Best city cars to buy 2023
There are plenty of appealing city cars to choose from, so here’s our guide to the best urban runabouts
City cars have always offered value for money and low running costs in a compact package, however, until recently buying one of these small cars meant making sacrifices in areas such as on-board tech, refinement and sometimes even build quality and safety.
Now though, thanks to some significant technological improvements and a much more competitive market, the best city cars give the bigger cars a real run for their money.
City cars are still built down to a price, of course. The tight profit margins have even seen a lot of manufacturers turn their attention away from this sector of the market in recent times, with staples of the segment like the Citroen C1, Peugeot 108, Renault Twingo and Skoda Citigo all laid to rest over the past few years. But there’s not a single car in our list that will make its owner feel like a cheapskate behind the wheel.
The best city cars may not be limos, but solid construction, careful application of soft-touch materials and generally high specs make most city car cabins comfortable places to be. Some even feature fully electric powertrains, which provide zippy yet near-silent performance and are generally cheaper to run, but obviously cost more to buy than the most value-focused, petrol-powered entries on our list.
Regardless, all these cars are normally bought with a budget in mind, and all the models listed below offer great value-for-money and rock bottom running costs. If you regularly carry passengers in the back seats, a city car may be on the small side but if you hardly ever travel with more that two occupants, they can be a great way to cut costs.
The best city cars to buy
- Hyundai i10
- Fiat 500
- Toyota Aygo X
- Volkswagen up!
- Kia Picanto
- Citroen Ami
- Suzuki Ignis
- MINI Electric
1. Hyundai i10
Our City Car of the Year for 2023: the latest i10 is significantly more refined than the two previous generations, and was recently updated by way of some styling tweaks, a new digital instrument panel, mood lighting for the cabin, and some additional safety systems.
All good stuff, but none of that is what makes the i10 such a good car for conquering city traffic – its light steering, tiny turning circle and dinky dimensions do that. It’s actually one of the few cars that are fun to drive in tight spots, and yet, leave the skyscrapers in your rear-view mirror and the i10 is grown up and refined enough to take on more open roads.
The i10’s maturity means it doesn’t follow the apparent trend of offering numerous personalisation options. Instead, the i10 is only available in a five-door form that highlights its focus on usability, offering as much space as many cars in the larger supermini class despite being less than 3.7 metres long. Along with impressive practicality, solid build quality and some decent materials help the cabin feel more upmarket.
2. Fiat 500
The i10 might have stolen the Fiat 500’s title as our favourite city car, but we’re still huge fans of the latest generation of Italy’s little bundle of joy.
The latest generation of the 500 is only available as an electric car, but there are still plenty of nods to this retro model’s heritage, such as the lack of a traditional grille at the front. Step inside the 500 and the interior’s classic overall look remains, but with some larger dimensions and upgraded materials and tech.
Standard kit is generous with a 10.25-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, automatic wipers, cruise control and climate control all included. The battery tech is rather impressive for a small EV, too. Opt for the larger 42kWh battery pack and the 500 can achieve up to 200 miles of range between charges. It can also be rapid-charged from 10 to 80 per cent in as little as 35 minutes at a rate of 85kW.
3. Toyota Aygo X
After discontinuing the standard Aygo, Toyota revamped its pint-sized city car with a new crossover-style look, along with a number of upgrades both inside and out. The Aygo X sits higher which allows for a better view of the road – one of the main advantages of a crossover – and it does a good job of soaking up bumps in the road for a slightly more civilised driving experience.
The Aygo X is pretty striking to look at, but, while it stands out with its bulky bumpers and ride height, its roots in the previous Aygo are still evident. It’s noticeably roomier than the standard Aygo was in the front, though, and the extra length has also allowed Toyota to increase boot size to a total of 231 litres.
The interior of the Aygo X is a vibrant place to be and manages to be fairly attractive, with flashes of colour and plastics that don’t feel overly cheap. All trim levels come with features such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a reversing camera and adaptive cruise control. Opt for the Edge or Exclusive trim and you can even have a folding canvas roof.
4. Volkswagen up!
The Volkswagen up! has been on sale for over 10 years but, thanks to some well-timed updates, it continues to be one of the best city cars you can buy.
The up! is a lot of fun to chuck around on a B-road, while remaining comfortable on a cruise and absorbing all but the biggest bumps in town. The interior of the up! is simple yet high-quality, plus there’s plenty of standard kit on offer including air conditioning, built-in smartphone cradle, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
The five-door up! is still available in a choice of up!, Black Edition, Beats and R-Line specifications, but the only engine you can get is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit producing 64bhp.
If you want some extra performance to add to the already enjoyable driving experience, the 113bhp up! GTI offers plenty of pocket-sized thrills, but these are no longer available to buy brand new. The same goes for the fully electric e-up! which was a pleasant small electric car to drive and could cover up to 162 miles on a single charge.
5. Kia Picanto
The latest Kia Picanto is good to drive, has a big-car kit list, is spacious and well-made, and all of these crucial factors have helped it climb up the city car rankings over the years. The list of improvements goes on, as the current Picanto features a higher quality and better equipped interior and more space, plus it offers a grown-up driving experience and extra personalisation than before.
The facelifted Picanto was unveiled in early July 2023, with its new eye-catching, chiselled look inspired by Kia’s flagship EV9 electric SUV. The interior is largely the same though, as is the engine line-up, which will include the outgoing model’s 66bhp 1.0-litre naturally aspirated motor and a slightly larger 1.2. However, Kia’s 99bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbo petrol isn’t being carried over, so if that’s the one you want you better act quick.
A host of driver assistance tech are offered for the Picanto too, including forward collision avoidance assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, driver attention warning and lane following assist. So, whether you're travelling in town or on the motorway, the Picanto is reassuringly safe to drive.
6. Citroen Ami
The Ami is designed to be accessible for anyone – it’s very cheap, and is officially classed as a quadricycle, not a car. This means that it’s even possible to drive one legally without a licence in some countries - this isn’t the case in the UK, though.
This tiny Citroen is extremely easy to park given its dimensions, yet on the inside there’s a fair amount of space. Despite a tiny top speed of 28mph, it’s actually great fun to drive about town. You’ll get a range of around 44 miles on a charge, this may not seem like much but it’s important to remember that the Ami is only designed for short distance city driving.
Prices for the Ami start from just over £8,000, and Citroen offers a PCP deal that costs as little as £19.99 per month. There’s also the option of a cargo version with one seat and more luggage space, which could make it a good choice for local delivery drivers, while the limited-edition Ami Buggy injects some off-road-ready styling.
7. Suzuki Ignis
The Ignis’ looks may be somewhat divisive but it offers plenty to the discerning city car buyer. The 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 most basic 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. If you are feeling particularly brave, however, the four-wheel-drive SZ5 variant should prove better at off-roading than most other city cars.
8. MINI Electric
The MINI Electric is simply the zero-emission version of the three-door MINI Hatch, which means you get the compact shape of its petrol-powered counterpart but with zippy performance and the cost saving benefits of an EV. For instance, you drive around cities to your heart's content without incurring any emissions-based fees like the London’s ULEZ or Congestion Charge.
The MINI’s 145-mile range can’t match the roughly 200 miles you can do in the Fiat 500, but if you’re using it for short-distance city driving, this should prove plenty. Plus, when you do need to top-up, the MINI can charge at up to 50kW from a rapid charger; enough to fill the tiny 32.6kWh battery from 10 to 80 per cent in less than 30 minutes.
You won’t have a problem navigating busy urban streets, either, as the MINI’s compact dimensions make it very easy to park, although the turning circle could be better. Its entertaining to drive on A- and B-roads, and delivers plenty of oomph even at motorway speeds. Admittedly, it’s not the most practical entry on this list and certainly not the cheapest, but the cabin of this generation has aged with real grace and still feels very high quality.
Need a bit more space? Check out our list of the best superminis…