- Best small cars
Best small cars 2022
Looking for an affordable, good to drive and high quality small car? We’ve rounded up the top 10 best small cars on sale today.
Small cars used to be cheaper than they are today, but they also used to be much more basic, slower, less comfortable and far less capable of protecting their occupants in a crash.
Nowadays, small cars are much more talented. Yes, they're not THAT small any more in terms of physical size, but most are as comfortable and as safe as bigger and more expensive cars as a result.
Not only that, but they are fun to drive, with punchy yet refined and efficient engines. Some are available as hybrids, too, making them extremely cheap to run. What's more, they feature more clever technology in them than most luxury cars had ten years ago.
Our team of car experts have tested every model on sale in the UK and shortlisted the top 10 best small cars. Most are similarly affordable to buy and run, with plenty of choice available on both the new and used markets.
If you don't really want a small hatchback, why not check out or list of the best small SUVs on sale? Many of them are based on these small cars but are more spacious and stylish.
Best small cars
Year launched: 2017
The Volkswagen Polo is a resounding success. In fact, other than the Ford Fiesta, it’s the only small car to get a full 10 out of 10 in our eyes. Effortless to drive, spacious and backed by an excellent range of petrol engines - the Volkswagen Polo is the best excuse you’ll ever need for downsizing your daily driver.
Admittedly, it’s a bit pricier than many of its talented rivals, but the refined and practical Polo is one of the most accomplished small cars in its class. It’s also pretty much identical to the latest SEAT Ibiza small car - but feels distinctly more upmarket, with higher quality materials and better soundproofing. You also get more choice when it comes to tech.
It offers a Tardis-like interior that provides comfortable transport for up to four large adults and the boot is huge, too. Downsides? It isn't as fun to drive as the Fiesta, but it’s safe, predictable and comfortable on the move. The 1.0 TSI is also one of the best turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engines you can buy.
Year launched: 2017
If you want to pick up one of the best small cars, then you can't fail to notice the Ford Fiesta. It comes in a wide array of versions and engines so there's plenty of choice, whether you're looking for a first car or want something a bit more plush like the Vignale. After all, that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular. There are also the hot hatch Fiesta ST and off-roady Fiesta Active versions for even more variation.
Both the three and five-door models offer exactly the same amount of cabin space, but the five-door’s easier access to the rear seats will be a prime consideration for anyone with children. There’s reasonable space for two kids (three at a push) in the back of the Fiesta - but adults will feel cramped. As for boot space, the Ford Fiesta sits in the lower end of the small car pack for practicality. The Fiesta-based Ford Puma small SUV is a better option for families.
Where the Fiesta really dominates the small car market, though, is in handling and ride quality. The Ford remains the class standard for how a small car should cope with battered British roads.
Year launched: 2021
The latest Skoda Fabia is arguably the most practical and sensible small car money can buy. Yet it still manages to look good and drive well.
The Fabia's impressive roominess comes down to the fact that it isn't that small. In fact, it's very nearly as big as the old fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf. What that means is room for four adults without them feeling squished, and a boot that's not only the largest in the small car class, but bigger than some full-size family hatchbacks.
Practicality isn't the Fabia's only skill, though. It's nearly as refined and comfortable as the Volkswagen Polo, and has a similar range of punchy yet smooth and efficient engines.
It also gets plenty of up-to-date tech, although there are still some areas in the cabin where it's clear why the Fabia is cheaper than the VW. Still, Skoda's neat Simply Clever touches are a brilliant unique selling point. The only sticking point is that the latest Fabia is very new to the market, meaning it there isn't any used bargains out there.
Year launched: 2020
The Toyota Yaris used to be reliable and worthy, but dull to look at and to drive. All of that's changed with the latest model.
Not only does its butch stance and curvy look make it more distinctive than the boxy old car, but it's also much better to drive. Using a shrunken-down version of the excellent Toyota Corolla's platform means it's composed and corners well, but is also pretty comfortable.
Like the Honda Jazz, the Toyota Yaris is now hybrid-only (if you ignore the bonkers GR Yaris). It uses a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, giving surprisingly peppy performance and impressive real-world economy. And even though it uses a CVT gearbox, the engine's fruity thrum means its revving isn't unpleasant.
Combine that with a solid (if slightly plasticky) interior and Toyota's famed reliability reputation, and it's clear that the Yaris is one of the most complete small cars around.
Year launched: 2018
The Audi A1 is one of Audi’s most popular cars. Is it the most interesting in the brand's line-up? Probably not. But is it a good choice for small car buyers? You bet.
Audi replaced the A1 in 2018 and the latest model is proving just as popular. Firstly, it has a level of dynamic polish that many more expensive cars could only dream of. But, even more impressively, the A1 manages to combine this handling prowess with a level of ride comfort that’s a match for just about anything else in the class.
Combine that with a range of excellent engines and the A1 doesn't feel like Audi's cheapest model. The only downside is that there's no hybrid option.
As well as being very desirable, the A1's interior is smart and comfortable, feeling more upmarket than its more affordable German siblings. It isn’t the cheapest small car of its type, then, but such desirability always commands a premium.
Year launched: 2019
French car companies know how to make a good small car - it's their bread and butter. And the latest Renault Clio is a stylish and likeable all-rounder.
You can forget Renault's flimsy and cheap-feeling interiors of old, as the Clio has a real injection of quality and good amounts of technology, too, particularly on higher-end models with the portrait-angled infotainment touchscreen.
There's plenty of space for a small car, too, with the Clio giving even the Skoda Fabia a run for its money with its 391-litre boot. You really could (just about) use this as a family car if you have a couple of small children.
Although the Renault Clio isn't as fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta, and the ride is quite firm with larger wheel options, it still offers a decent all-round driving experience with a range of engine options and a competitive self-charging hybrid version.
Year launched: 2017
Smart, stylish and backed by a range of fine petrol engines, the Ibiza feels more grown up and better rounded than ever before. Factor in the huge boot and refined ride, and the SEAT Ibiza has bags of appeal.
Mechanically speaking, the SEAT Ibiza is almost identical to the Volkswagen Polo, so it’s also not that compelling to drive. But if you prioritise refinement and practicality over cornering dynamics then this will very much be the small car for you. The cabin is large enough to fit four adults and storage around the cabin is also plentiful.
The only area that lets the side down is the spec. Standard equipment levels are meagre, which means you’ll have to pay extra or spec up to get essentials like DAB audio, touchscreen navigation and cruise control. Like-for-like, the Ford Fiesta and Suzuki Swift represent better value for equipment, though the SEAT does balance this with low running costs.
Year launched: 2017
The Kia Rio is a bit dull but that’s no bad thing when all you want is a very reliable, dependable and, well, sensible small car. The fact it comes with a superb seven-year warranty, good engines, plenty of equipment and keen pricing prove that Kia’s little hatchback is one of the best small cars in its class.
Cost-effectiveness is at the core of the Rio’s being and fuel economy is strong regardless of which engine you choose. Around town it’s good for the most part, but the suspension does have a tendency to thump over potholes. Fortunately, things get smoother and more comfortable at higher speeds with refinement good on the motorway.
Inside, the Kia Rio is nicely finished, with sturdy build quality and a clear and intuitive layout. There’s enough space in the back for a couple of adults, with surprising levels of head room and - unless there are tall occupants up front - decent leg room too. The boot is sizable with 325 litres of capacity, beating the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, too.
Year launched: 2020
Over the years the Honda Jazz has quietly become one of the small cars to beat. Quiet, comfortable, practical and high quality - the Jazz was replaced by a newer generation in 2020. And we rate the latest model as the best yet.
On the road the Jazz is a well-balanced car, blending ride comfort, secure handling and impressive refinement. Practicality is good, too - with three-door and five-door options available. While it isn’t the most exciting small car, the Jazz gets a sensibly designed interior with a sizable boot - making it ideal for pootling around town or cruising on the motorway.
It may not break any boundaries but it does everything you want it to and it does it very well. As an all-rounder it can't be better. In fact it's pretty much perfect.
Year launched: 2014
The MINI Hatch trades heavily against its classic roots, with its compact size and retro styling giving a notable nod to the 1950s’ original. However, it has a bang up-to-date interior, plenty of tech and lots of standard equipment even on the cheaper models. We rate it as a modern masterpiece.
The MINI Hatch isn't as at home on the motorway as some of its rivals here, instead focusing on being fantastic fun to drive around town and on country lanes. It's even more enjoyable than the Fiesta, although the trade-off is a firmer ride than most cars here and some road noise.
The interior is also fresh and as premium with lots of retro touches - albeit less fancy than a Mercedes A-Class. Rear space is best described as ‘limited’, which means large adults will find it a squeeze.
Overall, the MINI is a classy hatchback that's packed with kit. It's more expensive than alternatives like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, but with a superb cabin you can see where your money's going.
What is the best small car?
There's a wide range of excellent small cars on sale today so you have plenty of choice whatever your budget. The Ford Fiesta is a perennial best-seller and for good reason – nothing else combines value for money, stylish design and a fun driving experience quite as convincingly as the small Ford.
If you're looking to buy an affordable small car, you should also look at city cars like the Volkswagen Up, Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10. Not only are the latest city cars great around town, they're also surprisingly competent on the motorway and come loaded with the latest safety kit.
What's the cheapest small car on sale in 2022?
The cheapest small car on sale isn't actually that small. It's the Dacia Sandero – a Fiesta-sized hatchback available for less than a city car. Prices start from just £7995 for a brand new example, while a three-year-old model can be yours for just £5000.
What's the most reliable small car?
According to the 2020 HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, the most reliable small car is the last-generation Toyota Yaris. The popular little hatchback, which was sold with hybrid power, is rated exceptionally highly by owners for its unbeatable reliability. It scored an impressive 9.85 out of 10 for reliability in the 2020 survey, closely followed by the Honda Jazz (with a score of 9.78).
What do small cars cost?
Prices for new small cars usually range from £15,000 to £20,000 these days, although a high-spec model can easily be more than £25,000. As a used buy, you’ll be looking at around £10,000 for a car that’s one or two years old and £2000 for something that’s ten years old.
Hybrid and electric small cars
The best small cars can be incredibly economical, but if you're going to be doing a lot of short journeys, then it's worth considering either a hybrid or electric small car. A small hybrid car has enough charge to run on battery-power alone for short journeys, such as the school run or drive into town, with a petrol engine ready to kick in for longer trips. We reckon the Toyota Yaris is the best small hybrid car, while if you're looking for something fully electric, then the Skoda e-Citigo iV is the best small electric car you can buy.
1.0 TSI 95 Match 5dr
- 6,098 miles
- Inchcape Volkswagen Bury
- Lancashire, BL96DL
Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £287.05, Customer Deposit: £2,567.00, Total Deposit: £2,567.85, Optional Final Payment: £7,682.50, Total Charge For Credit: £3,178.10, Total Amount Payable: £20,297.10, Representative APR: 9.8%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.82%, Excess Mileage Charge: 3.98ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000
1.0 TSI 95 Match 5dr
- 8,469 miles
- Inchcape Volkswagen Cheltenham
- Gloucestershire, GL519AH
Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £278.73, Customer Deposit: £2,547.00, Total Deposit: £2,547.00, Optional Final Payment: £7,862.50, Total Charge For Credit: £3,185.05, Total Amount Payable: £20,165.05, Representative APR: 9.8%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.82%, Excess Mileage Charge: 3.98ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000
1.0 TSI 95 R-Line 5dr
- 13,829 miles
- Hilton Garage Ltd
- Derbyshire, DE655BH
Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 36 Monthly Payments: £449.11, Customer Deposit: £2,475.00, Total Deposit: £2,475.00, Total Charge For Credit: £2,142.96, Total Amount Payable: £18,642.96, Representative APR: 9.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 9.43%
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