Best reliable small cars
Sometimes a small, reliable new car is all you want. Here are the 10 most dependable runabouts you can buy.
Car buyers value reliability above just about anything else. Whether you’re buying a large SUV, an executive car or a small family runabout, it’s crucial that the car is reliable. And yet, knowing which cars are likely to prove reliable isn’t always easy. Fortunately, we’re here to help with the definitive verdict on the UK’s most reliable small cars from the people who actually own them - the respondents in our 2020 Driver Power survey.
Buying a brand new car is still a hugely popular option for UK motorists for numerous reasons. Choosing a new car means you can tailor it to your requirements, selecting the engine, trim level, colour and options.
For most new car buyers, however, one of the biggest reasons for deciding to buy a brand new car is reliability. A new car comes fresh from the factory with only delivery mileage, so you know there are no nasty surprises lurking in its history. And of course, if you are unlucky enough to have an issue with a new car, you have the peace of mind that you can fall back on the manufacturer’s warranty.
Of course, not all new cars give you the same level of reliability, which is partly why we run the annual Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of UK motorists. The Driver Power results give us a unique insight into how the cars from various manufacturers perform from an ownership perspective. We don’t just ask about basic reliability either, some of the other factors we cover in the survey include build quality, in-car tech, and dealership customer service.
Read on for the top 10 best reliable small cars across the supermini, city car and small SUV categories according to British motorists just like you. This list is based on the most recent 2020 Driver Power survey, which ranked 75 models on reliability from best to worst. The small cars in this list should offer years of dependability, as well as being affordable and enjoyable to own…
The Volvo XC40 is offered with petrol, plug-in hybrid and pure electric powertrains and is easy to recommend thanks to its impressive performance in a number of areas. Not only does it make our number one spot in the best small car list but it’s also the most reliable SUV for 2020. Driver Power survey respondents were clearly very happy with the reliability of the XC40 because it was awarded a score of 98%. Of the 16% of owners that reported problems in the first year of ownership, many reported electrical issues, which are likely to have been relatively minor. The XC40 also triumphed in the safety and build quality categories, helping it to finish 14th overall in our top 75 chart.
The outgoing Yaris may be one of the oldest cars in Toyota’s range but the Yaris climbed from third to runner up in the best small reliable car list, which is largely due to its excellent 96% reliability score. The Yaris’ overall 43rd place position in our top 75 cars chart is an improvement of 16 places on the previous year. An impressively low 5.7% of faults were reported and owners also highly rate the running costs. The criticisms for practicality, lack of storage space inside, lack of flexible seating and child-friendly features should be rectified with the new model.
SEAT’s first small SUV is up six places in this list, largely due to its impressive 95.9% reliability score. The Arona also came in 22nd position out of 75 cars in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Around 12% of owners reported a problem in the first year of ownership. Elsewhere, the Arona impresses with a well designed and well equipped interior - the sat nav and phone connectivity come in for praise - even if some plusher materials would be appreciated.
It might not be the last word in practicality, but the Kia Picanto is the only city car on this list. Owners like the styling, say it's good to drive, inexpensive to run and well built. It’s also very reliable according to our survey: just 11.1% of owners we asked reported a problem with their cars, with the Picanto finishing 29th place in the reliability category - exactly the same position it came last year. Overall it had a mightily impressive 94.9% reliability score.
The Hyundai Kona ranks 60th in our top 75 overall score and received criticism from owners about noisy engines and styling. However it scores well for safety, running costs, build quality and has impressive reliability. However, the Kona deserves its fifth position in our best reliable small car list because of its incredibly low reported fault rate of 4.5%. Its reliability score was 94.75%, which should make for comfortable reading if you are considering owning a Kona.
The Lexus UX is another small SUV to feature, and one of the newest cars on our list, joining Lexus’s range in 2019. Owners criticise the UX for practicality, rear legroom and infotainment. However, all other areas including styling, front seat comfort, drivetrain and reliability all rate highly. In fact, reliability got a score of 94.73%, with just 11.9% of owners reporting an issue, some of which related to battery and parking sensor glitches.
The Kia Rio is the South Korean manufacturer’s answer to the Ford Fiesta, a car which it beat hands-down in both the reliability category and our main survey. The Rio finished first in the most reliable small cars list in 2019, however sixth place is not a disappointing result. This is especially the case when you consider its overall ranking of 23rd in the 2020 Driver Power survey. Besides excellent reliability and quality, owners were happy with most areas of the Kia Rio, bar the rather bland driving experience. Just 12.8% of owners reported a fault with their Rio, and an overall reliability percentage of 94.47% is impressive too.
The Niro is one of six cars from the Far East to feature in our best reliable small car list and one of four from Kia. Overall, the Niro finished fourth out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey - the highest-placed car on this list. Drivers love almost everything about the Niro including the driving experience. It scores particularly well in the running costs category, which is partly due to its three electrified drivetrains; hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. It scored an overall reliability score of 94.45% and just 11.1% of owners had faults with their Niro in the first year, many of which were minor electrical niggles.
The outgoing Jazz continues to demonstrate Honda’s impeccable reputation for reliability, even if the larger Civic hasn’t managed to perform as well in the Driver Power survey as expected. Owners tell us that they don’t like the Jazz’s engines, handling or infotainment setup much but they love the practicality, running costs and reliability. A very low 8.6% of owners reported an issue with their cars in the first year, and the Jazz finished 26th out of 75 cars in the reliability and build quality category in 2020. A reliability score of 94.43% shows it’s a dependable car and the mediocre 57th place position in the overall top 75 is mainly down to the way it drives.
It’s yet another Kia to finish off our list for 2020. This time, it’s Kia’s smallest SUV, the Stonic. In 2020, it can’t repeat its success inside our top 20 out of 75 cars overall, but 29th place is still respectable and all the small Kias in this list finish within the top 30. Its reliability certainly pleases owners; 14.5% told us that they’d had a problem in the first year, and the Stonic ended up with a reliability score of 94.4% overall. Buyers also liked the styling, low running costs and infotainment system, although the Stonic was slightly held back by boot space and ride quality complaints.