Personal Shopper: best small automatic car for £15,000

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What Car? Personal Shopper

The reader

Dear What Car?,

I hope you can help – my wife and I have owned a 2001 Toyota Yaris VVT-i CDX automatic since it was five months old. We are very fond of it but, although it's only done 50,000 miles or so, it needs replacing. It's used for short journeys in and around town with the occasional 40-mile round trip to the city. Annual mileage is now less than 2000 miles.

We have up to £15,000 available for our new car. Our main considerations are an automatic gearbox and being easy to park with good visibility (my wife is 5'2" on a tall day), and preferably with four doors to make loading our family dog easier. We'd consider an electric or hybrid car, but are a bit concerned about battery life and the cost of replacing the battery.

Can you offer any suggestions please?


The brief

Recommendations for small, dependable and easy to park cars is something we get asked often at What Car?, and the good news is that there are a plethora of models to suit your needs. Based on your annual mileage, then, a petrol-engined or hybrid car sounds like the best bet – and first up is Darren's new car choice.

Buying new

  • Our recommended choices: Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid Icon CVT auto
  • List price: £18,400
  • Target Price: £17,131

You've already got a Toyota Yaris that is fulfilling your needs, so why not upgrade to a newer version of the same car? This hybrid version mixes a peppy 1.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, so you can cruise around partly on electric power.

We're big fans of the Yaris in hybrid form, not least because if you mainly drive it in town – as it sounds like you would be – it's incredibly efficient, averaging an impressive 80mpg in our True MPG tests. That's part of what led the Yaris to win its price point at the most recent What Car? Awards.

Add in the fact that the hybrid is also the most comfortable version of the Yaris to drive, and that it has light controls and a tight turning circle to make parking a doddle, as well as the automatic gearbox you want and even a reversing camera, and it's an almost unbeatable package. Yes, you'll have to stretch your budget a bit, but not by much, thanks to our Target Price deals.

Find a great Toyota Yaris deal, or read our full Yaris review

  • Also consider: Kia Picanto 1.25 3 5dr auto
  • List price: 13,820
  • Target Price: £13,172
Kia Picanto

Don't write off the Kia Picanto as being too small for your needs, because this is a deceptively spacious city car. It has one of the largest boots in its class, and its seats split and fold in a 60/40 configuration, so you can give the family dog somewhere to lie down and stretch out. The 1.25-litre engine we recommend is nicely peppy, and our recommended 3 trim comes with both rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, so parking should be easy. All of this adds up to make the Picanto our reigning champion in the city car class. This version is well inside your budget, too.

Find a great Kia Picanto deal, or read our full Picanto review

  • Also consider: Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC SE CVT auto
  • List price: £17,180
  • Target Price: £15,410
2017 Honda Jazz 1.3 VTEC S

If practicality is at the top of your list of priorities, the Jazz is definitely worth a test drive. It offers class-leading space inside and features rear seats that flip, fold and tilt for extra versatility and passenger comfort. The 1.3-litre petrol engine you get here should be fine for driving around town, while SE trim gets you parking sensors at the front and rear, as well as 15in alloy wheels and Honda's Connect infotainment system.

Find a great Honda Jazz deal, or read our full Jazz review

Buying used

  • Our recommended choice: 2019 Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI auto
  • Price: £14,300
  • Mileage: 5050

"There are no weaknesses in the Polo's armour." That's what we said of the Volkswagen Polo when it was announced as our Small Car of the Year at the 2019 What Car? Awards, and the great news is that you can have a nearly new Polo and still have plenty of change from your £15,000 budget.

We found a plethora of low-mileage examples in our preferred SE trim, which comes with a set of smart-looking alloy wheels, air conditioning, rear electric windows and an upgraded infotainment system with all the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring capabilities. The turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol is punchy yet efficient, while the seven-speed automatic gearbox is swift in operation. Passengers will also appreciate the Polo's roomy interior and smooth ride, plus there's a very accommodating boot that shames those of some bigger family cars.

  • Also consider: 2018 Mini 3dr 1.5 Cooper auto
  • Price: £14,500
  • Mileage: 2332
Mini hatchback front

Cute looks and a strong image mark the Mini hatch apart from duller small car rivals. Few feel quite so premium, because the interior is awash with dense, high-quality plastics and plenty of retro touches, such as the row of toggle switches and lashings of chrome trim. The infotainment system is one of the easiest to use, too, because it's based upon BMW's iDrive, with a rotary controller.

You'll have fun behind the wheel, too, because the Mini is relatively sporty despite having grown in size, and the turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine is a peach, pulling hard throughout the rev range. It isn't all that expensive to run, either, with good fuel economy and reasonable servicing costs.

  • Also consider: 2018 Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport auto
  • Price: £14,999
  • Mileage: 16,500
Used Audi A1 2010-present

The Volkswagen Polo may be a very smart small car, but the Audi A1 is even classier. Even though this generation of the A1 came out in 2010, the interior still feels pretty contemporary. It won't be as spacious inside as the latest Polo and the boot is small, but if you're not using it as your sole car, you should be fine.

The A1 will provide you with a sportier drive, too, because it has firmer suspension to limit body roll, but it's not so unforgiving as to be uncomfortable. And the A1 feels far more composed than most small cars at motorway speeds – great news if you have to visit friends or family who live far away.

Our recommendation: buy used

Another new Toyota Yaris is a seriously tempting choice here. It would be easy to park, spacious enough for Darren's needs and economical to run. However, it rather pales next to the excellent Volkswagen Polo. Not for nothing is the Polo our reigning champion in the small car market; it's spacious, has a high-quality interior, comes with a peppy but frugal 1.0-litre petrol engine and is as easy to park as the Yaris.

What seals the win for the Polo, though, is its price. That you can buy one and have enough left from your original budget for a weekend in the country shows why buying used makes so much sense in this instance. And with just 5000 miles on the clock, it's practically new in any case.

Our recommendation this time, then, is to buy used. 

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