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
Published21 January 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 and standards are generally high.

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.

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, you’ll need to keep reading. 

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.

Our pick: 1.0 TCe 90 Techno 5dr

0-62mph: 12.2 sec
MPG/range: 53.3mpg
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 the rival Skoda Fabia, and while the Fabia is slightly quicker, the Clio’s more responsive steering and tighter body control makes it the better car to drive.

The Clio will impress your passengers, too, because its portrait-oriented infotainment screen looks great as the centrepiece of the dashboard, and it’s quick to respond to your inputs.

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

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 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. And slow depreciation makes up for fairly punchy list prices, while also ensuring PCP finance rates are competitive.

A soothing ride and generous luxury and safety equipment add further to its appeal. Plus, it offers the best driving position and visibility of any car in this class. In fact, the Jazz is the best all-rounder in the class full stop.

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

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

While it's not the cheapest new car you can buy, the latest Skoda Fabia is still pretty well priced, undercutting the starting prices of most other rivals – including the premium-basdged Volkswagen Polo.

The Fabia offers excellent space inside for both passengers and luggage, plus it’s more comfortable and a lot safer than the rival Dacia Sandero – the independent experts at Euro NCAP awarded it five stars out of five, whereas the Sandero managed just two stars.

If you can afford it, then, the Fabia is worth the extra money.

Read our in-depth Skoda Fabia 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; it’s the UK's cheapest new car.

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.

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

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

The latest Volkswagen Polo is available with a broad range of engines and trim levels, ensuring that there's something for 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 impressive deals and monthly finance rates mean that's no longer an issue.

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
  • Not much 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 doesn’t drink that much fuel.

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 big-selling Ford Fiesta soon to go 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 the Fiesta – particularly in the rear seats – and it holds its value better, meaning it will cost you less in the long run.

Even the 94bhp version of the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine pulls eagerly from low revs, so we wouldn't bother spending the extra needed to upgrade to the 109bhp unit.

Read our in-depth Seat Ibiza review

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium 5dr

0-62mph: 10.8 sec
MPG/range: 51.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 13E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Brilliant to drive
  • Punchy Ecoboost engines
  • Good fuel economy and CO2 emissions

Weaknesses

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

While plenty of small cars feel surprisingly grown-up, nothing puts a smile on your face like the Fiesta. It's as fun to drive as some sports cars, with precise steering and sharp handling, yet the ride is still comfortable.

Ford offers a broad range of trim levels, too, to cater for many tastes and budgets – everything from the entry-level Trend to the SUV-inspired Active and the luxuriously appointed Vignale.

It's a shame key safety kit costs extra. However, the biggest disappointment is that Ford is about to end production of the Fiesta, so if you want one you'll have to get in quick.

Read our in-depth Ford Fiesta 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: 17E
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.

Read our in-depth Audi A1 review

Our pick: 1.5 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 68.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 92g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 286 litres
Insurance group: 13E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Firm ride – especially on higher-spec models with bigger wheels
  • Cramped in the back

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.

Just bear in mind that you pay for the agile handling with a ride that’s quite firm – the Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo are both more comfortable. Plus, the rear seats are cramped and you have to put up with an infotainment system that’s a bit dated.

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

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 disappointing Euro NCAP safety rating ultimately leave it well off the pace. Read our review