Car hunter: Five-door city cars

15 Nov, 2012 10:30am Chris Ebbs

Our reader has £5,000 to spend on a petrol-engined, five-door city car

Dear Chris,
I’ve got £5,000 to spend on a small five-door that’s easy to park. I’ll use it mainly for town driving, so I want a petrol model. Any ideas?
Peter Soden, E-mail 

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The best buys:

The practical buy: Suzuki Splash

Suzuki Splash front tracking

For: Light steering, high ride height
Against: Cheap interior, firm ride

The Suzuki Splash is perfect for congested town centre driving. The raised ride height makes for easy access and gives you a great view out – in fact, all-round visibility is pretty good, except when you’re reversing.

Incredibly light steering makes the Splash simple to manoeuvre in tight spots and getting into a parking bay should be easy. High but short dimensions also count in its favour, with plenty of headroom for all occupants combining with the convenience of a small car.

There are loads of examples at your budget, even though the Suzuki only went on sale in 2009. We found an 09-plate 1.2 GLS with 25,000 miles for £4,750.

A cheap-looking interior lets the Splash down, while the quality of features such as the stereo could be better, plus the firm ride can be an issue on rough roads.

The value choice: Hyundai i10

Hyundai i10 front cornering

For: Lengthy warranty, good equipment
Against: Ungainly looks, hard plastics

When the Government launched its £2,000 Scrappage Scheme in 2009, the Hyundai i10 was one of the big winners. While a low price was the car’s main appeal, buyers soon realised it was a competent choice for town driving. Light steering and peppy engines ensured the i10 was perfectly suited to tight urban manoeuvres.

Spend £5,000, and there’s a huge choice, including the top-spec Style we found – this 09-reg 1.2-litre petrol car had done 31,000 miles and was up for £4,999. Style spec brings an electric sunroof, heated front seats and an auxiliary socket – a pretty good tally for a city car. Plus, you get the balance of the original Hyundai five-year warranty.

Like the Splash, the interior plastics are a bit hard and feel cheap. Plus, it’s not the best-looking car – even the Suzuki is more stylish – but the i10 is still a fine buy.

The best to drive: Fiat Panda

Fiat Panda front cornering

For: Well built interior, easy to drive
Against: Poor safety score, miserly kit

Before Fiat reinvented the 500, its city car contender was the Panda. Narrow and tall dimensions mean this model is ideal for squeezing through tight gaps, while the clever City button makes the steering even lighter for congested areas. Visibility is also good, although the large A-pillars can mean parking is tricky.

Unfortunately, the Panda picked up a dismal three-star rating overall in Euro NCAP crash tests, and got just one star for pedestrian protection – which will be a bit of a worry if you’re using it to drive around busy city streets. The standard of kit available is also nowhere near what you get in the i10, and even trails the Splash.

Poor residuals mean you’ll be able to pick up quite a new Panda for your budget. Spend the full £5,000, and a 20,000-mile 10-reg 1.1-litre Active Eco can be yours.