Best small automatic cars 2024

A small automatic car can make life easier if you’re not confident behind the wheel, or live in a city. Here’s our pick of the best small automatic cars to buy right now.

By Craig Cheetham February 5, 2024

With cheeky styling, compact dimensions, strong fuel economy and low running costs, the smallest cars are often great to own – but if you need two pedals rather than three, choices are limited. 

The majority of smaller cars have manual transmission, and if you don’t like using a clutch, or if you spend a long time in urban traffic, an automatic model probably makes more sense – especially if an electric car, plug-in hybrid or hybrid model will work for you. 

The challenge is that small petrol engines and automatics aren’t always happy bedfellows. The nature of an automatic transmission means it uses torque from the engine to control gear changes, and smaller engines rarely have big torque figures, which can lead to a lot of noise, indecisive changes and slow performance. However, there are a select few that remain great to drive.


Dual-clutch gearboxes (known variously as DSG, DCT, SMG and G-TRONIC, alongside other brand names) are quicker and more efficient to use than normal autos. The rise in popularity of hybrid models has helped, too, as these normally use continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to operate at their most efficient, generally keeping the engine at its peak power output at all times.

Most small cars on the market today are comfortable and well-packaged. The best examples have decent passenger space, while most have an adequate boot for a decent-sized weekly shop, and the majority are refined enough to hold their own in fast-moving motorway traffic. 

Buying used or pre-registered will bring down the costs, but if you want a new small car with an automatic gearbox, there are still some good choices available. Here we present the best small automatic cars.

Volkswagen Polo

Best small automatic car for a big car feel
Our pick: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI Life DSG
Read our full Volkswagen Polo review

With a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearbox as an option on several models, the Volkswagen Polo is a stand-out choice among small automatic cars. Not only does the transmission operate quickly and seamlessly – it’s actually faster than the manual – but it also works well alongside the turbocharged 1.0-litre engine to provide a sophisticated feel, almost like a larger car. 

Then there’s the Volkswagen Polo’s overall appeal – it’s a well-finished and mature small car that feels a cut above others in the class, is well-trimmed and equipped with lots of modern tech features. 

Performance is brisk, the handling predictable and the Volkswagen Polo rides comfortably as well. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the UK’s most sought-after and popular used small automatic cars.


Renault Clio

Best small automatic car for being fun to drive
Our pick: Renault Clio 145 Techno e-Tech
Read our full Renault Clio review

As far as fun-to-drive small cars go, the Renault Clio is up there with the very best – it’s highly entertaining to drive, with great performance and handling, and the feel and sophistication of a larger model. 

Well-loved and popular, the pick of the Renault Clio range is the e-Tech Hybrid, which uses a full hybrid system and a 145PS petrol engine to deliver the kind of performance you normally find in a hot hatch, along with the ability to run on pure electric at lower speeds.

The gearbox is impressive – developed in conjunction with the Renault F1 team, the multi-mode automatic is a joy to use, while the e-Tech system means a 40% improvement in efficiency over a standard Renault Clio. 


Toyota Yaris

Best small automatic car for good value hybrid power
Our pick: Toyota Yaris Hybrid Design
Read our full Toyota Yaris review

Toyota has a long history of hybrid cars, having been one of the pioneers of the technology with the original Toyota Prius in the late 1990s. 

A quarter of a century on, it continues to innovate and the Toyota Yaris small car uses the latest iteration of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. The e-CVT gearbox is set up in such a way that you can choose between peak economy or peak power – think of it as a town mode and a country mode, indicating where each setting comes into its own. Whichever mode you use, it’s simplicity itself.

With a long warranty, fun-to-drive handling and surprisingly eager performance, if you want a small car with just two pedals, the Toyota Yaris is tough to beat.


Skoda Fabia

Best small automatic car for a no-nonsense approach
Our pick: Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI SE Comfort DSG
Read our full Skoda Fabia review

Think of the Skoda Fabia DSG as a more rational Volkswagen Polo, as beneath the skin it shares the same platform, engine and gearbox as its stablemate. It is cheaper to buy in the first place though and notably more affordable on the used market

If you’re happy to let others pursue badge appeal and instead focus on functionality, the Skoda Fabia does a superb job. Okay, so it doesn’t quite have as much flair as the Volkswagen Polo, but the Skoda is nevertheless an easy car to drive, as well as being refined and comfortable. It’s also pretty practical.

The DSG transmission, meanwhile, is every bit as good as it is in the German-built sister car. It’s available on lower trim level models as well, which is a further bonus.


Ford Fiesta

Best small automatic car for driver appeal
Our pick: Ford Fiesta 1.0 Titanium DCT
Read our full Ford Fiesta review

It may have been recently discontinued, but the Ford Fiesta’s previous position as a perennial best-seller in the UK sales charts means there are plenty of recent registration used models to choose from – and they’re more in demand than ever. 

The small Ford uses a seven-speed clutchless gearbox that operates on very similar principles to the Volkswagen Group DSG set-up, so it changes gear more quickly than a manual and also optimises overall efficiency. 

The fantastic chassis and eager performance on offer from the 125PS variant of the 1.0 EcoBoost engine makes the self-shifting Ford Fiesta an absolute gem of a car that’s great to drive around the city. It’s civilised, comfortable and enjoys good technology features as well.


Renault Zoe 

Best small automatic car for electric power
Our pick: Renault Zoe Techno
Read our full Renault Zoe review

The latest Renault Zoe is very different to the earlier models, justifying its substantially larger list price by including the battery, whereas you had to lease it previously. 

It’s also far more technologically advanced, while the 52kWh battery pack delivers a claimed range of 245 miles. With that in mind, it suddenly looks like much better value. Fast charging options also make it possible to charge it up in as little as three hours, or less than an hour to an 85% charge, so it’s no longer a car that’s restricted to life in the city. 

The entry-level Renault Zoe Techno model tips the scales at below £30,000 but has very good levels of safety kit, although the cabin is cramped compared with other small cars.


MINI Hatchback

Best small automatic car for urban fun
Our pick: MINI Cooper Auto Hatch
Read our full MINI Hatchback review

Unlike most of the cars on this list, the MINI Cooper Auto uses a traditional torque converter automatic gearbox, which relies on conventional gearchanges rather than electronically enhanced ones. 

Despite the fact it isn’t as high-tech as some rivals, the MINI acquits itself well both in town and on the open road. The MINI’s famously brilliant roadholding and immense charm making it stand out as one of the most entertaining small automatic cars to drive.

It loses some of its zippiness compared with manual models, but conversely it’s an absolute doddle to drive in congested urban streets, whilst still enjoying the composure and lively performance of the manual MINI Cooper. Add in the MINI’s timeless appeal and you’ve got the perfect urban companion.


Honda Jazz

Best small automatic car for interior flexibility
Our pick: Honda Jazz EX
Read our full Honda Jazz review

Because it’s now offered as a hybrid only, the Honda Jazz comes with an automatic gearbox as standard. If you want a completely hassle-free driving experience, then it is a difficult car to beat.

It runs at low speeds on electric power alone, making it ideal for city streets and low emission zones, but thanks to a CVT gearbox that optimises the power available when you do need it. It’s quick off the mark and also pretty civilised at higher speeds. 

The Honda Jazz is immensely practical compared with other small cars, with its cleverest feature being its fold-up cinema-style Magic Seats. These offer extra stowage behind the front seats, as well as a spacious flat-folding rear load bay. The cabin is also well-stocked with the latest tech while even the base model features an infotainment system compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.


Peugeot 208

Best small automatic car for all-round usability
Our pick: Peugeot 208 130 PureTech Auto
Read our full Peugeot 208 review

Of all the small cars on the market right now, the Peugeot 208 is one of the most stylish, as well as one of the most competent all-rounders, with its smart exterior matched by an appealing cabin.

The 1.2-litre turbocharged engine offers a vibrant 130PS, which in automatic form is coupled with a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. In GT Premium specification, it’s a very well-specified car with high levels of technology and standard equipment, but it does come at a price. 

It’s by far one of the best small automatic cars to drive with a composed chassis and refined motorway cruising ability. It makes a great choice if you want to venture further afield. Other small cars have greater luggage space and rear legroom, though.


Vauxhall Corsa

Best small automatic car for transmission options
Our pick: Vauxhall Corsa 1.2T Ultimate 130 Auto
Read our full Vauxhall Corsa review

The Vauxhall Corsa is one of our favourite small cars at the best of times, but if you’re in the market for an automatic model, it’s rare in that it offers a choice of either dual-clutch or conventional auto transmissions.

The former delivers super-fast changes and six gears making it ideal if you want to make a quick getaway – it’s a more advanced and more complex gearbox than the conventional auto but great for enthusiastic drivers. These models are badged as e-DCT and are more expensive.

If you don’t mind slightly slower gear changes, the standard automatic uses a very good eight-speed transmission. It’s a very pleasant car to drive – smooth and fairly responsive, especially when matched with the 130PS 1.2-litre turbocharged engine in the higher trim levels. Alternatively, the lower trim 1.2 GS model is the perfect around-town companion and notably less expensive to buy.