If you want premium car quality and image in something that won't break the bank to buy and is easy to drive and own, there are a good selection of well-heeled small cars for you to choose from. Buy a more premium supermini and you will have something that stands out from the crowd and feels like a high-end, better-equipped car than running a tape measure over it might suggest.
For a lot of more humdrum small cars, simply picking the range-topping version does not make a lot of sense. Typically, the highest specification versions of regular cars are expensive to buy but depreciate more heavily. Buy the right upscale small car, however, and you’ll have something that feels premium, resists depreciation and is a very nice thing to drive.
Not all cars with the right badge are worth considering, however. Here are our best and worst of the premium small cars you can buy today.
**In essence, the VW Polo is pragmatic rather than premium, but like it or not, the recently face-lifted small Volkswagen has an image that the Ford and Vauxhall rivals just cannot match. It’s not just image though. The Polo is perhaps a little understated outside, but the cabin feels upmarket and well screwed together. It’s not all good news for the Polo. Its not as razor sharp to drive as the Ford Fiesta and rivals offer more kit for less money. Still, get our favourite 1.2 TSI engine and go no higher than SE trim and you won’t be disappointed.
For those who want the best badge you can find in the small car segment, they need look no further than the Audi A1. Whether in three-door hatch or five-door Sportback version, the baby Audi is a hugely impressive small car, and was the What Car? Car of the Year in 2011. Two things really make the A1 excel: the fact that it is unmistakably a Audi from the outside, looking properly grown up, gives it cachet that cannot be achieved with any other small car. Ultimately though, it's the crafted cabin which makes this feel like a cut above its supermini rivals. Avoid the noisy diesel models in favour of the 1.4 TFSI petrol in Sport trim, which blends a sensible level of kit with better ride quality than that of the posher S-line models.
The smallest BMW is a real conversation starter. It looks like nothing else on the road, runs on electricity but crucially, looks and feels like you’d expect a small BMW to. Outside the i3 looks narrow and tall compared to other small cars. The rear-opening rear doors are a curious design quirk but the cabin has a genuinely futuristic quality which wows all who climb aboard. It has a surprising turn of pace, too. The downsides are a tiny boot, cramped rear seats and firm ride. Perhaps the biggest downside, however, is the cost. With a starting price of more than £30,000, this is likely to be out of reach of many small car buyers, no matter how impressed they are.
**As the original premium small car, the latest version of the Mini is a tough car to beat. It’s good to drive, has clean engines, peerless badge appeal and is a great place to be, both inside and out. While the Cooper S models are quick, and the diesels offer impressive frugality, it's the standard 1.5-litre Cooper models which really impress, combining low running costs, impressive refinement and driving fun. While discounts are pretty stingy, the hugely impressive resale values mean it whole life costs are kept sensible, too. Bolt on a TLC servicing plan and you can really control the cost.
It’s not the most practical car, with a small boot and tight rear seat accommodation, and five-door versions don’t look as well resolved as the three-door. Otherwise, though, the Mini makes a compelling case for itself if you are shopping for a smart small car.
Harsh? Possibly. The Honda badge definitely has a little more premium dazzle than many Japanese rivals, and in essence the Jazz is not a bad car. It is not cheap however, and it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. Never the sharpest drive in the class, the Jazz is reliable and practical, but with the new model expected soon it’s hard to recommend the current car, unless you get a very favourable deal. Haggle hard if you are tempted.
Alfa Romeo Mito
The Alfa badge is among the most evocative you’ll find attached to a new car in the UK, but sadly the Mito supermini is disappointing. It looks fabulous but sadly that is where the good news ends. Getting the best engines is expensive, resale values lag behind those of other premium small cars and it doesn’t ride or handle as well as rivals.