Best city cars to buy 2021
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 sat-nav 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.
Here's our list of the 10 best city cars currently on the market…
1. Fiat 500
We’re quite impressed with the new Fiat 500 - It’s fun and easy to drive, while the manufacturer has packed the cute city car with the latest technology.
The all-new, third-generation model will only be available as an electric vehicle, but there are still plenty of nods to the 500's heritage, such as the lack of a traditional grille at the front. Current 500 owners, tempted to make the jump into an EV, will find that the entry-level price comes in at around £21,000 (after the government's £2.5k plug-in vehicle grant), while we found the driving position much improved on the previous model. If you need to, you can fast charge at up to 85kW, which will give you an 80% charge in 35 minutes or 30 miles of range in just five minutes.
Fiat has separated the new 500 EV’s line-up into three trim-levels called Action, Passion and Icon. Space inside is better in the front – helped by an increase in internal width of 42mm and headroom by 10mm – but pretty limited in the back, even though there are only two seats. The boot remains at 185 litres, but there are useful cubbies dotted around the cabin.
The 500 remains a great looking city car, delivering plenty of fun with an upmarket feel that belies its city car status. We like it so much we named it our City Car of the Year 2021!
2. 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 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 was our 2020 Auto Express City Car of the Year.
3. 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.
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.
The i10 is lower, longer and wider than its predecessor, so it 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 SE and top-spec N Line models. However, it’s the mid-range SE Connect version that offers the best balance of equipment and price, with air conditioning, electric windows, cruise control and USB connectivity as standard.
4. SEAT Mii electric
Unlike the up!, the SEAT Mii is available solely as an EV. It uses the same powertrain as the e-up! and gets rapid charging as standard, so it offers good flexibility for an electric urban runabout.
SEAT is now offering the Mii electric only from stock. It comes in a single trim, priced at £20,300 - after HMRC’s £2,500 plug-in car grant. That might seem expensive for a city car, but it has a decent amount of big-car kit and, more importantly, a real big-car feel. Plus, you’ll be saving plenty of cash on fuel.
There’s a good level of leg and headroom when sat in the driver’s seat, while a large speedo is located centrally in front of you, forming part of a simple, uncluttered dash layout. There's no complicated infotainment set-up, either - instead the Mii is equipped with a smartphone cradle, so you can use your own choice of Bluetooth-connected nav systems.
The Mii electric remains supremely comfortable, with the ability to to deal with bumps and potholes in a such a composed manner, that it's difficult to believe you're driving something so small.
5. 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 facelifted Picanto has an engine line-up that has been updated to meet the latest emissions standards. The entry point to the range is a 66bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit, while at the top of the Picanto price list is a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit, producing 99bhp. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, although Kia’s new five-speed automatic gearbox is available as an optional extra on 66bhp cars.
Kia has now fitted a host of extra driver assistance tech to the Picanto, including forward collision avoidance assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, a driver attention warning system and lane following assist, which can help control the vehicle’s steering, braking and throttle on main carriageways. So, whether you're travelling in town or on the motorway, the Picanto is reassuringly safe to drive.
6. 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 latest 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 standard colour reversing camera.
The real winner in the upgrade has been fuel economy, as the manual Toyota Aygo returns up to 56mpg on the combined cycle – so you won't be spending too much time at the petrol station.
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 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 82bhp 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, although the entry models are sparsely equipped and the interior is relatively unsophisticated.
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.
There's a 1.0-litre 69bhp mild-hybrid engine offered in tandem with all three Life, Sport and Cross trim levels, while a perky twin-cylinder TwinAir unit is available on the pricier 4x4 or 4x4 Cross models. Incidentally, in spite of their diminutive size, these 4x4 versions use a full-time four-wheel-drive system that makes them more useful off-road than many a larger ‘SUV’.
9. Citroen C1
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 has smoother, cleaner styling compared to the Aygo, without the crazy angles that make that car so divisive. That’s not to say it's dull – with Citroen’s trademark upside-down headlight arrangement giving the C1 a look all its own.
The C1 is powered by Toyota’s 71bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit. It's a relatively smooth engine, but don't expect it to set any land speed records, as it takes over 14 seconds to move from 0-62mph.
Elsewhere, the cabin is 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. Peugeot 108
As mentioned above, the Peugeot 108 shares mechanicals with the Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo, but adds its particular brand of Gallic charm. It's a smart, stylish design with plenty of personalisation options, while the Top! versions come with a retractable fabric roof which adds a little fun to the urban commute.
There's a decent level of on-board tech included as standard, too, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB ports available on the entry Active trim. Interior space is predictably a little tight, but the rear seats fold in a 50:50 configuration which helps inject a little practicality.
Running costs should be low as the 108 offers up to 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and emits around 110g/km of CO2, so if you're in the market for a city car, but don't yet want to switch to electric power, the 108 could be a good bet.
See our list of the best small hybrid cars or read more of our best car recommendations...