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Top ten best small cars

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

    Small cars, or superminis as they´re often termed in Europe, constitute an extremely popular sector in the UK, as environmental concerns and petrol prices remain hot topics.

    Higher interest rates and growing consumer debt also contribute to the wide public attraction towards small cars.

    What’s great about small cars is that for many people they provide all that’s required from automobile transport. They can also be very cheap to buy and run, and some of them can be very fun to drive as well.

    Take a look below at our selection of the best small cars on sale now, including our top pick of all.

    The reasons for these choices are simple: for the best blend of economy, low emissions and practicality - especially for those in the city - these are the best small cars around.

    Renault Clio

    Not only is it one of the most distinct and stylish-looking entries in the current supermini market, the 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 cheap to run 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 just about every motoring journalist to go slack-jawed and wet-eyed when it debuted, the 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 for quality and looks, but 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 Polo is decidedly at the more expensive end of the supermini market. However, in 2014 Volkswagen updated its Polo range and included extra gadgets to appeal to young drivers.

    Standard features include 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 83.1mpg, while CO2 emissions are a mere 88g/km.

    Alfa Romeo Mito

    The current generation Alfa Romeo Mito is now one of the older entries in the current supermini segment. It still, however, remains one of the most eye-catching and coolest competitors in the small car market.

    This is more of a heart-over-head kind of purchase though. The Mito is one of the dearest superminis in the current market and it’s not as fun to drive as some of its similarly glamorous rivals. On the plus side, it still offers a nimble drive and aside from the most basic trim, there’s lots of kit including rear parking sensors, cruise control and Bluetooth.

    The DNA switch provided by Alfa Romeo allows the driver to switch between three different modes to suit different conditions and behaviours on the road. In terms of practicality and residual values, the Mito can compete with the best in the small car segment.

    While it’s far from the cheapest supermini, few will earn as many admiring glances as the Mito will.

    Suzuki Swift

    The Swift is one of the more affordable entries in the very competitive supermini segment.

    It’s not the most practical compared to today’s rivals, but the Swift holds up really well in driving dynamics. It is fun to drive, thanks to its sharp handling and responsive engine range. 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 car 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.

    It 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 often been maligned as an estate agent´s car - the implication being that it´s vulgar and rather ´new money´. 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 is a top car, but it comes at something of a premium.

    Interior quality is excellent, residuals will hold up well 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.

    Citroen DS3

    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 DS3 was the first to arrive from Citroen's upmarket, revived DS Line.

    The DS3 gets 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 DS3 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.

    Ford Fiesta – top pick

    Still going strong after 30 years, the Fiesta is the perennial supermini and one of the best small cars in this segment.

    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.

    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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