road car as well, though. It’s fun to drive, cheap to run and has a surprising amount of space inside, although the boot isn’t the biggest. It’s comfortable and even well-equipped. The small size means it’s easy to park and the high-set driving position gives plenty of visibility.

FIAT PANDA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Smart ForTwo

Best lightweight car for commuting

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If you want a small, lightweight car for driving to work then the Smart ForTwo is a decent option. It uses a clever design with a strong - but light - shell that you can even see from the outside of the car - it’s often painted a different colour to the doors and bonnet to make a feature of it. It helps with both safety and weight-saving.

The ForTwo is a two-seater designed for city life, and its tiny footprint on the road means that there are few cars that are easier to park. You’ll often see them in parking spots that no other car could ever fit into. Despite being tiny, it has a pleasant and quiet interior and it’s comfortable and fun to drive.

The Smart isn’t a good option if you need to carry luggage or more than one other passenger, which is why it’s only really an option for people who just need to commute to work or bumble around town. There is also the ForFour model with extra rear seats but it’s not as light - and therefore it costs more to run and isn’t unique as the oddball ForTwo is.

SMART FORTWO BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Mazda MX-5

Best lightweight convertible car

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The Mazda MX-5 is one of the best sports cars ever and a huge part of that is its low weight - from just 1,060kg. Keeping weight down is really important in a sports car because it means the car is more fun to drive and it maximises the performance from the relatively small engine.

The lightest model is the 1.5-litre petrol manual version, which has around 130hp. That doesn’t sound like much, and since there’s no turbocharger, it doesn't have much low-engine-speed muscle as well. Yet since the car is so light, it feels very nippy and it’s a lot of fun to use. The 2.0-litre model is faster, with 160-180hp depending on age, but it’s also a little heavier.

The low weight means that the Mazda is both exciting to drive and comfortable at the same time, as the suspension has less mass to control over bumps. It’s a joy to drive on any road and the slick six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use as well. It’s quite cramped inside, and the boot is small, but if you want a fun, lightweight car that isn’t a stripped-out track car like a Caterham, this Mazda is a fine choice.

MAZDA MX-5 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Alfa Romeo Giulia

Best lightweight saloon car

Alfa Romeo Giulia front three quarters view

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You might not think a family saloon would be a lightweight car, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia was designed from the start to be lighter than its rivals, the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. It’s not as light as the tiny city cars above but its kerb weight of 1,375kg in some forms is really impressive considering a 3 Series weighs from around 1,450kg.

The Giulia is one of the best handling saloon cars around as a result, and it’s also comfortable and efficient. The diesel models are excellent for long trips, while the petrol versions are really fun to drive and have excellent performance. The Quadrifoglio model is the fastest and while it’s not the lightest in the range, it’s lighter than many of its rivals, too.

There’s a decent size boot in the Giulia plus enough space for four adults inside, so it makes a great family car. It also has a pleasant and upmarket interior, although the media system is a bit fiddly and looks outdated next to a BMW system. It is good value, though, since it’s lost more value over the years than the BMW and Mercedes rivals.

ALFA ROMEO GIULIA BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Porsche 718 Cayman

Best lightweight coupe

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The Porsche Cayman is another model that’s lightweight in the context of alternative models. It’s not as light as a Lotus Evora, which is just 1,250kg, but that’s a more unforgiving car in terms of practicality and usability. The Cayman weighs around 1,410kg, which is far less than a similar Lexus RC, for example, which weighs 1,690kg, though it can carry four passengers, unlike the Porsche.

The Cayman is a brilliant all-round sports car. It’s comfortable and easy to drive at normal speeds, so you could easily use one every day, and it has plenty of equipment, comfy seats and the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is even fairly economical.

Yet it’s also really powerful and fast, and on a twisty road there is very little else that can match it for fun and excitement. It’s a joy to drive and has as much performance as you could ever need. There’s even a decent amount of storage space inside and a front boot as well for some small overnight bags. Running costs and maintenance bills are the only stumbling point, as being a Porsche it can be pricey to maintain.

7. Suzuki Swift Sport

Best lightweight hot hatch

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This is the second Suzuki in this list and there’s good reason for that as the brand is fantastic at making small, lightweight cars. The Suzuki Swift is lightweight in general, but we’ve picked out the Sport model here because it’s much lighter than most other hot hatchbacks.

The Swift Sport is just 1,025kg - nearly 200kg lighter than the 1,210kg Ford Fiesta ST. The Fiesta is perhaps the better car overall, with more performance, better handling and a better interior, but the Swift has plenty of charm and its low weight means it should be cheap to run.

There’s a good amount of space inside the Swift Sport, plus it’s comfortable on bumpy roads and it’s well-equipped and affordable. The low weight means that it makes excellent use of its 140hp engine and it feels much faster than the on-paper figures suggest. It’s a charming small car and the low weight is a big part of that, as it’s really fun to drive.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Kia Picanto

Best lightweight city car

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Let’s go back to basics for our last choice and pick out a lightweight city car that will be cheap to run and fun to drive. The Kia Picanto is a great choice on the used market, as it comes with various engines to suit different budgets and it’s reliable, has a seven-year factory warranty and weighs from around 935kg.

The Picanto is well equipped and easy to drive, has great visibility and is relatively practical too. Its small boot and tight rear seats aren’t ideal for families but few city cars are, and the Picanto has enough space inside to do the job it’s designed for. It’s comfortable over potholes and the low weight means the tiny engines return very high fuel economy, even when driving around town.

The Picanto is available with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that’s really enjoyable to drive and decently nippy, but even the more sedate 1.25-litre model is pleasant to drive and should be really dependable. Some lower-specification models are a little bare inside, so we’d go for a ‘3’ or GT-Line model to get the best value for money.

KIA PICANTO 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%

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