Top 10 best city cars 2021
If you’re after low-cost motoring, check out our list of the 10 best city cars on sale today
In the past, buying a ‘city car’ actually meant buying a slightly flimsy-feeling car that was only suitable for driving around town, but these days they can easily cope with longer journeys too. Most of them have become small but competent all-rounders.
City cars are smaller than superminis and are built to a certain length, width and height. If you were to park a Kia Picanto and a Toyota Aygo next to each other, you would struggle to decide which was the biggest because sizes vary so little across the class. This is to ensure they are ideally suited to city streets and are able to slot in the smallest of spaces. All city cars tend to return excellent fuel economy because they aren’t very heavy and use small, modern engines.
City cars are great for drivers who don’t need a lot of interior space and because of their low running costs, they make great first cars for new drivers, as well as for those who are downsizing from larger cars. Not only that, they tend to be cheap to buy, economical and surprisingly well-equipped. It’s not uncommon to find city cars in the current crop that have Bluetooth, sat nav and air-conditioning - some even have features you’d normally associate with much more expensive cars, like cruise control, heated seats and reversing cameras.
There’s another great city-car virtue that everybody can enjoy, and that’s the way they drive. Ever since the launch of the original Mini in 1959, tiny cars with ‘a wheel in each corner’ have been dear to the hearts of keen drivers everywhere. With limited power from their small engines, city cars may not be fast, but their light weight and uncomplicated nature can make them a hoot to drive on twisty roads. It seems a shame to keep them cooped up in the city.
Fortunately, the very best are able to spend the morning making your life easy as you nip through city traffic, before being loaded with luggage and escaping to the country in the afternoon. They may not be as luxurious, fast or spacious as a larger car, but a good city car can still make a willing steed for any journey you ask of it.
The best city cars are well built, well equipped, well priced and a pleasure to drive. And if you feel you need a car with a little more space, you’ll find something to suit in our top 10 run-downs of the best superminis, best small SUVs and best family hatchbacks.
Read on for our list of the 10 best city cars.
The Volkswagen up! is mechanically identical to the SEAT Mii (and the now-discontinued Skoda Citigo) but while the Mii is now only available as an electric car, the VW offers a choice of petrol or electric. You’ll find the e-up! is a little more expensive than the Citigo e iV and Mii electric; that’s because it’s touted as the ‘premium’ member of the trio, and backs this up with a tastefully classy variation on the same body as the others, with attractive colours and fabrics on the inside. If you’re after a petrol car, there’s a choice of 64bhp and 113bhp 1.0-litre engines (the latter reserved for the up! GTI mini hot hatch).
The range extends from simply equipped to bells-and-whistles, depending on how much you want to spend and how you’ll use the car, but every up! is a good-looking, useful city car. There’s also a range of trim levels, including a new R-Line model with sporty looks, or the up! Beats, which includes a seven-speaker 300-watt Beats stereo.
The latest Kia Picanto ticks many of the boxes for the would-be city car buyer. It looks good inside and out, there's plenty of scope for customisation and it features plenty of tech - including must-have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The five-door-only Picanto is practical too, with space - just - for four adults and a decent-sized boot. The basic 66bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is nippy enough for round-town driving, but if you venture onto motorways frequently it's worth considering the 99bhp version which is a little more relaxed at a cruise.
As multi-talented as the Picanto is, it's Kia's unrivalled warranty that really seals the deal. It'll last for seven years, and if you buy an approved used model that's less than 18 months old, Kia will top up the warranty so it could last until the car is eight and a half years old.
The third-generation Hyundai i10 is hard to beat, as not only is it an impressive car but it also makes good financial sense. You can buy it for under £13,000, it’s economical (managing around 50mpg), costs very little to insure and is covered by a five-year warranty with unlimited mileage. It’s also comfortable and spacious, with five seatbelts; some cars in this class only offer seating for four. The boot is among the best of any city car, and the i10 looks stylish both inside and out. It’s even quite good fun to drive.
The i10 has previously been a winner of our car of the year award, and we’re even more impressed with the latest generation. Even the entry-level i10 SE is well appointed, and Premium versions even have a heated steering wheel. Every version includes modern essentials such as remote central locking, all-round electric windows, cruise control and air-conditioning.
The Fiat 500 is iconic, with chic styling and the heritage of the original 500. This is the new third-generation model, and it’s all changed under the stubby bonnet. Like more and more city cars, the new 500 is only available with electric power (although Fiat will still sell the ‘old’ mild-hybrid 500 for the next couple of years). Initial models are expensive to buy but cheaper versions are now available, while the 199-mile range shows you can have chic looks and a decent battery.
The interior is still an appealing place to spend time, and Fiat has stuffed it full of brand-new tech, headlined by the UConnect 5 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Style does come above practicality - the 500 doesn’t have much space in the rear seats or the boot - but most buyers won’t mind that.
Like the Citigo, you can now only buy a new SEAT Mii as an electric car, but the standard Mii is still available as a used car. Much of the information about the Citigo and up! also applies to the SEAT Mii, but this member of the VW Group city car trio trades the earnest, reliable image of the Skoda for a slightly sportier demeanour. Different styling doesn’t mean any of the Citigo’s virtues are lost, though. Build quality is still very good and the square-bodied practicality is unaffected.
A battery and electric motor provide the power, and it’s worth noting that none of these electric cars will hit the maximum quoted range in cold conditions. You’ll also need to remember that the Mii, Citigo and up! are four-seaters only, but there’s a dizzying array of stylish trim levels to choose from, so there’s bound to be a model that appeals to your taste as well as your wallet. There’s only one version of the electric model but it features air-conditioning, a digital radio, lane-departure warning and an app that lets you set the cabin temperature before you get in the car.
Another electric city car, the new Honda e combines beautiful retro styling with a dizzyingly hi-tech interior, which sees screens stretch from door-to-door. Even the wing mirrors have been replaced with cameras, while the twin touch screens offering games console compatibility and an ‘aquarium’ mode. With nippy acceleration and an extremely tight turning circle, the Honda e is fun in and out of the city.
It’s a really desirable car but you do pay for that - the Honda is a similar price to some bigger electric cars, and it’s easily the costliest car on this list. The range is a little lower than the Citigo, at up to 137 miles, and the boot is quite small. A full charge from a home wallbox takes just four hours, though, and all cars get lots of equipment including heated seats, a reversing camera and a sunroof.
The Volkswagen up! GTI is almost without any direct rivals. There’s the Abarth 595, which is more powerful but less practical, while the equally fast Suzuki Swift Sport is bigger and much more expensive. You might not think a 113bhp engine is enough for something that’s considered a mini hot hatch, but it has 5bhp more than the original Golf GTI and is a similar size.
Rather than outright acceleration, it excels at putting a smile on your face in corners. Like the regular up!, it’s surprisingly practical for its size, and comes with quite a long equipment list - even if your phone has to take the place of an actual infotainment system. The up! GTI actually offers very few compromises - it’ll even do around 50mpg.
The Toyota Aygo is part of another group of city car triplets. The Toyota actually has rather more of its own identity, with clever styling differences culminating in a distinctive ‘X’ motif on the nose that you’ll either love or hate. Many love it, though, and there’s no denying that it stands out from the crowd – a virtue that can be built on with endless scope for personalisation offered by the accessories and options list.
The Aygo has a more limited engine range than its sisters, with only the 71bhp 1.0-litre available, so some rivals are nippier and happier on motorways. Toyota’s five-year warranty and good reliability record also count strongly in the Aygo’s favour. All models come with LED running lights and remote central locking, plus air-conditioning and a DAB radio after Toyota slimmed the range. Watch out for higher trims and the options list, though: it’s quite easy to make what should be a small, cheap car into a small, expensive one.
The Peugeot 108 is another member of the sisterly trio, which also includes the Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo. They have a lot in common under the surface and your choice may well be based on style as much as anything else. The 108 is available with three or five doors and trim levels ranging from the bare essentials to the full monty, with air-conditioning, alloy wheels and sat nav available higher up the range.
Peugeot has simplified the 108’s engine range, meaning there’s just one 72bhp 1.0-litre engine, which is linked to a five-speed manual gearbox. There is no electric alternative, however, which some of its closest rivals do offer. The optional retractable fabric roof will be appealing to some buyers, and the addition of this can be identified by the Top! moniker.
With a similar starting price to the Peugeot 108, the virtually identical Citroen C1 is near-impossible to split from its Peugeot relation – it comes more or less down to brand preference. We slightly prefer the styling of the Peugeot, but otherwise it’s too close to call. Both are cheap to run, offering fuel economy that doesn’t dip below 50mpg on any model.
All offer a wide range of personalisation options to help you put your own stamp on the car, and all offer the option of a fold-back fabric roof for fresh-air fun. Like the Peugeot and Toyota, the Citroen is slightly hamstrung by its limited boot space, but the rear seats fold to let you lug larger loads. As with the 108, the C1’s automatic gearbox was discontinued in 2020, meaning all models come with a manual five-speed gearbox.
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