Best small cars 2024 plus the ones to avoid – tried & tested

More people buy small hatchbacks than any other type of car. However, there are an awful lot to choose from, so here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the models to avoid...

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by
Steve Huntingford
Published13 March 2024

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.

To have a chance of topping the class, a small car – also known as a supermini – must be as comfortable at speed on the motorway as it is in the city, as well as being easy to weave around tight urban roads. It must have 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 and cheap to run.

Our road testers have spent countless hours evaluating every small car on the market. That means we're able to give you the definitive, trusted and authoritative list of the best small cars on sale today. After all that testing, we have concluded that the Renault Clio is the best small car you can buy. To find out why, and which version we recommend, read on. 

Best small cars 2024

We've also named nine other small cars which are well worth looking at, as well as the small cars you should avoid. If anything takes your fancy, just click on the relevant links to read more about it or see the latest and best small car deals.


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Our pick: 1.0 TCe 90 Techno 5dr

0-62mph: 12.2 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 284 litres
Insurance group: 11E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Smart interior is packed with equipment
  • Good ride and handling balance
  • Practical boot

Weaknesses

  • Tight for taller adults in the rear seats
  • Slightly firm low-speed ride
  • High boot loading lip

The latest Renault Clio is a fantastic all-rounder, offering the kind of space, comfort and convenience which you’d normally expect to pay top dollar for. Yet the Clio actually undercuts most of its rivals on price – including our former favourite in this class, the Honda Jazz.

You can fit more into the Clio’s boot than you can into that of the rival Skoda Fabia. And while the Fabia is slightly quicker, the Clio’s more responsive steering and tighter body control makes it the more enjoyable car to drive.

Despite this, ride comfort is good. Plus, the interior is smartly finished, with a portrait-oriented infotainment screen that looks great and is quick to respond to inputs.

For those reasons, the Renault Clio is our reigning Small Car of the Year.

“I found the physical switches below the touchscreen and to the right of the steering column (for functions such as deactivating the lane-keeping assistance) much easier to operate than touch-sensitive equivalents.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Renault Clio review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Spacious interior with flexible rear seats
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Very pricey by small car standards
  • Not the quietest cruiser
  • Some rivals are more fun

The Jazz's space and seating flexibility – including rear seat bases that flip up like those in a cinema – 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. Meanwhile, a soothing ride and generous luxury and safety equipment add further to its appeal.

Only a steep purchase price stops it topping this list, although slow depreciation partially makes up for this and also ensures PCP finance rates are competitive.

“The Jazz’s three-knob air-con set-up is easy to adjust on the move and large cut-outs in its windscreen pillars mean you have a great view out when tackling roundabouts and junctions. I found the Jazz exceptionally easy to live with.” – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our in-depth Honda Jazz review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI SE Comfort 5dr

0-62mph: 10.7 sec
MPG/range: 55.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 115g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 380 litres
Insurance group: 11E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Renault Clio has a smarter interior
  • Not as practical as the Honda Jazz
  • Entry-level engine only suited to town driving

While it's not the cheapest new car you can buy, the latest Skoda Fabia is still very well priced, undercutting most rivals – including the closely related Volkswagen Polo.

True, the interior of the Fabia is a bit drab, but there's excellent space for both passengers and luggage; only the Honda Jazz is significantly more practical.

It's also worth noting that the Fabia is more comfortable and a lot safer than the Dacia Sandero; the independent experts at Euro NCAP awarded it five stars out of five, whereas the Sandero managed just two stars.

“Boot space is impressive, although I think it’s a bit of a shame the Fabia misses out on the Clio’s height-adjustable floor.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Skoda Fabia review

Our pick: 1.0 VVT-i Edge 5dr

0-62mph: 14.9 sec
MPG/range: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 226 litres
Insurance group: 6A
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Cheap to run
  • Good level of safety kit
  • Warranty of up to 10 years

Weaknesses

  • Cramped in the back
  • Smaller boot than rivals
  • Lacklustre performance

Like the Suzuki Ignis, the Toyota Aygo X combines rugged SUV looks with city-friendly dimensions, but it's a far more rounded car.

A tight turning circle makes low-speed manoeuvres easy, plus the Aygo X handles neatly on faster roads, thanks to taut body control and well weighted steering.

Throw in low running costs and a long list of standard safety kit, and there's a lot to like. Just bear in mind that it's cramped in the back seats and the boot is small.

“The driver's seat in the Aygo X is supportive, but I found I had to stretch slightly to reach the steering wheel due to the lack of reach adjustment.” – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our in-depth Toyota Aygo X review

Our pick: 1.0 Tce Bi-Fuel Expression 5dr

0-62mph: 11.6 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 109g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 328 litres
Insurance group: 14E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Poor safety rating compared with rivals
  • There are more entertaining small cars to drive
  • Some other small cars are quieter

The Dacia Sandero offers a supple ride, comes generously equipped (at least in our recommended Comfort trim) and is very spacious.

Add in the fact that the TCe 90 and TCe 100 Bi-Fuel engines are both great, and the Sandero would be well worth considering even if it cost the same as its rivals. Except it doesn’t; the Sandero is one of the UK's cheapest new cars.

Just bear in mind that there are quieter and safer small hatchbacks if you're prepared to spend more, including the Skoda Fabia which appears above the Sandero in this list, as well as the more frugal Toyota Yaris.

“If you plan to carry adults or tall children in the rear seats, they’ll be happy in the Sandero. I managed to load six carry-on suitcases in the boot, too, which is a square shape and easy to pack.” – Stuart Milne, Digital Editor

Read our in-depth Dacia Sandero review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI Life 5dr

0-62mph: 10.8 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 118g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 351 litres
Insurance group: 9E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Good to drive
  • Generous interior space
  • Attractive PCP finance deals

Weaknesses

  • Fiddly touch-sensitive controls
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
  • Reliability could be better

Volkswagen's latest Polo is available with a broad range of engines and trim levels, ensuring that there's something for almost everyone in the line-up.

It also has a classy interior that's well equipped even in entry-level Life trim. And few small cars are as good at soaking up bumps in the road or do a better job of suppressing wind and road noise on the motorway.

Previously, the Polo has lost out to the rival Seat Ibiza because it couldn’t justify its additional expense, but the impressive deals and monthly finance rates that are often available mean that's no longer an issue. Then again, the Ibiza is still more fun to drive.

"I found rear leg room almost as plentiful as in the Honda Jazz, although there’s less head room and a big hump in the floor for the middle passenger to straddle. The front seat slides back a long way to accommodate long-legged drivers.” – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor

Read our in-depth Volkswagen Polo review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Steering wheel design can cause issues
  • So-so infotainment system
  • Rivals are more fun to drive

If you are searching for a sharp-handling small car, there are better and cheaper alternatives out there than the Peugeot 208 – including the Seat Ibiza which we’ve already mentioned.

On the other hand, if a comfortable ride and quiet cruising manners drive your purchasing decision, the 208 could well be the model for you. And similarly, if you value a rich interior that offers decent interior space, it won’t disappoint.

As a bonus, the 1.2 Puretech 100 petrol engine provides punchy performance and is impressively economical.

“You’re supposed to view the instruments over (rather than through) the small steering wheel but some drivers will have to set the wheel or seat at an awkward height to see them, which obviously isn't ideal.” – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Read our in-depth Peugeot 208 review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI 95 FR 5dr

0-62mph: 11 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 355 litres
Insurance group: 12E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Roomy by class standards
  • Strong TSI petrol engines

Weaknesses

  • Lots of road noise
  • Resale values could be better
  • Firm ride in FR versions

With the Ford Fiesta now off sale, the Seat Ibiza takes up the mantle as the most engaging small car to drive. Key to that is its steering; it starts off light to suit town driving, before progressively weighting up and providing impressive feedback as your speed builds.

At the same time, the Ibiza is more spacious than many rivals – particularly in the rear seats – and it holds its value better, meaning it will cost you less in the long run.

You do have to put up with quite a lot of road noise, though, and FR versions have a firm ride.

“I was able to stretch out in the Ibiza, because it has more leg room than the Fabia and Polo. All three have similarly shaped boots, but the Ibiza is the only one not available with a height-adjustable boot floor.” – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our in-depth Seat Ibiza review

Our pick: 30 TFSI 110 Sport 5dr

0-62mph: 10.5 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 335 litres
Insurance group: 18E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

Now in its second generation, Audi's smallest car combines a smooth and well controlled ride with reassuring handling. Plus, it does a fine job of delivering peace and quiet, even at motorway speeds.

It’s also roomy enough for two adults to sit comfortably in the back. And there’s even a spacious boot, remedying one of the criticisms of the first-generation Audi A1.

However, while there are some nice touches, the interior doesn’t feel significantly classier than the cheaper and closely related Volkswagen Polo's, which is why the A1 goes no higher on this list.

“I found the A1’s 8.8in touchscreen more distracting to use than the rotary controller fitted to older models. Smartphone mirroring is standard, but for built-in sat-nav you need the optional Technology Pack, which includes a bigger 10.1in display.” – George Hill, Staff Writer

Read our in-depth Audi A1 review

Our pick: 1.5 Hybrid Design 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 68.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 91g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 286 litres
Insurance group: 14E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride, especially on higher-spec models with bigger wheels
  • Poor rear passenger space
  • So-so interior quality

Our Real MPG fuel economy test proves that the Toyota Yaris hybrid has a remarkable ability to sip petrol gently; in town, it achieved 80mpg, which is almost double the economy of conventionally powered small hatchbacks.

It should be very reliable, too, because Toyota consistently performs brilliantly in the annual What Car? Reliability Survey. Meanwhile, resale values are among the best in the small car class.

You do pay for the agile handling with a ride that’s quite firm, though – the Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo are both more comfortable. Plus, the rear seats are cramped and the infotainment system is a bit dated.

“The Yaris has the longest warranty of any car on our list. As long as you have yours serviced annually by Toyota, the cover will last for 10 years or 100,000 miles.” – Claire Evans, Consumer Editor

Read our in-depth Toyota Yaris review


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And the small cars to avoid...

Citroën C3

With its funky looks inside and out, the C3 does a great job of turning heads. Unfortunately, it's poor to drive and not very practical, so any number of rivals are more recommendable on an objective level. Read our review

FAQs

Which small car offers the best value for money?

Value means different things to different people, but to us a small car majoring in value must be deceptively spacious, frugal and good to drive – and can't cost a lot to buy. When all those attributes are considered, we think the best value small car is the Renault Clio

The latest Clio is more spacious than some small car rivals and, crucially, costs less than most of them to buy too. Indeed, that value is what led the Clio to be crowned as our Small Car of the Year at the most recent What Car? Car of the Year Awards.

What is the most reliable small car?

Every year, our Reliability Survey collects the real-world experiences of car owners to reveal which models are faultless – and which are nothing but trouble. Our most recent data suggests that the most reliable small car is the Suzuki Swift, which recorded a reliability rating of 99.5% – meaning hardly any owners had trouble with their cars over the previous year.

What is the best used small car?

We think the Honda Jazz is the best small car to buy used. Not only will it be cheap to run, thanks to its hybrid setup, but data from our Reliability Survey is encouraging. Even though you could bag a used Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza or Toyota Yaris for similar money, the Jazz's is our go-to choice for used buyers and our reigning Used Hatchback of the Year.

What is the cheapest small car?

The Kia Picanto is the UK's cheapest small car – and that's before you factor in our Target Price savings, which can make it even cheaper. Despite its bargain price, there's a lot to like about the Picanto, from its tidy handling to its frugal 1.0-litre petrol engine and excellent infotainment system on our recommended '3' models. However, being engineered to a price that's even less than that of the Dacia Sandero means a couple of compromises – the Picano is pretty cramped inside and its ride is firm.