Best city cars to buy 2020
There are plenty of appealing city cars on offer these days, so here’s our top 10 guide to the best urban runabouts
City cars have always offered great value, but technological developments and an increasingly competitive marketplace means they’re no longer the noisy, flimsily-built buzz boxes of years gone by.
City cars are still built down to a price, of course, but there’s not a single car in our list of the best city cars that will make its owner feel like a cheapskate behind the wheel. They may not be limos, but solid construction, careful application of soft-feel materials and generally high specs make most city car cabins comfortable places to while away a traffic jam or commute.
Some city cars ride better than others or are more engaging to drive, but few are truly awful these days, and many can make a decent stab at longer journeys too. That said, the combination of typically low-powered engines and basic chassis set-ups, does mean some city cars can make heavy weather of long cross-country trips while others take them in their stride. If you intend to do more than local city driving, make sure your city car test drive involves a bit of dual carriageway.
City car economy has always been a highlight too, and the latest batch are no exception. They’ll all sip fuel and be cheap to service and insure, so you’d really have to be contemplating mega annual mileages to want to make shopping around for the best mpg figures worthwhile.
Ease of driving, character, comfort and versatility are the real selling points in the sector, although increasingly city car buyers are also looking for opportunities to personalise their purchases from the best range of colour and trim options on offer from dealers. Infotainment is a priority too, with many city cars offering touchscreen entertainment and satnav systems – not to mention the vital Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity.
Our list below of the top 10 city cars includes urban roundabouts and compact cars that combine all the best attributes of a very interesting sector - it includes the funkiest, most fashionable, best to drive and most versatile cars all in one list.
City cars are normally bought with a budget in mind, which is why all the models listed below offer great value-for-money in terms of a low purchase price and attractive finance deals. They will also offer rock bottom running costs, but of course the best city cars pack a large amount of kit and big car features into their diminutive bodies.
We’ve picked out the 10 best city cars currently on the market, so click the links on the left or below to find out which one suits you…
1. Volkswagen up!
That situation is complicated by the fact you can currently only buy its SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo stablemates in electric guise. You can buy an electric e-up! too of course, at which point the VW price premium reasserts itself, but if you want petrol power then the up! is currently the cheapest – and only – option.
Like its former siblings, the up!’s driving manners just eclipse anything else in this class – the chassis is just so well sorted. The up! is brilliant fun to punt down a back road, while remaining comfortable on a cruise and absorbing all but the biggest bumps in town.
The up! is the most stylish of the three sister cars too, thanks to a clean design up front and a classy all-glass tailgate. It’s also highly customisable. On top of the various trim levels (with fun names like ‘High up! and Rock up!) there are loads of combinations of alloy wheels, seat trims and interior extras to choose from. If you want a city car with real performance, there's also the punchy up! GTI with 113bhp.
Be careful, though, as adding extras like this will soon see the price shoot past that of much larger cars. The up! is already quite expensive and standard equipment is not overly generous – you really are paying for the badge.
Still, it’s undoubtedly a great purchase, and in fact it's our current favourite in this class, winning the 2019 Auto Express City Car of the Year.
2. Skoda Citigo-e IV
Of course we can’t recommend an electric city car to everyone, and you need to look carefully at your driving habits and access to charging points to work out whether it’s a suitable match for your lifestyle.
If it is, you’ll find the electric versions of the VW Group city car make just as convincing propositions as their former petrol-powered stablemates. They all share basically the same format, which means you get an 82hp electric motor powered by a 36.8kWh battery that will take you just over 160 miles – on the official figures at least.
Of the three electric versions, we place the Skoda at the top of the desirable list because it offers the greatest value for money. While there’s only a single ‘fully-loaded’ version of the e-up! and Mii Electric, Skoda offers two versions including a cheaper, lower-spec model that has only conventional charging with no rapid DC charging option. If you only ever want to drive around locally, and have access to a domestic plug socket every night or when parked, that could make a lot of sense – a full charge will take 16 hours, but if you only do short journeys you won’t use all the battery reserves anyway. Upgrade to a 7kW wallbox and charge times drop to four hours and a bit.
On the road, the electric Citigo has enough power to keep up with traffic, and will even reach 81mph at a push. It’s quiet and refined, and although the battery weight means it’s not quite as poised on its suspension, it’s still comfortable and fun to drive.
3. Kia Picanto
The new Kia Picanto is good to drive, has a big-car kit list, is spacious and well-made - all factors that has helped it jump up the rankings in the city car class. It builds on the stylish design of its predecessor, but with a higher quality and better equipped interior, more space, a grown-up driving experience and extra personalisation.
The Picanto is available with three or five doors, and both offer a decent amount of space – though it's not class-leading. There’s a choice of 1.0-litre three-cylinder or 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, though the smaller unit is very sluggish at higher speeds. We’d go for the 1.2-litre, as the extra fuel consumption is worth it for the greater flexibility on offer. It’s best to avoid the Picanto’s optional automatic gearbox, as it drops fuel economy drastically.
The Picanto’s soft suspension gives a comfortable ride, but the clutch and accelerator seem oddly out of kilter, making it difficult to pilot smoothly. The interior is above average for the class though – it’s got a smart design and is well built. Just try not to stare for too long at the ‘smiling clown’ steering wheel…
4. Hyundai i10
Running a city car no longer means putting up with an unrefined buzz box – and the Hyundai i10 proves it. With its current generation i10 city car the Korean brand dramatically boosted refinement and space inside the five-door body, bucking the trend for personalisation options and instead offering a grown-up, spacious and good value compact hatch.
Unlike the Skoda Citigo, it’s only available in five-door form, showing its focus on usability. But with solid build quality and some decent materials inside, it feels more upmarket than ever.
It’s a shame there’s not more advanced equipment on offer, but at least the engine technology under the bonnet gives good results. There’s a 1.0-litre three-cylinder and a 1.2-litre four-cylinder – both petrols. The small engine offers better efficiency and enough performance for day-to-day driving, while it’s also nicely refined for a three-pot.
It’s lower, longer and wider than its predecessor, so the i10 offers almost as much space as a supermini, with practicality and a driving experience to make you feel like you’re in a larger, more expensive car. The ride is refined and the i10 handles well, even if it isn’t the sharpest driving car in its class.
There’s a good range of trim levels to choose from, including the entry-level S and top-spec Premium SE models. However, it’s the mid-range SE version that offers the best balance of equipment and price, with air conditioning, electric windows, cruise control and USB connectivity standard.
5. Toyota Aygo
Toyota claims the Aygo’s striking face is inspired by manga comics. Whatever’s inspired it, the baby Toyota is certainly bold, with sharp creases, eye-catching angles and an impressive double-bubble roof. The old car was massively popular and sold in huge numbers – and the new model is an improvement in nearly every way.
Underneath the bold exterior lies an updated version of the platform that underpinned the old car, so there’s not a whole lot that’s new in terms of driving. That means that while the body rolls around corners and the gearshift is fairly notchy, the car has a supple ride and a willing, eager engine with a thrummy soundtrack.
Light and accurate steering makes the Aygo a doddle to drive around town and even easier to park – something aided further by the colour reversing camera that’s standard on all but the base trim.
The real winner in the upgrade has been fuel economy, as the manual Toyota Aygo returns 69mpg – amazing figures for a petrol engine, even on such a small car.
However, the Aygo just isn’t as polished as some of its rivals – and a tight back seat and tiny boot mean it can’t compete in this crowded sector.
6. SEAT Mii
The SEAT Mii may look familiar to you – not surprising, really, as it’s mechanically identical to two other cars on this list. The Skoda Citigo and VW up! share the Mii’s platform, and it’s this sharing-is-caring attitude that allows the VW Group to produce essentially the same car under three different brands.
Choosing between them isn’t as simple as picking a badge, though, as currently the Mii is only available with electric drive – as is the Citigo. So if you want a traditionally powered city car from the VW Group stable, you need to look to the VW up!
If you’re tempted to go electric, why not choose this over a Citigo? The main reason is price. The Citigo has traditionally been cheaper in all versions and Skoda offers an entry-level electric option as well as a more luxurious model that matches the Mii Electric’s price and spec. Styling is a personal choice so feel free to disagree, but we feel the Mii just doesn’t look as smart as its stablemates either.
Still, given that it matches the VW e-UP for equipment, and the ‘like-for-like’ Citigo for price, there’s every reason still to consider the Mii Electric if you like the way it looks or are on good terms with a dealer.
It’s just as much fun to drive as its siblings, just as practical, and just as cost-effective and clean-living.
7. Suzuki Ignis
The looks are admittedly a bit Marmite, and while some think the Ignis looks boxy and weird others love its chunky crossover styling cues. It also has a rear end that reminds older drivers of an iconic Suzuki city car from the 1970s, the SC100, but whether that makes it cool or not also depends on your point of view.
Still, if you warm to the looks – and you can’t deny it has personality – the Ignis has plenty more to offer the discerning city car buyer. That boxy shape makes it very versatile and spacious, and it’s nippy and nimble around town. It’s also packed with kit thanks to Suzuki’s generous specification, with even the entry model featuring a seven-inch touchscreen, DAB audio and Bluetooth.
The interior ambience is a little less sophisticated than some of its rivals, with some of the plastics feeling brittle and scratchy, and that lack of sophistication is also evident if you take the Ignis on a run out of town. The single 89bhp engine choice feels strained at motorway speeds, and there’s a bit too much body roll on twisty roads. Road noise can be a bit intrusive too at higher speeds, but if you stick to country lanes or stay in the city the Ignis is a delight to drive, feeling agile and exceptionally easy to place in small gaps thanks to that boxy shape and great visibility.
8. Fiat Panda
Like the Suzuki Ignis, the Fiat Panda is another city car offering something a bit different from the ‘grown-up’ feel that many of its rivals aspire to. So while it may not be the best objective choice, it makes our list of city car favourites thanks largely to its personality and style.
In some respects the Panda offers quite a traditional take on the city car genre. It’s cheap to buy, fun to drive and highly manoeuvrable, while entry models are sparsely equipped and the interior is relatively unsophisticated. OK, yes, that means the cabin feels cheap and cheerful too.
Nonetheless, the Panda is a useful town car with plenty of oddment storage and a decent boot, although the rear seats are a little cramped. It’s also great to drive around town with light steering and decent ride comfort, and terrific all-round visibility. It’s OK on longer runs out of town, but the 1.2 petrol engine that’s the only option these days on mainstream Panda models does become a bit tiresome and feel breathless on the motorway. There’s a perky twin-cylinder TwinAir engine option which is more fun to drive, but these days it’s only available on the pricier 4x4 or 4x4 Cross models. Which incidentally, in spite of their diminutive size, use a full-time four-wheel-drive system that makes them more useful off-road than many a larger ‘SUV’.
9. Citroen C1/Peugeot 108
The underpinnings from the Toyota Aygo make their way into its French siblings – the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108. However, while the previous-generation C1 and Peugeot 107 were almost identical to the previous Aygo, this time there’s more of a difference between the cars.
The C1 and 108 have smoother, cleaner styling than the Aygo, without the crazy angles that make that car so divisive. That’s not to say they’re dull – Peugeot’s corporate face fits nicely onto the 108, while Citroen’s trademark upside-down headlight arrangement gives the C1 a look all its own.
Both cars are available with Toyota’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, but unlike the Toyota they can be had with a more powerful, 1.2-litre turbocharged unit as well. This isn’t as smooth an engine as the 1.0-litre, but that’s worth putting up with, as it makes these two cars far better motorway companions than most in this class.
Elsewhere, the cabins are broadly the same as the Aygo – which means the same mix of interesting styling features with slightly cheap construction. There’s also a similar lack of room in the back seats, even on five-door versions – though the boot on these cars is slightly bigger than that in the Aygo.
Another feature sure to win people over is the optional full-length fabric sunroof – a great addition for almost-convertible motoring. Still, lack of space and refinement means these cars are left floundering behind the leaders in this class.
10. Ford Ka+
The Ford Ka+ has a bit of an advantage in the company we’ve compiled for our city car top 10. It’s actually based on the same out-of-sight engineering as the Ford Fiesta, which means it’s really a bona fide supermini – in other words a whole size up from much of the competition.
So don’t get the Ka+ confused with the original Ford Ka which so successfully tempted city car buyers in the 1990s. The Ka had a cutesy charm, while the latest Ka+ is unashamedly bland to look at but offers lots of practicality for those on tight budgets. It’s pretty good fun to drive too, thanks to a nippy 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine, crisp steering and a smooth-riding chassis.
It’s a tad shorter than a Fiesta, but taller, so is a (relatively) roomy five-seater, and although originally designed and built in India for local and other developing markets, the build quality and driving performance are more than acceptable. That’s largely because Ford has upgraded the suspension and added more sound-proofing for European-spec cars, and made a good fist of it too. In fact, we reckon the Ka+ has the best ride and handling balance of any city car, helped no doubt by its longer wheelbase. Unfortunately, as with many rivals, the engine feels overworked if you want to drive at motorway speeds, which also lessens the overall refinement, which is otherwise pretty good.
The Ka+ has one of the biggest boots around too at 270-litres with the seats up. Folded down it goes up to 849-litres, which would be pretty impressive if the smaller Skoda Citigo didn’t just beat the seats-down figure.
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