Small cars, also known as superminis, are extremely popular in the British new car market. What’s great about them is that they can do all that's needed to deliver happy, practical motoring experiences at a reasonable price. Not only are they cheap to buy and run, but some are a great deal of fun to drive as well.
With an accessible nature, cheap running costs and low insurance group numbers, small cars can appeal to drivers of all age groups. Certain small cars can even deliver enough power and sporty dynamics to attract proper driving enthusiasts (hot hatches are a prime example).
We've put together a quick and handy list of the best small cars around based on efficiency, low emissions and practicality, as well as their fun factor.
Still going strong more than 40 years after it first hit markets, the Ford Fiesta is the perennial supermini and one of the best small cars around.
A crucial strength of the Fiesta is its exceptional range of petrol and diesel engines. Particular standouts are the 94bhp 1.5-litre ECOnetic diesel and the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol. Both of these engines emit less than 100g/km in CO2.
The EcoBoost engine can produce 99bhp, 123bhp or 138bhp. The latter two outputs are incredible for such a small unit. All-in-all, the Fiesta can’t be rivalled when it comes to the quality of the driving experience.
It may not be the quickest or the most spacious small car on the market, but it ticks all the required boxes that the best small cars should.
Featuring a very stylish exterior and interior, the latest Mazda 2 deserves serious consideration if you're in the market for a small car and are as concerned with form as you are with function.
Boasting an efficient line-up of petrol and diesel engines alongside a decent amount of standard kit, the Mazda 2 feels impressively suited for long-distance trips. The refinement is top notch and ride comfort is also impressive.
Even better, the Mazda 2 manages to deliver a drive which feels sharp and sporty without losing its comfort. It feels good behind the wheel, offering lots of grip, minimal bodyroll and light, precise steering. Some other superminis offer better visibility (especially at the back) and a more affordable price range, but the Mazda 2 overall feels like it performs strongly in all key areas.
Not only one of the most distinct and stylish-looking superminis around, the Renault Clio is also one of the most fun and practical. It has the space, versatility and comfort, but most of all it´s great fun to be in.
The latest-generation Clio was launched during early 2013 and straight away its striking, curvaceous looks earned plenty of compliments. It’s also engaging to drive, practical and has some very affordable petrol and diesel engines. Particularly noteworthy in the engine line-up is the 0.9-litre TCe petrol and the 1.5-litre dCi diesel.
Depending on trim level, the Clio can also be found with some very modern and useful technological luxuries. The Clio has all the tools needed to be considered a worthy rival to the most popular entries in the small car market.
Causing many to go slack-jawed and wet-eyed when it debuted, the Fiat 500 has the heritage, the looks and the driveability to make it a serious contender.
This little Fiat´s looks and style will speak more to the heart than the head, but there are plenty of reasons beside that to consider this car.
The interior is stunning and is up there with the MINI Hatch for quality and looks, yet the 500 hardly loses out in practicality. A wide choice of engines, a very smooth drive and plenty of safety kit make it a promising proposition.
At one stage, Peugeot had lost its way with its small car range after the highs of the superb 205. Happily, the Peugeot 208 has gone a long way towards getting the French brand back on top.
In terms of looks, it is more grown up than its recent predecessors and inside it represents a a similar upmarket step for the brand. While it can't match the best of the best in terms of sheer driveability, the 208 is still an engaging and fun car with plenty of responsiveness and grip.
It may not be the iconic Peugeot 205, but the 208 is the closest Peugeot has come to matching its brilliance in many years.
The Volkswagen Polo is a competent supermini that is easy to drive and offers plenty of practicality.
Kit levels at lowers specs use to be pretty mean, especially considering the VW Polo is decidedly at the more expensive end of the supermini scale. In more recent years though, the Polo range has included extra gadgets as standard to appeal to young drivers.
Standard features nowadays include a five-inch colour touchscreen, DAB radio, a SD card reader and a six speaker audio system. In its most frugal specification, the Polo returns an official combined fuel economy of over 80mpg.
The Suzuki Swift is one of the more affordable entries in the very competitive supermini segment.
It’s certainly not the most practical or refined compared to today’s rivals, but the Swift holds up really well in terms of driving dynamics. It is genuinely fun to drive, thanks to its sharp handling and responsive engine range. The short changes you get from the standard manual gearbox are quick and delightful.
The Swift Sport model, featuring a 134bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine, is particularly engaging behind the wheel.
Crucially, the car still feels like good value for money. The Swift looks handsome, even though its styling hasn’t changed that much for many years now. Running costs are very manageable and standard kit includes heated and electric mirrors and a CD/radio player.
The current Vauxhall Corsa has spent years now fighting with its arch-rival, the Ford Fiesta, to top the UK new car sales chart.
To help it compete, there’s a broad range of engines, offering everything from speed to cheap running costs. Among the options is an enjoyable 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit with 113bhp. Meanwhile the 1.3-litre diesel with CO2 emissions well below 100g/km is a wallet-friendly option. The Corsa has a diverse model range to suit different priorities.
It also performs competitively for interior space and safety, making the Vauxhall supermini worthy of consideration when searching the small car market. There are always plenty of attractive offers to be found as a Corsa buyer.
The MINI Hatch has in the past been maligned as an estate agent´s car - the implication being that it´s vulgar and rather ´new money´. However, while it shares little in terms of heritage with the classic original MINI, the latest Hatch model has a similar emphasis on fun and it handles well.
Equally capable on the open road, country lanes or in the city, the MINI Hatch feels like a proper driver's car, though it does come at something of a premium. If you're happy to put the money towards style and entertainment, then the money should feel well spent with this car. That's because the interior quality is excellent, residuals should stay strong and there´s a good amount of safety kit too.
The current diesel engines are superb for fuel economy too, while the petrol units used for higher-spec models are certainly feisty. If you´re looking for a fun drive and have the cash, look no further than the latest MINI.
This premium entry for the small car segment is one of the best available to buy today. Fighting it out with the likes of the MINI Hatch, the customisable DS 3 was the first to arrive from the Citroen-owned DS sub-brand.
The DS 3 offers frugal petrol and diesel engines and a hefty price tag for a small car, but it really catches the attention in terms of design.
Quirky and distinctive, the DS 3 features lashings of LEDs and touches of chrome to complement a premium interior. It may cost a little more than most other superminis, but buyers are very likely to feel like its worth every penny.
Frequently asked questions
Small cars are known by numerous terms, the most common of which is supermini. Other terms used for cars in this segment include B-segment car and compact car.
Though it doesn’t feature in our top ten, the affordable Dacia Sandero supermini does offer class-leading boot capacity at 320 litres as standard. The small car with the biggest in our list is the Renault Clio with 300 litres, which isn’t far behind the Dacia.