We’re sometimes told that there’s no such thing as a bad car these days. However, while it’s true that very few are now dangerous or unreliable, the gap between the best and worst remains huge – and with so many models to choose from, it's now easier than ever to get it wrong.
With that in mind, we've rounded up our favourite new cars in every sector, so whatever your priorities, you’ll find something that’s ideal for your needs. And for those who'd rather not lose thousands in depreciation, we’ve also named the best used alternative in each case.
New – Hyundai i10
While most city cars make do with four seats, the Hyundai i10 is a genuine five-seater. What's more, it's cheap to buy and run and comes with a five-year warranty for added peace of mind. True, it's not as fun to drive as the Volkswagen Up, but in most other respects the i10 is the better choice. Our favourite model is the 1.2 Premium, which is very well equipped.
Used – Volkswagen Up
As a used proposition, the gap in cost between the Volkswagen Up and some of its rivals is reduced, making it a far more tempting buy – especially as it should retain more of its value in the long-run. Even before you factor this in, the better-quality plastics, smarter styling and the fantastic combination of ride quality and handling set the Up apart from its rivals on the used market.
We found: 2014 1.0 Move Up, 30,000 miles, £4990
New – Skoda Fabia
The key to the Skoda Fabia's appeal is it's all-round excellence; no other small car can match its blend of function, comfort and cost. It’s sweet to drive, roomy inside, and cheap to buy and run, no matter how you’re paying. The 89bhp 1.2-litre petrol version is particularly good, averaging 60.1mpg in official tests and offering lively performance.
Used – Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta manages the uncanny trick of being involving and exciting to drive, while also offering a smooth ride, even over rough roads – a feat rarely achieved in the world of luxury cars, let alone cheap small hatchbacks. That’s enough on its own for us to recommend the Fiesta, but throw into the mix low running costs, extremely good value, and such tremendous ubiquity that finding one in the specification you want is about as easy as making a cup of tea, and it becomes our favourite used small car.
New – Audi A3
Audi's A3 is available with a range of strong and efficient engines, but the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol is particularly good. Avoid the optional sports suspension, and the A3 also strikes an excellent balance between comfort and control. We'd recommend the Sportback version, which comes with five doors (rather than three) and boosts practicality. However, whichever A3 you go for, you'll be getting a stylish, premium family hatchback with a beautifully built interior.
Used – Volkswagen Golf
A used Volkswagen Golf will cost you a smidge more than its like-for-like rivals, but we reckon it’s worth the extra. Why? Well, there’s the beautifully built interior, with its hard-wearing seat fabrics; then there’s the way it drives, with a classy blend of comfort, and involvement, not to mention perfectly weighted controls. Throw in plenty of space for passengers and luggage alike, and you’ve got a car that really can do it all.
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