Best small cars and superminis

Last updated: Jun 25, 2014

The latest small cars offer many of the attributes of larger models, but with dimensions that make them easier to drive and manoeuvre in tight spaces. Good looks are just as important as they are to any other models, especially if they are going to appeal to younger customers that tend to buy small cars. For the same reason, running costs are also important, so to get on this list a car needs to be cheap to buy and cheap to run.

 

In our opinion, no model matches the brief better than the Ford Fiesta – which is consistently the UK's bestseller – it's always had nice styling, but the addition of an imposing chrome grille means it looks even better, while the inside matches the outside.

It does what most Fords do by managing to combine fun handling with comfortable suspension.  If you don’t like the Fiesta, though, there are plenty of other models to choose from, so keep reading for the Carbuyer top 10 guide to small cars.

Ford Fiesta hatchback

The Ford Fiesta looks great inside and out, while it’s cheap to run, but also fun to drive, which is why it took our Best Small Car award in 2013. As with all modern small cars, the Fiesta has grown up significantly to become quiet enough for long motorway journeys and, if you’re willing to spend money, it can also be specced to come with lots of equipment. Ford’s MyKey system also means you can set the top speed of the car, when used with a particular key, so that kids can’t break the speed limit. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£9,995 - £17,995

Skoda Fabia hatchback

The Skoda Fabia shares many of its parts with the Volkswagen Polo, but costs less to buy. It’s smart looking inside and out, although the car doesn’t have the quite the same level of interior finish as the Polo. The choice of engines is good, so prospective buyers can choose between a range of frugal petrols and diesels or even the fast vRS model. Counting against the Fabia, when compared to the Fiesta, is its more conservative styling and a driving experience that isn’t as fun. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5
Price 
£8,995 - £15,700

Kia Rio hatchback

The Kia Rio has chunky good looks and is comfortable to drive. It comes with Kia’s excellent seven-year warranty, which makes it the pick of all the cars here if you want guaranteed reliable transport. The Kia has plenty of other merits though, including an extremely economical diesel variant, which is exempt from paying road tax. Most models come well equipped and all have a well-built and stylish interior. Like the Fabia, the Kia falls short by not offering the same fun-driving experience that you get in the Ford. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£10,095 - £16,695

Volkswagen Polo hatchback

The Volkswagen Polo looks and feels like a quality product. It is also one of the more expensive cars here, but should have some of the strongest second-hand values. The BlueMotion model will be extremely cheap to run, but it only really makes sense if you cover a lot of miles. Handling errs on the side of comfort and the VW isn’t as much fun to drive as a Fiesta. Meanwhile, while you can spec all the equipment you want on the Polo its price will quickly soar as a result. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£11,100 - £19,715

MINI hatchback

The MINI has just been replaced and has brought with it a range of excellent new engines and lots of customisable options. Even the very quick MINI Cooper S can manage close to 50mpg, but the standard MINI Cooper is still quick and is cheaper to buy and run. If anything, the MINI is even better to drive than the Fiesta, but it loses points in other areas. Price is one of them and the MINI is one of the more expensive cars here. It’s also one of the less practical models thanks to its tight back seats and small boot. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£13,750 - £21,070

SEAT Ibiza hatchback

The SEAT Ibiza, Volkswagen Polo, and Skoda Fabia all share the same parts to build slightly different cars. The SEAT Ibizia is the sportiest model of the trio, but also gets the build quality of the other two, even if it doesn’t have the extra classy touches of the Polo. The choice of engines on offer is good, and the 1.2-litre petrol in particular combines frisky performance with decent economy. It finishes behind the Skoda Fabia, because it can’t match its value, while the Polo feels nicer built. Read more.

Key points

4.0 / 5
Price 
£11,410 - £17,635

Renault Clio hatchback

The new Renault Clio has clever styling that makes it look like a three-door car, but all models actually have five doors. That makes it practical for families, and the car also has a range of new engines that mean it is cheap to run. The car is larger than the old model, and the Clio has a bigger boot than both the Fiesta and the Peugeot 208. It feels like a bigger car to drive, too, by being more comfortable and quieter inside. Sadly, that also means it has lost some of the fun handling of the outgoing model. Read more.

Key points

3.9 / 5
Price 
£10,795 - £17,595

Hyundai i20 hatchback

The Hyundai i20 was developed with the Kia Rio, but it finds itself placed below the Kia because it can’t match that car’s European looks or excellent seven-year warranty. The Hyundai’s five-year warranty is still much better than many of the cars here, and the Hyundai also comes well equipped. Some models can look a bit pricy though, and the Hyundai lacks the prestige badge of cars such as the VW, and isn’t as fun to drive as either the MINI or the Fiesta. We also found its seats can be uncomfortable on a long journey. Read more.

Key points

3.9 / 5
Price 
£10,180 - £13,680

Suzuki Swift hatchback

The Suzuki Swift offers an interesting alternative to the more established models here. It’s fun to drive and good to look at, but it’s starting to show its age inside where parts of the dashboard look dated and are constructed from hard, cheap plastics. The Suzuki offers decent levels of spec for the money, but other elements annoy, such as the small boot and the car’s noisy interior at motorway speeds. All models are cheap to run, though, and the nippy Suzuki Swift Sport is lots of fun on twisting country roads thanks to its firm suspension and willing engine. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£10,799 - £16,439

Peugeot 208 hatchback

Peugeot has always been good at building small cars and the Peugeot 208 represents its latest attempt. It has stylish looks and is actually smaller than the car it replaces, but a more spacious interior means that two adults should be able to get comfy in the back. The dashboard is frustrating though, because the steering wheel obscures the dials. The 208 can be had with a range of engines including an economical diesel and the 1.6-litre turbo petrol in the Peugeot 208 GTI. But the best of the bunch is the 1.2-litre petrol that manages to be both usefully quick and cheap to run. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£9,995 - £18,545

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