What alternatives should I consider to a used Ford Fiesta hatchback?
The Vauxhall Corsa is a very competent alternative to the Fiesta. It's not quite as much fun to drive, but its interior is better finished and it offers a little more room in the back. It's also great value.
If you want a car that feels truly high-quality, though, you should take a look at the Volkswagen Polo. It's pricey, but you get what you pay for, with a solid-feeling interior and very composed, mature driving experience.
There's also the Honda Jazz which rides firmly and feels a bit wooden to drive, but offers deeply impressive practicality, with clever rear seats that fold up, cinema style, and allow you to fit tall objects in, as well as folding down the traditional way. It's also extremely reliable.
But if you just want a small car that's immense fun to drive, the Seat Ibiza might be worth a look. Its chassis isn't quite as well sorted as the Fiesta's, but it is still very involving.