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Top ten best small cars

Last Edited: 02/12/2014
In this guide:

    Small cars, or superminis as they are often called, are extremely popular in Britain. What’s great about them is that for many they provide all that’s required for happy motoring at a reasonable price. They can be very cheap to buy and run, and some are even very fun to drive as well.

    They can appeal to drivers both old and young, whether its because of their easy-going nature, cheap running costs or low insurance group numbers. Certain specifications in a supermini range can even offer enough power and sporty dynamics to attract proper driving enthusiasts (including hot hatches). Take a look below at our selection of the best small cars on sale now, including our top pick.

    The reasons for these choices are simple: these superminis offer a great mix of efficiency, low emissions and practicality. That applies especially for those in the city. These are the best small cars around.

     

    Ford Fiesta – top pick

    Still going strong after over 35 years on the market, the Ford Fiesta is the perennial supermini and one of the best small cars around.

    A key strength of the Fiesta is its exceptional range of petrol and diesel engines. Particular standouts are the 94bhp 1.6-litre ECOnetic diesel and the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which both emit under 100g/km in CO2.

    The EcoBoost engine can produce 99bhp or 123bhp, which is 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. That’s why it’s our top pick out of all the small cars currently on sale today.

    Mazda2

    The latest Mazda2 deserves your consideration if you want to buy a new small car, and not just because it's stylish from both the outside and inside.

    Boasting an efficient line-up of petrol and diesel engines and a decent amount of standard kit, the Mazda2 feels impressively suited for long-distance trips. The refinement is top notch and ride comfort is also impressive.

    Even better, the Mazda2 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 and precise steering. Some other superminis offer better visibility (especially at the back) and a more affordable price range, but the Mazda2 overall feels like it performs strongly in all key areas.

    Renault Clio

    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 aggressive and curvaceous looks earned plenty of compliments. It’s also engaging to drive, practical and has some very affordable petrol and diesel engines. Particularly noteworthy are 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.

    Fiat 500

    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.

    The interior is stunning and is up there with the MINI Hatch for quality and looks, yet the 500 doesn´t lose out in practicality. A wide choice of engines, a very smooth drive and plenty of safety kit make it a promising proposition.

    There are plenty of good reasons to consider the 500, but overall, the little Fiat´s looks and style will speak more to the heart than the head. This is one of the best small cars by some considerable measure.

    Peugeot 208

    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 some way to getting the French brand back on top.

    In terms of looks, it is more grown up than its recent predecessors and inside it represents an upmarket step for the brand. While it can't match the best of the best for driving, the 208 is still an engaging and fun drive with plenty of responsiveness and grip.

    It may not be the Peugeot 205, but it is as close as Peugeot has been in many years.

    Volkswagen Polo

    This is a competent supermini that is easy to drive and offers plenty of practicality. The VW badge will ensure that residual values are strong and travelling in comfort - if not style - shouldn´t be a worry.

    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 segment. However, since 2014, the Polo range has included extra gadgets as standard to appeal to young drivers.

    Standard features nowadays include a five-inch colour touchscreen, a DAB radio, a SD card reader and a six speaker audio system. The most frugal engine in the line-up, the 73bhp 1.4-litre TDI diesel, returns a claimed fuel economy of just over 83mpg, while CO2 emissions are a mere 88g/km.

    Suzuki Swift

    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 regards 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 swift (pardon the pun!) 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 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.

    Vauxhall Corsa

    The current Vauxhall Corsa has spent years now fighting with its rival, the Ford Fiesta, to top the UK new car sales chart.

    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 from just 85g/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.

    MINI Hatch

    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 of the heritage of the classic original MINI, the latest Hatch has a similar fun attitude and handles well.

    Equally capable on the open road, country lanes or in the city, the MINI Hatch feels like a proper driver's car, but it does come at something of a premium. If you're happy to put the money towards this though, it'll feel well spent since interior quality is excellent, residuals should stay strong and there´s good safety kit. The new diesel engines are superb for fuel economy too.

    On the downside the rear seats are very cramped, but if you´re looking for a fun drive and have the cash, look no further.

    DS 3

    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 but it is definitely worth every penny.

    Frequently asked questions

    What are small cars called?

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    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.

    What small car has the biggest boot?

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    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.

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