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Top 10 best small automatic cars 2024

A small car with an automatic gearbox is the perfect combination for around-town driving – here are the best we’ve tested

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The market for small automatic cars has never looked better. There are plenty of two-pedal models to choose from, with responsive gearboxes that don’t compromise fuel economy or performance. While automatic gearboxes of old tended to be sluggish and unrefined, many small cars today use the same slick systems found in much bigger and more expensive machinery. New small electric cars have plenty of appeal for auto-only drivers, too, with no gears to shift at all and a seamless driving experience.

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We’ve tested a range of small automatic cars across different budgets and body styles, and these are our 10 favourites. As well as considering the gearbox, we’ve taken into account the qualities that matter to small car buyers, including practicality, efficiency, the driving experience and value for money. Whether you’re physically unable to drive a manual car, you hold an automatic-only licence, or you just don’t want the added hassle of a clutch pedal, there’s a small automatic car on this list for you.

The best small automatic cars on sale

If you’re open to cars of all sizes, then read our list of the best automatic cars on sale today. Alternatively, if you’re after a small car but don’t mind shifting gears yourself, read our list of the 10 best small cars.

Renault Clio review - E-Tech hybrid takes on EV rivals

Renault Clio UK
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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There’s a reason why the Renault Clio is one of the most popular superminis in Europe. It’s always offered a well-judged blend of practicality, affordability and efficiency, and the latest model improves upon its forebears in practically every area. The E-Tech hybrid engine is a real standout, offering electric driving around town and a clever automatic gearbox.

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Inside, the Clio feels more upmarket than many of its competitors, thanks to premium materials, a simple but intuitive design and impressive technology. Only the E-Tech hybrid model is available with an automatic gearbox, but this is the one we recommend anyway. It delivers peppy performance and impressive fuel economy – Renault claims up to 67.3mpg is possible. Importantly, the automatic gearbox is excellent, working in tandem with the electric motors to deliver smooth shifts and feeling at home both in town and on the motorway. 

Skoda Fabia review - a great-value, practical supermini

Carbuyer best small car Skoda Fabia
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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The Skoda Fabia has long been an appealing alternative to the Volkswagen Polo for those who care more about saving cash than what badge is on the bonnet. However, the current model manages to maintain its lower price tag while matching the VW in many aspects. For the latest generation, Skoda increased the size of the Fabia; it now shares many of its parts with the Polo. This means the Skoda drives in a much more refined manner than before and has a cabin large enough even for small families.

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All Fabia trim levels can be optioned with an automatic gearbox and, while it's around £1,000 extra, we think it’s money well spent if you’d rather not row through the gears yourself. The ‘box itself is the Volkswagen Group’s tried-and-true DSG unit, using two clutches to swap cogs snappily. The majority of automatic Fabias use a 1.0-litre petrol engine that produces 108bhp; this should be able to manage around 50mpg. A more powerful 1.5-litre engine is also available in the Fabia Monte Carlo warm-hatch with around 148bhp, which is noticeably quicker off the line.

BYD Dolphin review - our favourite new car

carbuyer car of the year 2024
Carbuyer rating

4.3 out of 5

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BYD may lack the brand recognition of the previous two entries, but supermini shoppers would be wise to keep reading. The Chinese carmaker is a relative newcomer on our shores, but it's already impressed us with its first UK-spec model: the electric BYD Dolphin. We were so enamoured by the Dolphin’s tech, practicality and affordability, that we crowned it the Carbuyer Car of the Year 2024. Quite the debut.

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As the Dolphin is an electric car, it technically isn’t an automatic – it has no gearbox at all to speak of. With no need to change gears, the power delivery is smooth and seamless from the 210bhp front-mounted electric motor. It’s powered by a 60kWh battery which is good for up to 265 miles of range, while a cheaper model is on the way with less power and range. It will still pack a lengthy kit list, including a digital driver’s display, a 360-degree parking camera and a central 12.8-inch infotainment screen that rotates.

MINI hatchback review - smiles and style

2021 MINI hatchback driving
Carbuyer rating

4.1 out of 5

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If style is high on your list of supermini priorities, you’ll struggle to beat the MINI hatchback. Available as either a compact three-door or a more spacious five-door, the MINI backs up its retro charm with a playful driving experience and go-kart-like handling. They even hold their resale value remarkably well as an added bonus.

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Since 2023, the MINI hatchback has only been available with an automatic gearbox. While driving enthusiasts may lament the loss of the stick-shifting MINI, in reality, the dual-clutch gearbox suits the car’s sporty feel. It shifts through the seven gears smoothly and quickly, and neither fuel economy nor performance suffers when compared to the old six-speed manual.

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For the ultimate in smoothness, you can opt for the MINI Electric, which doesn’t need to shift gears at all. New versions of both petrol and electric MINIs are arriving soon, promising to deliver the same fun from behind the wheel but with fresh looks and tech.

Jeep Avenger review – a characterful and value-packed small SUV

Jeep Avenger petrol front 3/4
Carbuyer rating

4.2 out of 5

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The Jeep Avenger is a dinky SUV with bags of character. It’s neatly sized for our UK roads but has the added ride height to provide a clear view of the road ahead. It was initially only available as an EV, but petrol and mild-hybrid models have since joined the range. All are great to drive, reasonably priced and feature a comfy, well-equipped interior.

The petrol Avenger only comes with a six-speed manual gearbox so it’s out of this list, but the other two models are excellent choices for those with an auto-only licence. The electric Avenger is of course the smoothest, delivering that seamless acceleration typical of an EV. Up to 248 miles of range is possible (we managed about 220 miles during testing), while recharging speeds top out at 100kW.

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The electric Avenger is competitively priced, but it's the e-Hybrid model that offers the best value, coming in at nearly £10,000 less than the EV. Its electrical assistance is only small, but it helps out with driving around town, imperceptibly shuffling between petrol and electric power. The automatic gearbox is fairly responsive, too, adding to the comfortable and capable Avenger package.

Citroën C3 Aircross review - the most comfortable small SUV?

Citroen C3 Aircross front quarter dynamic
Carbuyer rating

4.1 out of 5

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One of the funkiest small SUVs you can buy, the Citroen C3 Aircross is also unusual in prioritising comfort over sportiness. If you choose the automatic gearbox and changing gear is another thing that’s taken care of, meaning it’s even more relaxing to drive than a manual version. The automatic is limited to the 109bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine, but its 10.7-second dash to 62mph and 44.8mpg economy figure are about average for a car of this type.

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Citroen’s small SUV also impresses with its practicality, its funky styling inside and out, and its array of safety features. Lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking are just some of the technology features available.

SEAT Arona SUV review

SEAT Arona SUV front 3/4 tracking
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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If you’re looking for something more substantial than a supermini but don’t want the associated costs of a larger car, the SEAT Arona is a solid compromise. Essentially a SEAT Ibiza in rugged, outdoor clothing, the Arona benefits from a more brutish design and a slightly higher driving position. Like other Volkswagen Group cars, the SEAT’s interior is fairly unexciting but feels well-finished and comes with plenty of standard equipment. We recommend opting for the mid-spec SE Technology model as this benefits from 17-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, rear parking sensors and a nine-inch touchscreen.

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Buyers looking for an automatic gearbox have two choices of engines. The smaller 1.0-litre petrol engine produces 108bhp and can return up to 47.8mpg. If you’re after a bit more punch, the larger 1.5-litre turbocharged unit produces 148bhp with only a slight deficit to fuel economy. Only available on high-spec FR Sport models, this engine can propel the Arona from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds.

Toyota Yaris review - a frugal hybrid supermini

Toyota Yaris Carbuyer drive
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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The latest Toyota Yaris is one of the shrewdest new car buys today thanks to its generous specification and frugal 1.5-litre hybrid engine. The new car’s exterior is just as stylish as the outgoing model and the interior is well-built and functional, if a tad dull. Entry-level cars come with plenty of standard kit such as 16-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera and a seven-inch central touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto functionality.

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All Yaris models are fitted with a CVT automatic transmission. While this type of gearbox is notorious for its lack of refinement, the Toyota’s unit accelerates smoothly and helps the car return an impressive 70mpg, meaning you’ll spend less time and money at the pumps. Alternatively, you can opt for the Mazda2 Hybrid which is essentially a new, rebadged Yaris. It returns marginally better MPG figures, but is more expensive to buy, so we’d recommend sticking with the Toyota.

Fiat 500 review - a fun and affordable EV city car

Fiat 500 electric
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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Fiat created nothing short of a phenomenon when it revived the Fiat 500 city car back in 2007 and this new version brings its iconic retro styling even further into the 21st century thanks to an all-electric powertrain. At a glance, the new car looks similar to the old, mild-hybrid 500; look closer and you’ll see the electric model is slightly larger and more rounded to aid aerodynamics. Just like before, the 500 is a doddle to drive and thanks to electric power, running costs remain low despite the new car’s higher starting price.

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Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences is the new 500’s interior which is of much higher quality than before. The level of technology has also seen a leap thanks to a large 10.25-inch central touchscreen - though entry-level ‘Action’ models have to make do with a mobile phone dock in omission of a proper screen. Another reason to upgrade from the base model is its 118-mile range, compared to the rest of the 500 lineup’s 200 miles.

Hyundai i20 review – a fun-to-drive supermini with lots of tech

Hyundai i20 facelift
Carbuyer rating

3.9 out of 5

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Take one look at the latest Hyundai i20’s unashamedly brash styling and you can see that this new car is a huge departure from the old model. Though there is plenty of cheap-feeling trim, the interior feels cutting-edge, thanks to the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster which is standard on all cars. Plus, despite its compact size, people over six feet can comfortably sit in the rear, though they may have to leave their luggage at home as the Hyundai’s boot measures just 262 litres.

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The i20’s direct steering and peppy 1.0-litre engines are perhaps more suited to an involving manual gearbox, however a slick DSG automatic transmission is also available. This offers very similar fuel economy to the manual (around 55mpg, thanks to mild-hybrid assistance) and only incurs a slight CO2 emission increase at 117g/km. 

What to consider when buying a small automatic car

The vast majority of new cars are now offered with an automatic gearbox – it’s no longer the preserve of high-end luxury cars. Automatic gearbox technology has greatly improved over the years, and given that electric cars are usually only available as automatics and are increasing in popularity, there’s now more choice for automatic drivers than ever before.

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In fact, there are very few cars on sale today that don’t offer the option of an automatic gearbox. Even small city cars can be specced with an automatic if you want. However, in our experience, these are difficult to recommend as they can be more expensive to buy, with slower acceleration while achieving slightly less miles-per-gallon and a higher CO2 emissions figure than their manual counterparts.

Stepping up to a slightly larger hatchback will get you a much more spacious car that’s still cheap to run and easy to park. In these types of cars, the automatic gearboxes are usually more refined with some offering a better driving experience than the manual variant.

Something you’ll need to consider is that there are different types of automatic gearboxes. Two of the most popular types are dual-clutch (often called DSG, S Tronic or Powershift by manufacturers) and CVT, which are often used in hybrid cars. We tend to prefer dual-clutch gearboxes to CVTs, as many CVTs are very noisy when you accelerate, leading to a lack of refinement. Our guide to whether you should choose a manual or an automatic has more information.

Electric cars can offer an ideal solution for those looking for a small automatic car. The majority of electric cars don’t use a traditional gearbox at all, so there are no gear changes to disrupt the power delivery. However, EVs aren’t for everyone, as you need adequate space for charging and a limited range can deter some buyers. The latter is most apparent in small cars, which don’t have the space to fit a large battery pack. That being said, if you mainly stick to around-town driving, a small electric car is worth considering.

Still unsure whether to switch to an automatic gearbox? Read our guide Manual or automatic gearbox - which is best? to help you make your decision.

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