Best small cars 2021

More people buy small hatchbacks than any other type of car, so here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the model to avoid...


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What Car? team

Best small cars

The small car market is one of the most fiercely contested, which is great news if you're after this sort of vehicle, because it means there are stacks of models to choose from and standards are incredibly high.

To have a chance of topping the class, a car must be as comfortable on the motorway as it is in the city. It must offer a decent amount of equipment, enough boot space for weekly shopping trips and an interior that's practical enough to cope with the demands of families. And it must, of course, be competitively priced.

In order to help you find the right small car, we've picked out our top 10 – and named the one you should avoid. And remember, if any of them take your fancy, you can potentially save thousands without any haggling by using our New Car Buying service.

10

Hyundai i10

The i10's compact dimensions and great visibility make it ideally suited to the city, yet it doesn’t feel out of its depth on faster roads, thanks to a 1.2-litre petrol engine that has enough oomph for stress-free journeys. Ride comfort is impressive at all speeds, too, even compared with many larger models. However, the i10 is quite price for such a small car.

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Pros

  • Comfortable and quiet to drive
  • Five seats and decent rear space
  • Loads of safety kit as standard

Cons

  • Pricey to buy outright
  • Non-turbocharged engines are a bit lacklustre
  • Pricey to insure
9

Skoda Fabia

This former What Car? Car of the Year will soon be replaced, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a place on your shortlist, because it's very well priced. We reckon the 1.0 TSI 95 engine and SE trim make the most sense considering the performance and equipment you get.

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Pros

  • Huge boot
  • Roomy interior with clever features
  • Fairly supple ride

Cons

  • Interior is hardly plush
  • Not as practical as the Honda Jazz
  • Bug-prone infotainment system
8

Toyota Yaris

Our True MPG test proves that the new Yaris hybrid has a remarkable ability to sip fuel gently; in town, it achieved 80mpg, which is almost double the economy of conventionally powered small hatchbacks. It should also be very reliable and hold its value well. Just bear in mind that the ride is quite firm and the rear seats cramped.

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Pros

  • Excellent real-world fuel economy
  • Toyota's reliability record
  • Slow predicted depreciation

Cons

  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Firm ride – especially on models with 17in alloys
  • Cramped in the back
7

Audi A1

Now in its second generation, the A1 offers an enjoyable driving experience and has room for two adults to sit comfortably in the back. There’s even a spacious boot, remedying one of the criticisms of the original model. However, while there are still some nice touches, the interior doesn’t feel significantly classier than the cheaper Volkswagen Polo's, which is why Audi's smallest car goes no higher on this list.

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Pros

  • Smooth ride and tidy handling
  • Relatively quiet at higher speeds
  • Very slow depreciation

Cons

  • Cheaper trims not well equipped
  • Mini feels much plusher inside
  • Peugeot 208 offers more for less money
6

Ford Fiesta

While plenty of small cars feel surprisingly grown-up, nothing puts a smile on your face like the Fiesta. It's particularly good in sporty ST-Line Edition trim, which brings stiffer springs to help the car stay more composed through corners, yet has barely any impact on ride comfort.

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Pros

  • Brilliant to drive
  • Punchy Ecoboost engines, especially the Hybrid versions
  • Good fuel economy and CO2 emissions

Cons

  • Some rivals are better value
  • Decent but not class-leading practicality
  • Important safety kit not standard
5

Seat Ibiza

The Ibiza is almost as enjoyable to drive as the Fiesta, plus it's more spacious and should hold its value better. Even the 94bhp version of the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine pulls eagerly from low revs.

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Pros

  • Great to drive
  • Remarkably spacious
  • Strong TSI petrol engines

Cons

  • Lots of road noise
  • Resale values could be better
  • Below-par reliability
4

Peugeot 208

If you are searching for a sharp-handling small car, there are better and cheaper alternatives – including the Fiesta and Ibiza. But if a rich interior, a comfortable ride, quiet cruising manners and decent interior space drive your purchasing decision, the 208 could well be the car for you.

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Pros

  • Very comfortable for a small car
  • Smart and high-quality interior
  • Punchy and frugal 1.2 Puretech 100 petrol engine

Cons

  • Quite an expensive cash buy
  • So-so infotainment system
  • Not much fun to drive
3

Dacia Sandero

The Sandero is comfortable, good to drive, well equipped and very spacious, so it would be well worth considering even if it cost the same as its rivals. Except it doesn’t; it’s the UK's cheapest new car. Just bear in mind that there are quieter and safer small cars if you're prepared to spend (quite a lot) more.

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Pros

  • Amazingly good value
  • Lots of space for passengers and luggage
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • Poor safety rating compared with rivals
  • Entry-level trim is very basic
  • There are quieter small cars
2

Volkswagen Polo

The latest Polo is available with a broad range of engines and trim levels, ensuring that there's something for everyone in the range. It also has a classy interior that's well equipped in our preferred SE trim. Previously, the Polo has lost out to the Ibiza because it couldn’t justify its additional expense, but impressive deals mean that's no longer an issue.

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Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Generous interior space
  • Quiet on the move

Cons

  • Ford Fiesta is more fun to drive
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
  • Standard safety kit could be better
1

Honda Jazz

The Jazz's space and seating flexibility puts other small cars to shame, but crucially it's not just a box on wheels; it’s brilliant even if you take practicality out of the equation. Its hybrid engine, for example, delivers strong performance and excellent real-world fuel economy.

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Pros

  • Very spacious with great seating flexibility
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Slow depreciation

Cons

  • Pricey by small car standards
  • Not the quietest cruiser
  • Disappointing infotainment system

And the small car to avoid...

MG 3

It's not that the MG 3 has nothing going for it; it handles pretty well and is keenly priced. However, its sluggish engine and low Euro NCAP safety rating ultimately leave it well off the pace. Read our review