Best small cars 2023
They might be little but the best small cars are packed with good performance and practicality
Are you thinking a small car might be just what you need? Whether you're looking to downsize from your old SUV or looking for the cheapest entry into the car market, a small car can be the ultimate option for so many drivers who don't need excess space.
When you need a car that's cheap and easy to run, but still versatile enough to manage a trip to the shops or a weekend away, looking at the small car market would be a good place to start. Their compact size makes them ideal for easy parking and manoeuvrability. While their tendency to rely on smaller engines means fuel economy and emissions are also reduced.
Small cars like this are commonly referred to as superminis and it's a market that's grown hugely over the last decade, with manufacturers from all areas throwing in their own entry. With a variety of shape, size and price, the choices are pretty wide and that's a good thing if you're looking for a particular feature.
All but the most basic versions have Bluetooth and USB ports so you can connect a phone safely. They generally have touchscreens for controlling the radio and other media functions. Front electric windows and alloy wheels are common, too. The best models have enough room in the back for six-foot adults to feel comfortable, and their boots can cope with a weekly shop for an average family.
Best small cars 2022
Best small car for all-round excellence
The current Seat Ibiza went on sale in 2017 with a high-tech interior and sizeable boot. It's a strong contender in this list as a day-to-day run around thanks to good fuel economy, an excellent safety rating and options for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay among a strong list of tech. For the latest in-car tech and comfort, seek a model made after the 2021 update.
It's also comfortable and nimble, with light steering that also feels direct. There's very little to criticise - not because the Ibiza has few weak areas, but because it's a strong performer in almost every respect.
The 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine with 95hp is a good pick, with nippy performance and strong fuel economy. It's now available in great value SE Technology form, which includes alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen media display and LED daytime running lights.
Best car for driving fun
One of Britain's most popular cars is available in such a range of specifications that you're sure to find something that suits you - if you're in the market for a small car. Keep an eye out for 2022 models onwards (pictured above) with feature Ford's latest look.
Zetec models offer excellent value, while B&O models add a powerful stereo system and larger touchscreen media system. You'll find leather seats and a panoramic sunroof in the high-end Vignale, high-performance thrills with the Fiesta ST, and a (slightly) higher driving position in the Fiesta Active versions.
The Fiesta remains one of the most nimble and comfortable superminis, which helps to smooth out Britain’s broken roads beautifully. Of the engines, the 100hp 1.0-litre turbocharged 'EcoBoost' petrol is the star of the show with both good performance and fuel economy. Later versions see mild hybrid technology added in favour of improved efficiency.
Best small car for performance and precise cornering
Mini pitches its cars as a cut above rivals such as the Ford Fiesta, but the price difference isn't as much as you might think: the list price of a new five-door Mini in entry-level 'One' trim starts at just over £18,000 - around £1,000 more than the cheapest five-door Fiesta.
Even the cheapest Mini is fun to drive, with an engine that sounds sporty and feels powerful as soon as you press the accelerator. The steering gives you a good sense of connection with the front wheels, so you can sense the car's grip, while the interior has more character than those of its rivals that are clad in dark plastic. With five doors, the Mini is more practical than the three-door version, although the boot is still small and you feel a few more bumps on the road than you would in rivals such as the Fiesta.
If you can stretch to it, the Mini Cooper is even more fun, thanks to a more powerful engine and larger wheels that grip better around corners.
Best small car for a premium feel
By most measures the latest Volkswagen Polo, launched towards the end of 2017, is a car that's close to the top of its class. It's a strong rival to the closely related Seat Ibiza, but the Polo has a more mature outlook. Must like the Ibiza, it too was subject to an update in 2021.
It feels more sophisticated than the majority of its rivals, with high-quality materials inside, along with a quiet and smooth ride. Even if you're trading down from a larger Golf, it doesn't feel shabby in the slightest.
The Polo's steering isn't as responsive as the Ford Fiesta or Mini Hatchback, which makes it less fun to drive, but it's arguably a more sensible choice, with plenty of interior space front and rear, a very handy 351-litre boot, and excellent visibility. An eight-inch touchscreen media system and air-conditioning are standard on all models.
Best small car for standard safety equipment
Banish memories of frumpy Nissan Micras of old. This new model, launched at the beginning of 2017, is a world away from those. Stylish inside and out, and offering plenty of mobile phone integration and safety equipment, it’s now a proper alternative to the best superminis.
It’s bigger than the old Micra, too, with more interior space. The rear seats do suffer from a lack of headroom but there’s decent legroom at least. It's a pity the boot isn't bigger; at 300 litres it trails the Seat Ibiza by 50 litres.
There’s plenty of safety equipment, though. Lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and road sign recognition, and automatic full-beam headlamps are standard. We'd recommend Acenta spec for its cruise control, seven-inch touchscreen media system and sensible price.
Best small car for cheap used car prices
The latest version of the Corsa went on sale in 2020. One of Britain's most popular cars is built alongside another popular car - the Peugeot 208. Both share many of their mechanical parts, including some punchy but efficient 1.2-litre petrol engines.
Keep an eye out for the electric Corsa-e (or Peugeot e-208) if you're looking for cheap family motoring. The 50kWh battery promises more than 200 miles of range, and while it only has 136hp, it can do 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds which is impressive for a car of this size.
Best small car for boot space
If practicality is most important to you, then the Honda Jazz should be top of your list. The 304-litre boot isn't particularly impressive, but the 1,205-litre space opened up with the rear seats folded is good for this size of car. The Jazz's party trick, though, is what Honda calls its 'Magic Seats'. The seat bases fold up cinema-style, allowing owners to carry extra-large items in the rear footwells.
The 1.5-litre petrol hybrid setup isn't particularly powerful, rated at just 97hp, but anywhere between 50mpg and 60mpg should be achieveable in real-world circumstances. It's also cheap to tax, with CO2 emissions ranging from 102-104g/km (110g/km for the rugged-looking Crosstar models).
Best small car for clever design touches
Skoda says that it no longer offers the cheapest prices, but the best value for money. And even in the relatively cheap SE trim, the Fabia comes with rear parking sensors, a surround sound stereo and air-conditioning, so that claim sounds plausible.
The car is designed to spend most of its time in town, where the ride is soft and comfortable; absorbing bumps, and the steering is light for easy turning and parking. At higher speeds, it performs well too, feeling comfortable and stable at 70mph.
As it's bigger inside than the average small car, the Fabia can carry four adults in reasonable comfort - even five at a push. It also has some practical features, including an ice scraper inside the fuel-filler cap and a wastebasket that slots into the driver's door.
There is a new version built on the same platform as the latest Polo and Ibiza which were both launched in 2017, but the Fabia didn't arrive until 2021 so used models are still relatively thin on the ground. High-spec models of the previous generation should represent the best value for money.
Best small car for a zippy drive
The petrol engines fitted to the Mazda 2 might be economical, but they feel sporty. The harder you rev them, the faster you’ll go, unlike some cars which run out of puff before they are really working hard.
Pick a mid-range 90hp petrol model and you’ll have a car that can accelerate faster than similarly priced rivals. It feels just as sporty in corners, responding instantly to any steering inputs with a sharp change of direction. SE-L Nav models are well priced and include a touchscreen media system, sat-nav and digital radio.
Best small car for individuality
The small car market would be a sadder place without the Suzuki Swift. It’s a good car with a distinctive, upright look, but faces a host of brilliant rivals.
Its cause isn’t helped by prices that are not as low as they once were. Powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, it's surprisingly nippy. Combine that with its nimbleness and the Swift provides real driving fun. It’s a shame it doesn’t deal with the UK’s broken roads quite so well; the ride can be a little unsettled. On top of that, Suzuki dropped the 1.0-litre engine in favour of a less powerful 1.2-litre mild hybrid option.
There isn't as much space inside as the Skoda Fabia for instance; six-footers will find the rear seats lacking in legroom and, at 264 litres, the boot is small compared with the latest offerings from Seat and VW, and the Honda Jazz. If you want your small car to feel small and would rather something stylish and fun to drive rather than super-practical and comfortable, however, it could be perfect for you.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta Titanium:
Monthly payments over 48 months: £192
Mileage allowance: 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
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.