Best small cars 2024
You don’t have to compromise with a small car, with the finest proving refined, cheap to buy and affordable to run. Here are the best small cars you can buy in 2024.
Small cars have always been popular thanks to their low running costs, ability in town and affordable pricing, but in the past many struggled at higher speeds on motorways.
Today’s best small cars are very different, though, with the finest examples refined, civilised and packed with tech. They also deliver a cultured driving experience in most environments, thanks to advances in engine technology.
If you need a car that’s cheap and easy to run, but still versatile enough to cope with a trip to the shops or a weekend away for the family, then the best small cars are a good place to start. Their compact size makes them ideal for easy parking and manoeuvrability, while generally smaller engines mean better fuel economy, lower emissions and lower road tax.
Most of the mainstream manufacturers have a small hatchback in their range. But which are worth considering? Here we pick the best small cars you can buy.
Best small cars 2024
- Dacia Sandero
- Hyundai i20
- SEAT Ibiza
- Ford Fiesta
- MINI Hatchback
- Volkswagen Polo
- Vauxhall Corsa
- Honda Jazz
- Skoda Fabia
- Mazda 2
Best small car for value for money
Our pick: Dacia Sandero 1.2 TCe 90
Read our full Dacia Sandero review
It’s a no-fuss option, but the Dacia Sandero is incredible value for money and one of the best small cars you can buy. About the same size as a Ford Fiesta or Renault Clio, it has a simple petrol-only model range and three trim levels.
It makes most sense to people with a limited budget, who want a practical new or nearly new car with some warranty left. While the Dacia Sandero is not as tech-laden as other small cars, most have air-conditioning and central locking, while all but the most basic have Bluetooth.
It’s comfortable and pretty good to drive. The Dacia Sandero is at its best if you opt for a higher-trim version because the lesser models are rather sparsely equipped and the lower-powered engines are leisurely. The turbocharged 1.2-litre TCe 90 model is a good choice, and priced in such a way that the top-spec Comfort will be cheaper than lower-spec versions of rivals.
Best small car for standard equipment
Our pick: Hyundai i20 1.0 SE Connect
Read our full Hyundai i20 review
The model range is simpler than before and only uses turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engines, one with 101PS and the other with 122PS. The Hyundai i20 N is the only other choice and that’s a 207PS hot hatch.
There are manual and automatic gearboxes available but all versions of the Hyundai i20 are a doddle to drive, with a spacious cabin, excellent on-board technology and superb equipment levels. Even the entry-level SE Connect model gets 16-inch alloys, cruise control, air-conditioning, a reversing camera and parking sensors.
Best small car for all-round excellence
Our pick: SEAT Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 SE Technology
Read our full SEAT Ibiza review
The current SEAT Ibiza is a strong contender thanks to its fashionable looks, good fuel economy and excellent safety rating. For the best in-car tech and comfort, seek a model made after the 2021 update.
It’s also nippy and nimble, with light steering that feels direct. There’s very little to criticise, because the SEAT Ibiza is a strong performer in almost every respect.
The 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine with 96PS is a good pick, with nippy performance and strong fuel economy. It’s available in great-value SE Technology form, which includes alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen media display and LED daytime running lights.
Best small car for driver appeal
Our pick: Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost MHEV Titanium
Read our full Ford Fiesta review
Sadly no longer in production, but in huge demand as a used car, Britain’s former best-seller is available in such a range of specifications that you’re sure to find something that suits you.
Ford Fiesta Zetec models offer excellent value, while B&O versions add a powerful stereo system and larger touchscreen media system. You’ll find leather seats and a panoramic sunroof in the high-end Ford Fiesta Vignale, high-performance thrills with the Ford Fiesta ST and a (slightly) higher driving position in the Ford Fiesta Active.
The Ford Fiesta remains one of the most nimble and comfortable superminis to drive. Of the engines, the 101PS 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost petrol is the star of the show, with good performance and fuel economy. Later versions see mild hybrid technology added in favour of improved efficiency.
Best small car for outright character
Our pick: MINI Cooper 3dr
Read our full MINI Hatchback review
MINI pitches its cars as a cut above the average small car, but the price difference isn’t as great as you might think – especially if you go for a used example. Even the cheapest MINI is fun to drive, with an engine that sounds sporty and lively acceleration, while the steering and handling are to be savoured.
Inside, the cabin retains a distinctively colourful character and represents a refreshing change from most plain and ordinary rivals.
You can choose from three or five-door MINIs. With five doors, the MINI is more practical than the three-door version, but if you really want a five-door small car, rivals do it better. If you can stretch to it, the MINI Cooper is the best option, with livelier performance and better standard equipment.
Best small car for a premium feel
Our pick: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Style
Read our full Volkswagen Polo review
By most measures, the latest Volkswagen Polo, launched towards the end of 2017, is one of the best small cars. It’s a strong rival to the closely related SEAT Ibiza, but has a more mature feel. And as with the SEAT Ibiza, it was subject to an update in 2021.
The Volkswagen Polo 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 the larger Volkswagen Golf, it doesn’t feel a step down in the slightest.
The steering isn’t as responsive as you'll find on 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, a very handy 351-litre boot and excellent visibility. An eight-inch touchscreen media system and air-con are standard on all models.
Best small car for all-round running costs
Our pick: Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Turbo SRi
Read our full Vauxhall Corsa review
The latest version of the Vauxhall Corsa went on sale in 2020 and was recently updated with a new look and fresh trims.
While there’s a new Vauxhall Electric for emissions-free motoring, most Vauxhall Corsas have 1.2-litre petrol engines. There are three different power outputs to suit different buyers, with the lowest good for affordable insurance costs and younger drivers, while the mid-range version is a fine all-rounder.
All models are fairly well-equipped: even the most basic come with a seven-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It’s also good to drive, comfortable and looks smart.
Best small car for space and practicality
Our pick: Honda Jazz 1.5 i-MMD EX
Read our full Honda Jazz review
It won’t set any pulses racing, but the Honda Jazz is one of the best small cars for practicality and ease of use.
The 304-litre boot isn’t especially impressive, but the 1205-litre space with the rear seats folded is good for this size of car, while with the seats up it has more head and legroom than most of its contemporaries.
It also has a party trick – 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 set-up isn’t particularly powerful, but it’s lively enough and delivers decent fuel economy.
Best small car for clever design
Our pick: Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 Colour Edition
Read our full Skoda Fabia review
Skoda no longer offers the cheapest cars, but aims to deliver the best value for money – and the Skoda Fabia is a good case in point. Even in entry-level SE trim, it comes with rear parking sensors, a surround sound stereo and air-conditioning.
The Skoda Fabia is designed to spend most of its time in town, where the ride is soft and comfortable and the steering light, for easy turning and parking. At higher speeds, it performs well, feeling composed at 70mph.
As it’s bigger inside than the average small car, the Skoda 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.
Best small car for reliability
Our pick: Mazda 2 E-Skyactiv G GT Sport
Read our full Mazda 2 review
The Mazda 2 has an impeccable reliability record that has seen the Japanese brand enjoy lots of return custom over the past few years. It’s also great to drive, with a range of lively petrol engines that like to be driven hard, yet still return pretty decent fuel economy.
Pick a mid-range 91PS 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.
SE-L Nav models are well priced and include a touchscreen media system, sat-nav and digital radio. Do bear in mind, though, that the Mazda 2 is not the most practical small car.