Top 10 Best Small Cars
It was not too long ago that small cars were incredibly popular, but nowadays affordable hatchbacks and other traditional smaller vehicles are fighting an uphill struggle against the ongoing sales onslaught from all things SUV, especially compact SUVs.
However, MPG economy often wins. And nothing else is as economical to buy and run as a small car – especially an automatic, and with fuel prices still stubbornly high, there’s still a big market for small cars not trying to look like a shrunken Range Rover.
Here we’ve come up with a guide to the 10 best small cars currently available, which, as well as the usual suspects, also includes a couple of surprise packages cheaper than £5,000.
As you’ll see, small doesn’t always have to mean inexpensive either. We’ve included models to suit a wide range of budgets.
The best small cars to buy are reviewed below:
1. Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta has to be one of the first names that spring to mind when anyone thinks about small cars, and rightly so. For a lot of today’s buyers there has always been the Ford Fiesta.
For much of its life, the diminutive Ford has been the best-selling car in the UK. Though it has rarely been the cheapest, most generously equipped or most family friendly car out there, it has always been broadly good at everything else.
Today’s “all-new” seventh-generation Fiesta isn’t radically different from its predecessor and any changes could easily be seen as just a refreshed version of the sixth-generation. It’s still small!
What Ford’s actually done though has thoroughly rejuvenated this big-selling small car. The general consensus is that the latest model is better in just about every conceivable way.
The Fiesta was starting to get left behind as far as its cabin and hi-tech features were concerned but those areas have certainly been addressed this time around. Everything else about the Fiesta has been enhanced and updated as well, but these two areas have received most attention.
The Fiesta has always been popular and this latest version is sure to be a big hit too. It looks great, it’s modern and stylish inside and the available tech features are right on the money.
But the real ace card up the sleeve of the last Fiesta was the way it drove, and as The Telegraph categorically states, the Fiesta ST is still the best small hot hatch on the road. Perhaps forever?
Prices start from £13,965
Combined fuel economy as high as 60.1 mpg
- Decent fuel economy
- Sharp handling
- Attractive styling inside and out
- Not the most spacious of interiors
- Some plastics of questionable quality
- Not as great to drive as it used to be
2. SEAT Ibiza
The all-new SEAT Ibiza could be the surprise package for buyers in the ‘supermini’ class. It’s setting a standard its rivals are struggling to match. Though a lot of different VW Group models share platforms and components, the all-new Ibiza was the first to use the group’s new MQB A0 platform which now underpins the VW Polo.
If you’re a buyer more concerned with what a car is and what it can do than what badge it has on the bonnet, the SEAT Ibiza could well be the supermini for you.
The Ibiza is quiet inside, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, the 1.0-litre engines are excellent, and it’s an awful lot of fun to drive.
As seems to be the way of things with small cars to buy at the moment, the Seat is also available with a bunch of hi-tech features we’d normally expect to find in much bigger, more expensive car.
Features such as pedestrian detection with auto braking, adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, LED lights, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are all there in the SEAT.
The only problem is that to get those goodies will often mean having to shell out for the top-of-the-range FR and Excellence models, especially, as Motoring Research reports, buyers can’t choose a la carte options for the Ibiza, getting more features now means moving up the trim levels.
Unsurprisingly, lower specification models are guilty of employing a few cheap, scratchy plastics and other questionable materials to keep the price down. Apart from that though, there’s little to criticise here.
If we were to make one criticism of the Seat Ibiza it would probably be that it’s perhaps a little too similar to the latest VW Polo. The exterior styling of the Seat is a bit more angular and distinctive than the Polo, but on the inside it’s difficult to tell them apart.
Prices start from £15,125
Even 1.5-litre TSI Evo variant manages almost 60 mpg
- High-tech features
- Superb to drive
- Incredibly roomy inside
- Some dodgy plastics
- Standard equipment levels could be better
- Mirrors too small
3. Volkswagen Polo
Although the Ford Fiesta is probably the first small car that comes to mind, the Volkswagen Polo is a serious contender, and comes with a step up in quality. VW’s reputation might have taken a bit of a beating in recent years due to “Dieselgate,” but it doesn’t appear have done too much damage to its reputation for producing quality vehicles.
The Polo is another of those popular small cars that seems to have been around forever, after all – a car only stays in production for such a long time if it’s good and people keep buying it. The Polo occupies a position in the market above the likes of the Fiesta but below something like the Audi A1.
In terms of overall quality the Polo faces serious competition from its VW Group stablemate the SEAT Ibiza (reviewed above) . Here in the UK though, the Volkswagen name still means more to most buyers than SEAT and that gives the Polo an early advantage.
There used to be a distinct difference in how the Polo looked compared to the larger Golf, but this latest Polo looks pretty much like a Golf that’s been in the wash too long and shrunk.
That’s not a problem though as it’s a good look and one people obviously like. It may look like the current Golf, but as The Guardian points out, virtually every component is new.
It seems 1.0-litre turbocharged engines are all the rage in small cars these days, and although the 94 horsepower on offer in the Polo’s 1.0-litre doesn’t sound a lot it’s actually quite a lively little mover. The more powerful 113bhp version is even better, but perhaps not enough to justify the considerable increase in cost.
Undeniably, the most fun you can have in a VW Polo is the GTI with its 2.0-litre turbo, and this is a variant that rivals can’t compete with. There is an entry level non-turbo 64bhp petrol engine and a couple of diesels, but the 1.0-litre engines and the 2.0-litre turbo in the GTI are the recommended options.
The interior is comfortable and of usual Volkswagen quality, although it’s perhaps not the most exciting interior in its class. The Polo is a great all-rounder with a bit more class than the likes of the Fiesta, and the availability of a performance GTI variant is a big plus.
Prices start from £14,235
8.0-inch colour touchscreen for infotainment standard across the range
- Looks like a little Golf
- Comfortable interior
- Performance GTI variant
- Diesels are noisy
- Standard models not a great deal of fun to drive
- Can be pricy
4. Dacia Sandero
This is one you might not find in too many lists of best small cars, but we’re not going to try and tell you the Dacia Sandero is better than a Ford Fiesta or higher quality than a Volkswagen Polo because it isn’t.
The reason we’re including it in our list is because it represents incredible value for money, even though, as the This is Money website explains, Britain’s cheapest car just got £1,000 more expensive despite having no new features.
The Sandero is the Dacia that tends to lurk in the shadow cast by its highly regarded and much-praised bigger brother, the Dacia Duster crossover SUV.
This Dacia supermini deserves its own share of the limelight though, because plenty of people buy on a budget, and that often means taking the calculated risk of buying something used.
With the Sandero you can buy a brand new car with a full manufacturer warranty for the price of a used car from more auspicious brands.
Price isn’t the only attribute the Sandero has in its armoury though. The Sandero has one of the most spacious interiors in its class for both passengers and luggage, and one of the biggest suprises for many non-believers is the way this little car holds its price in the used market.
We’ll admit the entry level access trim isn’t going to be for everyone, but the mid-range Essential has more than the bare essentials. The Essential comes standard with air-con, remote locking, electric front windows, Bluetooth and DAB radio, and if you want more you can have it with the Comfort trim.
Ok, this isn’t the best small car when it comes to the quality of interior, standard equipment or the way it drives. But for buyers looking for a brand new small car with plenty of room inside and a price that’ll put a smile on your face and keep it there when it comes time to sell, the Dacia Sandero is in a little class of its own.
Prices start from £6,995
- Good looking
- Stupendous value
- Very spacious interior
- Budget interior
- Access model pretty Spartan
- Nothing special to drive
5. MINI 5-Door Hatch
MINI used to be the first name in small cars, but not so much anymore. It’s not that the current MINI isn’t a good car, because it’s actually very good indeed.
The real problem lies with the fact that it’s not actually all that small anymore. At least not compared to the original MINI we all know and love. But if we look at this as a model in its own right and not related to the original in any way other than the name, it’s quite the contender.
We’re now into the third-generation of the MINI as we know it today. This latest version is more refined, more feature-packed and bigger, yes, even bigger than before. It also features an all-new turbocharged engine lineup. This five-door model is a relatively recent addition to the Mini lineup, it’s this particular model that makes it into our list.
As most of you will probably guess, the MINI isn’t particularly cheap. There’s real quality on display here though, from the extremely attractive exterior styling to the funky, retro, high-quality interiors and all that with an exquisite range of BMW-derived engines to boot.
The new interior isn’t quite as funky and unique as its predecessors but makes the MINI more appealing to a wider audience that might have been put off a little by the previous generation’s quirky design.
For those who like genuine individuality MINI offers custom door lights, cool exterior colour schemes, and even 3D-printed parts which allow owners to put their own unique stamp on things.
Unlike a lot of small cars the MINI is as comfortable on the motorway as it is nipping in and out of tight streets and spaces in the town or the city. Not only are the engines up to the job, the interior is more than comfortable enough for even the longest of journeys, and that can’t be said of a lot of small cars. This is a really likeable car that’s easy to live with, as pointed out by Auto Express in a long-term test of the Mini.
Prices start from £16,890
Air conditioning a no-cost option on the MINI One
- Excellent engines and great to drive
- Custom options
- Ride can be firm
- Cabin a little noisy
- Not cheap to buy
6. Mercedes A-Class
Most of us probably wouldn’t think of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class as a rival to the likes of the Ford Fiesta or Dacia Duster, and that’s because it isn’t.
However, the A-Class is what most of us would consider a small car and it’s far and away the German brand’s biggest-seller That makes it the company’s volume car and gets it a place on our list.
Another reason it makes it here is because it’s generally pretty fantastic. The previous A-Class was a huge success for Mercedes and it was a million light years away from the questionable first-generation A-Class, which is best forgotten about altogether.
The predecessor to this all-new 2019 A-Class certainly had its issues though, but this new model has addressed them all and taken things to another level.
The 2019 Mercedes A-Class may look very similar to the 2018 version, but in fact just about everything about it is completely new from the ground up.
This new A-Class is stronger, lighter and longer than its predecessor, and it’s also hugely better to drive. Although this is a car that looks good on the outside, it’s inside where this model’s wow factor really kicks in.
Inside there are no conventional dials whatsoever. Instead the baby Merc has highly configurable touchscreen displays. The whole system is called MBUX, which stands for Mercedes Benz User Experience. B
ase models get a pair of 7.0-inch high-resolution screens, and higher trim levels also get a 10.25-inch central screen or two. We could write a book about what can be controlled by these screens, so let’s just say navigation, connected services, vehicle performance and settings plus live traffic information for a start.
The all-new A-Class is now so tech-savvy, The Guardian goes as far as describe it as “ferociously precocious.”
This might be the most expensive small car we have on our list, but to spec a MINI or a Polo up to the level of an entry model A-Class would get to within touching distance of this imperious Mercedes.
Prices from £23,075
Augmented Reality Navigation tool is too cool for words
- Cabin like a mini S-Class
- Stunning all-digital dash
- Mercedes badge
- Only A250 has standout engine
- Lack of specification flexibility
- Exterior looks very similar to previous model
7. Nissan Micra
The Nissan Micra has always been a very good little car, but until this latest model arrived the styling was so polarizing it only appealed to a certain audience. And often one unbothered by power or panache.
Let’s be honest, the original Micra was a bit of a loaf of bread. It might have raised a smile on the face of a small child, but it wasn’t a car many would want to be seen driving around town in.
But that’s all changed now! Thankfully, everyone can now enjoy what was always a very good car, Nissan has changed the styling so much, it looks good enough to match its many rivals.
Although early versions of the Micra were very highly regarded and the second-generation was even named European Car of the Year, the fourth generation was a gamble by Nissan that didn’t pay off.
Production was moved from Sunderland to cheaper countries like Thailand, Mexico, India and Indonesia, but sales soon fell by more than two thirds and the Micra fell out of the top-ten best-sellers in Europe.
Production of this new fifth-generation Nissan Micra now happens at Renault’s Flins facility near Paris, and that’s just the start of the good news.
The styling is modern and attractive with fashionable squinting headlights and sharp creases in the sheet metal. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the way the Nissan Micra looks, but at least there’s nothing off-putting about it.
The most popular engine is a 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo from Renault, and its 90 horsepower is more than adequate for a car of this size. It’s great to drive in the town or city, and it’s not bad on the motorway either unless you try to overtake in the outside lane on a bit of an uphill gradient.
The new Nissan Micra facelift also brought in a new N-Sport variant, but as Auto Express points out, it’s a bit of a warm hatch rather than a hot one.
There are better small cars in this part of the market than the Nissan Micra, but its new look, good engines, decent handling, top-notch driver-assistance tech and a very low starting price makes this an attractive all-round package.
Prices start from £7,940
Big car features in a small car thanks to Nissan Intelligent Mobility
- Impressive driver-assist technology
- Incredibly low starting price
- Now looks like a car for grownups
- Performance only so-so
- Rear seats not especially comfortable
8. Honda Jazz
The Honda Jazz might not be a small car to get the pulse racing and it’s not a model that’s as well-known as the Civic. Give the Jazz a fair chance though and you’ll find one of the most competent, reliable, spacious and practical small cars in the marketplace.
If the Jazz was jacked up a bit and styled a little differently, it could easily pass as some sort of pseudo-SUV as it already looks fairly tall. Even though it looks higher than rivals such as the Fiesta and MINI it still doesn’t prepare you for what you find when you climb inside.
Basically, the Honda Jazz is peerless in its class in terms of interior space and it’s hard to believe a car of these proportions can have this much interior volume. It’s truly a design win of the highest order.
And if the exterior styling is a bit mundane for your liking there’s a new Sport variant with a smart body kit, sports seats and a 0-60mph time that isn’t measured with a calendar.
This isn’t a particularly fast car in any of its forms, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great drive because it is. Everything feels taught, well-balanced and intuitive
Don’t be put off by what seems like a relatively high purchase price either because the Jazz comes very well equipped as standard, and that’s before we even consider the quality, reliability and extremely strong residuals the Honda can boast about.
Spec most rivals up to the same level as an equivalent Honda Jazz and the price difference will be reasonably negligible.
If there was an achilles heel to be found with the Honda Jazz it had to be the engines. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them, and many of them will probably outlive their owners.
The problem is that in a section of the market dominated by three-cylinder 1.0-liter turbocharged powerplants the naturally aspirated units under the bonnet of the Jazz seem a little outdated. However, the likes of Just Auto believe that if you opt for the new 1.5 in the Jazz Sport it positively transforms the car.
Prices start from £14,360
“Magic Seats” make an unbelievably spacious interior even bigger and more practical
- Cavernous and versatile interior
- Excellent quality
- Very well equipped at all levels
- Dated engines
- Firm ride
9. Kia Rio
Not so very long ago a Kia would have made it onto this list for similar reasons to the Dacia Sandero, but not anymore. Although the South Korean manufacturer hasn’t abandoned the concept of building affordable cars completely, the products it turns out today are a long, long way from the cheap and cheerful vehicles it was putting out a decade or so ago.
Kia’s Rio supermini isn’t as upscale as some of its larger offerings, but it does offer a great blend of quality and value backed by the kind of new car warranty its rivals can only stand back and admire.
The Rio isn’t quite into the top-ten best-selling superminis in the UK yet but it is there in the Europe-wide chart, and a car doesn’t get to that level by accident. The Rio is every-inch the archetypal supermini and it’s a car that’s grown notably in stature and quality with each passing model year.
This latest fourth-generation model even boasts the main “must-have” accessory for a 2019 supermini, which is the ubiquitous 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine under the bonnet. For buyers who prefer the sportier side of things there’s always the new Rio GT-Line trim.
On the outside the Rio may blend into the supermini fog a little with its somewhat derivative styling, but it’s no ugly duckling and its looks won’t put anyone off at all.
In fact, there’s a new, more planted stance that hints at a much improved driving and handling experience, although a little more power wouldn’t go amiss to make the most out what’s actually a very good chassis.
If you like a choice of engines you’ll be spoiled with the Kia. There are now no less than four different petrols as well as a pair of diesels to choose from and power ranges between 83bhp and 188bhp.
Prices start from £12,220
Class-leading 7-year/100,000-mile warranty
- Great engine choices
- Standard automatic emergency braking
- Unbeatable warranty
- Anonymous exterior styling
- Firm ride
- Mixed interior quality
10. Toyota Yaris
At the turn of the last decade no list of the ten best small cars would have been complete without the Toyota Yaris, but it seems as though this once highly respected small car has faded from the public consciousness.
To be fair to Toyota, it realised the shortcomings of the Yaris a couple of years ago and has been patiently and quietly addressing them to put things right. It may be too late for the Yaris in the USA as website Motor1.com reports, but it’s hard to see it being abandoned here in Europe where fuel costs are much higher.
Diesels have never been loved by Japanese manufacturers, but the demographic that loved the Yaris so much demanded diesel in Toyota’s smallest car.
Listening to them turned out to be a bad move, even elderly drivers are now being driven away from diesel cars and Toyota has dropped them from the Yaris lineup along with the little-loved three-door body style.
Instead the Yaris has become one of the first superminis to offer a hybrid, and that put it ahead of most of its rivals other than the Honda Jazz which has now dropped its hybrid variant.
The exterior styling of the Yaris is par for the course, but big improvements have been made on the inside. The Yaris has always been renowned for its interior space, and the current car is vying for top-of-the-class status in this area along with its Japanese rival – the Honda Jazz.
The whole cabin, and especially the dash, has a much cleaner and more contemporary look about it and a large amount of the dash is handled by Toyota’s Touch 2 infotainment system.
Quality of trim and materials isn’t quite at the same level as some of the Toyota’s key rivals, but then neither is the price. Buyers can get into a new Toyota Yaris for comparatively little money, and residuals remain among the strongest in the segment so you won’t lose your shirt when the time comes to trade in your Yaris.
Prices start from £12,995
Yaris Hybrid delivers a staggering real-world 80mpg
- Spacious and comfortable interior
- Hybrid option
- Strong residual values
- Average to drive
- Engines a little dated
- Cabin can be noisy at speed
Crossovers and SUVs might be the “go-to” vehicles for a lot of buyers today, but there’s still a place and a strong argument for small cars, especially for buyers who drive most of their time in the town or city.
Whether you want something inexpensive to buy and run or the compact proportions of a small car with many the features and kudos of a large luxury saloon, you’ll find it in our list here.
Small cars not for you?
If you’ve decided a small car may not be right for you, make sure you check out some of our other ‘best of’ guides:
Our small automatic guide may convince you to stay on the small side, but…
And if you want something really economical to run and a little more environmentally friendly, see our Best City Cars of 2019, Best Cars For MPG, Best Hybrid Cars of 2019, Best Cars For New Drivers or Best Electric Cars of 2019 and our Cheapest Cars To Insure.