The best small cars you can buy (and the one to avoid)
More people buy small cars than any other type of car, but these vehicles still need to excel in a number of areas. Here we round up the best and the one you should avoid.....
The small car market is one of the most fiercely contested – great news if you're after this sort of vehicle, because it means not only that there are stacks of models to choose from, but also that standards are incredibly high.
To have a chance of topping the class, a small car must be as comfortable on the motorway as it is in the city. It must offer a decent amount of equipment, 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.
To help you find the right small car, we've picked out our top 10 – and named the one you should avoid.
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10: Mini hatchback 3dr
Although the Mini 3dr doesn’t quite have the practicality of its slightly larger 5dr sibling, it's no less worthy of making the cut in your deliberations – particularly if you’d like your small car to have a premium feel but don’t regularly need all five seats.
10: Mini hatchback 3dr - interior
Go for the 1.5-litre petrol engine of the Cooper for the best experience.
9: Honda Jazz
The Jazz has long bridged the gap between small cars and mini-MPVs, and the latest version continues that tradition.
9: Honda Jazz - interior
It offers class-leading space and practicality, and it might even outlast you with its outstanding reliability. It's a shame that its ride is rather unsettled.
8: Mini 5dr
This version of the Mini hatchback will suit you better if you regularly need to fill all five of its seats.
8: Mini 5dr - interior
Again, go for the 1.5-litre petrol-engined Cooper version and team it with Classic trim and you'll have most bases covered, leaving you to select a few choice options.
7: Hyundai i20
If you're after a small car that will give you a load of space inside, the Hyundai i20 should be on your list.
7: Hyundai i20 - interior
It's also good value for money, and the turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine we recommend here is perky and refined.
The i20's interior space dwarfs that of almost any other car in this class, and because of that, we're inclined to forgive some of its cheap-feeling plastics.
6: Kia Rio
The Rio has always offered a big helping of practicality and competitive pricing, and the latest version adds a spark of desirability and a sprightly turbocharged engine.
6: Kia Rio - interior
We'd avoid the cheapest 1 trim level and go for at least 2, because this comes with a touchscreen infotainment system and USB ports in the front and rear. All versions come with automatic emergency braking as standard.
5: Audi A1 Sportback
The latest Audi A1 Sportback offers an enjoyable driving experience and has room for two adults to sit reasonably comfortably in the back.
There’s even a spacious boot, remedying one of the criticisms of the original A1.
5: Audi A1 Sportback - interior
However, while there are still some nice touches, the A1 doesn’t feel significantly better than the cheaper Volkswagen Polo, which is why it goes no higher in this list.
4: Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta is the best-selling car in the UK, and it's easy to see why.
4: Ford Fiesta - interior
It's great fun to drive and available with tempting discounts, while its Ecoboost petrol engines are punchy, quiet and frugal.
The trim inside the Fiesta feels upmarket for this class and the touchscreen infotainment system brings it bang up to date.
3: Skoda Fabia
The Skoda Fabia is a former What Car? Car of the Year and still one of our favourite small cars.
3: Skoda Fabia - interior
It's practical, well priced and quiet and composed on the open road. Materials and build quality are both top-notch, and the Fabia should be affordable to run, with our favourite version averaging more than 60mpg in official tests.
2: Seat Ibiza
The Ibiza is great to drive and even the 94bhp version of the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine pulls eagerly from low revs.
2: Seat Ibiza - interior
It's also seriously spacious inside and should hold its value better than its cheaper rivals, such as the Skoda Fabia.
1: Volkswagen Polo
The latest Volkswagen Polo has a broad mix of engines and trim levels, ensuring that there's something for everyone in the range.
1: Volkswagen Polo - interior
It also has a classy interior that's well equipped in our preferred Match trim. Previously, the Polo has lost out to the Seat Ibiza because it couldn’t justify its additional expense.
But because of the impressive deals that can today be found on a new Polo, it's now much better value and worthy of the number one spot.
So, what about the small car to avoid?
The Mitsubishi Mirage feels like a small car from more than a decade ago, with a low-rent interior, limited safety technology and an underwhelming engine.
Mitsubishi Mirage - interior
For the money in this highly competitive segment, there are much more rounded options.