Top 10 best small cars to buy 2023
Small cars come in all kinds of shapes, if not sizes. Here we highlight the best new small cars on sale
While tiny city cars like the Kia Picanto and Toyota Aygo X may be the first models that come to mind when someone mentions small cars, the level of choice is actually much broader. Modern superminis like the Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Clio sit in the class above and are now similar in size to older generations of larger family cars like the Volkswagen Golf. You’ll be surprised how much practicality they cram into a relatively compact package.
Alternatively, if you need maximum space from your compact car, small SUVs like the Ford Puma share many components with their supermini siblings, but wrap them up in a taller and more spacious body. Whichever type of small car you pick, you’ll also have the added bonus of lower running and insurance costs than for a larger, more expensive model.
We’ve thoroughly tested every small car on sale in the UK, and have rounded up the top 10 best models to buy right now according to our expert road testers. There are a range of body shapes to be found in our list, so whatever your needs there should be a small car to suit you. If you are on a strict budget, plenty of these new cars can also be found on the used market at tempting prices.
The best small cars to buy now
Read on to find the best small cars to buy in the UK, listed in reverse order…
10. Kia Picanto
The Kia Picanto offers lots of kit and a driving experience more akin to that of a car from the class above. A recent facelift has seen more efficient engines and improved on-board tech added to the range, while Kia’s excellent seven-year warranty also features – a great incentive if you plan on keeping your car for more than the usual length of a PCP finance deal.
Practicality is good for a car of this size too; all come with five doors and there’s enough space in the back for two adults to sit in relative comfort. The boot measures in at 255 litres – considerably more than the 211 litres offered by the MINI 3-door from the class above. Opt for the ‘3’ trim and you'll even get an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity, cruise control, auto-folding mirrors and a reversing camera.
9. Vauxhall Corsa
The Corsa is one of the best-selling cars in the UK, and it’s not too difficult to see why it’s so popular. Vauxhall’s supermini Is affordable, easy to drive, has enough room for five passengers, and is even available with the choice of petrol or all-electric power.
It was already a smart-looking car, but the latest facelift has sharpened up the Corsa’s styling even further with a new front end that features Vauxhall’s distinctive ‘Vizor’ grille. The level of on-board tech is rather generous, too, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and automatic LED lighting all fitted as standard.
8. Ford Puma
The Fiesta is no longer on sale, but its underpinnings live on beneath the slightly larger Puma SUV. Even though it is classed as an SUV, the Puma is still small and nimble enough to feel as engaging to drive as its departed supermini sibling. The added bonus, of course, is better practicality which makes it more suitable for family use.
The best news is that you won’t need to worry about this SUV hitting your finances too hard - even the performance-focused Puma ST will achieve over 40mpg. Insurance should prove reasonable, too, as all variants sit between groups 14 and 22. If you’re keen on the idea of emission-free motoring, a fully-electric version is set to arrive in 2024.
7. Fiat/Abarth 500e
The all-electric Fiat 500e has continued to impress us since it first launched in 2020, and it even bagged our City Car of the Year award for two years running. The little Fiat is reasonably-priced, has plenty of retro charm and even claims up to 200 miles of range from the larger 42kWh battery. If you like the wind in your hair, the 500c is one of only a few EVs with a folding roof, or, if you fancy something a bit sportier, there’s even an Abarth version.
The standard car is already fun to drive, but the Abarth injects some essence of hot-hatch into the mix. It’s not an outright speed machine, but it is a sporty little electric car that’s enjoyable to drive - it even features an exterior speaker to replicate the distinctive burble of the petrol-powered 595. This entertainment comes at a cost, though, as the 42kWh battery’s claimed range drops to only 157 miles.
6. Hyundai i10
The third generation Hyundai i10 made a good first impression when we drove it earlier this year, it’s larger than the old model and more comfortable too. Even the entry-level Advance model boasts plenty of gadgets including air- conditioning, cruise control, and an eight-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The charms of the i10 don’t stop there, though, as it’s also fun to drive. The quick steering rack inspires confidence on twisty roads and makes the i10 feel agile in the corners.
A choice of two petrol engines are offered through most of the i10 range - a 66bhp 1.0-litre unit which can feel sluggish on motorways, and an 83bhp 1.2-litre which is almost £1,000 more expensive. Both are frugal engines, but we’d stick to the manual gearbox as the automatic isn’t the smoothest during shifts. Top-spec N Line versions include a more powerful 99bhp 1.0-litre variant, although this means an increase in price to over £18,000.
5. Jeep Avenger
While off-roading is best left to the Wrangler, the Jeep Avenger is a solid small SUV choice if you plan to stay firmly on the tarmac. Not only is it rather attractive to look at, but it’s affordable to run and even surprisingly engaging to drive. Inside, the on-board technology is a big step up from older Jeep models, while the interior has a refreshingly straightforward layout. The materials feel sturdy, too.
The all-electric Avenger’s 54kWh battery has a claimed range of up to 248 miles, so it should prove usable for most everyday needs. When you do need to recharge, the 100kWh rapid charging capability allows it to top up from 10 to 80 per cent in just 24 minutes. If you prefer combustion power, a petrol version is set to go on sale alongside the EV. A four-wheel drive version is also on the way.
4. Toyota Yaris
Funky looks, a dependable and frugal full-hybrid powertrain, and Toyota’s reputation for reliability all go towards making the Yaris a popular supermini, even if it isn’t the most exciting or practical model in its class. If you want full-on thrills you can opt for the GR Yaris but, for everything else, the standard car should prove straightforward to live with.
During our own testing of the Yaris, we achieved an impressive average fuel economy of 65mpg, and this figure stayed strong even when driving in city traffic. This efficiency is largely thanks to the fact that Toyota claims the Yaris’s hybrid powertrain will run in fully-electric mode for around 80 per cent of the time, and it can do this at speeds of up to 80mph. This keeps fuel costs at bay, while CO2 emissions are as low as 92g/km.
3. Skoda Fabia
Although the Fabia sits on the same MQB-A0 platform as the Volkswagen Polo and SEAT Ibiza (and shares plenty of technology besides), it’s the Skoda that is our favourite of the VW Group superminis. That feat can be attributed to a strong range of engines with several excellent turbocharged petrol units, as well as its refinement. The Fabia feels more akin to a shrunken Golf these days, without the annoying infotainment touch-sensitive controls.
The growth over the previous-generation Fabia means that Skoda’s supermini is more practical than ever. The 380-litre boot space is identical to a Golf’s and there’s an assortment of helpful storage bins and luggage hooks. Although the Fabia’s entry-level model is slightly more expensive than the Ibiza, it’s thousands cheaper than the VW Polo.
2. Renault Clio
A firm favourite of many UK drivers, the fifth-generation Renault Clio has many of its rivals beaten in key areas including equipment levels and the overall driving experience. The Clio is enjoyable behind the wheel thanks to its advanced platform, and the steering gives plenty of feedback. There’s also a well-judged balance between body control and comfort.
The Clio was given a fresh new look in mid-2023, and is now only available as a hybrid. The E-Tech 145 powertrain consists of a 1.6-litre petrol engine and two electric motors. This setup can return up to 67.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle, while emitting as little as 97g/km of CO2. Even in entry-level Evolution trim, there’s plenty of safety kit including autonomous braking, lane-keep assist and traffic-sign recognition.
1. Dacia Sandero
The Renault Clio is a great supermini, so taking that car’s platform and most of its features and then wrapping them up in a package that starts from under £14,000 is certainly going to be a winning formula. The Dacia Sandero is the result of said formula, and it is indeed a winner as it took the title as our 2023 Supermini of the Year.
While car prices are steadily climbing, the Sandero continues to be one of the UK’s cheapest new cars to buy. The entry level Essential trim costs less than £14,000 but it still includes all the modern essentials such as an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, autonomous emergency braking, cruise control and air-conditioning. It’s a decent-looker, too, and we even found it rather pleasant to drive. Genuine bargains are now quite rare on the new car market, but the Sandero is one of the few.
Top 10 best small cars
- Dacia Sandero
- Renault Clio
- Skoda Fabia
- Toyota Yaris
- Jeep Avenger
- Hyundai i10
- Fiat/Abarth 500e
- Ford Puma
- Vauxhall Corsa
- Kia Picanto
Best small cars: buying advice
It’s worth starting your hunt by having a clear idea of your small car needs. Consider your likely mileage, number of passengers, boot space requirements, number of required doors and any must-have features or options.
Consider your budget, and remember to think about fuel and insurance costs, too. Modern petrol engines have come a long way in the last few years, especially in smaller models – as such, diesel-powered small cars are becoming increasingly difficult to recommend and many manufacturers don’t even offer diesels. We recommend only choosing one if you plan to do mostly long-distance motorway work. Small turbocharged petrol engines are designed to provide decent performance without sacrificing economy – they are great all-rounder options for mixed driving.
One of the most important aspects of buying a new car is a test drive; a car that fits your needs on paper may not feel that way in person. Be sure to test your small car on roads similar to those you plan to do most of your day-to-day driving on – it makes sense to get an accurate idea of what to expect once you buy. If you have any bulky items, like a pushchair or a bike, that you often carry in your car, take them along and see if they fit in the new one.
Keep an eye out too for great deals – small cars are often subject to some of the best discounts. Deposit contributions and 0% finance deals are common, as are free insurance deals.
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