Car manufacturers have to put a lot of thought and effort into their small car ranges. Per-car profits are low and the competition level is high. To make any serious impact on the market, a small car has to be nigh-on perfect. It needs to be quiet and stable on the motorway, and yet manoeuvrable in town; it must have space for shopping but also for passengers; and the price has to be red-hot.
This is all great news for buyers, for whom the choice is as wide as the standards are high.
We’ve gone through our test files to pick out the ten best all-round small cars. There are no duffers here: only degrees of excellence. You’ll be delighted by any of them.
10. Honda Jazz 1.3 i-VTEC SE
Neatly bridging the space between a small car and a miniature MPV, the brilliantly designed Jazz continues to deliver class-leading space and intelligent practicality, and it’s backed by a fantastic reliability record too. Only the slightly jiggly ride lets it down.
9. Mazda 2 1.5 90 SE-L
Not as cheap as some of the other choices in this class, Mazda’s 2 makes up for its premium price by trumping the opposition on reliability and cabin quality. Equipment levels are high, and if economy is important you won’t need to agonise on the right engine choice, because they’re all good in that department. You’ll enjoy driving it too.
8. Nissan Note 1.2 DIG-S Acenta
For simple practicality, there aren’t many to top the Nissan Note. The boxy shape plus flexible seats and boot put it as close to a family MPV as a small car can get. It’s not likely to give you a feeling of pride of ownership though, and what the engines give you in economy they take away in smoothness and power. Not especially cheap either, but you do get air-con, electric rear windows and alloy wheels in the mid-range Acenta.
7. Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Dynamique Nav
The Clio has been attracting buyers for decades and it’s still a good option for UK buyers. Ford’s Fiesta and VW’s Polo beat it on engine refinement but our recommended diesel option is a smashing unit. Decent space inside compensates for s slight shortfall in quality, but Renault gives you lots of personalisation choices to smarten things up.
6. Audi A1 1.4 TFSI 125 Sport
If impressing the neighbours is what you’re about, the A1 will do the job better than any other small car. You will lose out slightly on ultimate practicality, although you can get two adults in the back if you choose the five-door Sportback version. Engines are strong and the driving experience good, but the whole point of the A1 is its ‘miniature Audi’ kudos.
5. Mini 1.5T Cooper Chili Media 5dr
With bags of style, class and driver engagement, the Mini hatchback has been a top-end supermini for what seems like ages. You’ll be bamboozled by the number of personalisation options on offer, but at least your chances of seeing another one exactly like yours will be relatively low. Pick the Cooper version and you'll have a cracking engine and a bucketload of technology.
4. Ford Fiesta 1.0T 100 Ecoboost Zetec 5dr
British car buyers have made the Ford Fiesta their favourite car, and it's not hard to understand why. As a driving proposition it’s arguably the best small car on the market, thanks to its great suspension and zingy, refined Ecoboost petrol engines. Your wallet will like it too because the discounts are as strong as the economy. If you can wait a few months, the new Fiesta will be along to solve the current car’s dated cabin feel.
3. Volkswagen Polo 1.2 90 Match
Another genuinely premium supermini, the Polo is pure class inside and out. Mind you, the price tag reflects that. Even so, it’s a worthy contender because the wide selection of engines and trim levels available means it’s almost impossible not to find one that’s perfectly suited to your lifestyle. Steer clear of the dearer top-spec models and go for the cheap to run 1.2-litre petrol Match.
2. Hyundai i20 1.2 84 SE 5dr
For sheer space the Hyundai i20 is a brilliant choice. Other cars in the class look inadequate next to it. You will have to look past weaknesses like the plasticky cabin and the less than sparkling performance from the otherwise pleasant 1.2-litre petrol engine, but the value for money will put a smile on your face.
1. Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 90 SE
Practical, affordable, quiet and great to drive, the Fabia tops our list of small cars. You’ll notice the Germanic quality throughout and the low fuel consumption will get your attention too, the 1.2 achieving a genuine 60mpg-plus in real-world driving.
Tony Middlehurst is a writer for WhatCar.
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