Best city cars

This is one of the most hotly contested classes out there, and the fierce competition has produced some extremely capable cars...

Small and perfectly formed, the best city cars can punch well above their weight. Despite compact dimensions and bargain-basement running costs, these miniature machines can be as capable as models from one, or even two, classes above. As our Championship finalists prove, there’s nothing to fear from downsizing.

1st Gold

Volkswagen up

Price range: £7,995-£11,180

Once in a while, a contender comes along that simply blows the competition into the weeds – and the VW up! is a prime example. Like a four-wheeled Usain Bolt, the new city car (and its SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo stablemates) has redefined what’s possible in its class. With its big-car refinement and comfort, spacious cabin and grown-up driving dynamics, this brilliant Volkswagen has proven to be a small car revolution.

It features neat styling and compact dimensions, while the cabin is solidly constructed from high-quality materials. There is also plenty of kit, with mid-range High versions getting air-con, heated seats and sat-nav. It’s spacious, too. Four adults can be seated in comfort and the boot will swallow a healthy 251 litres of luggage – that’s almost as much as a Ford Focus.

On the move, refinement and comfort impress. Noise is minimal, the driving position is perfect and the ride does a fine job of soaking up bumps and potholes. And while the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine isn’t the last word in performance, it’s smooth and keen. What’s more, it emits only 108g/km of CO2 and promises 60.1mpg economy.

Yet the icing on the cake is the price. The entry-level model costs only £8,000, which makes the up! a real bargain. If you’re in the market for a city car that leaves all its rivals trailing, look no further.

2nd Silver

 

Hyundai i10

Price range: £8,345-£9,495

 

Few cars can match the Hyundai i10 for value-for-money motoring. Bargain- basement prices, plenty of kit and a generous five-year warranty make it the perfect choice if you’re on a budget. Yet there’s more to the Hyundai than its low running costs and confidence-inspiring aftersales package. A recent facelift has improved the looks, while the cabin is made of robust materials.

 

There’s a decent amount of room inside, and all models get big-car features such as air-conditioning, an iPod socket and electric windows. Light controls and excellent visibility mean the i10’s a great inner-city companion, while decent refinement makes it a surprisingly composed long-distance cruiser. Eco-tuned Blue models have a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, which emits only 99g/km of CO2. The five-door-only i10 beats the Kia thanks to its superior value, but the three-door Picanto is a more stylish choice.

 

3rd Bronze

 

Kia Picanto

Price range: £7,795-£12,295

 

Third place is no disgrace for the Kia Picanto. Stylish looks, a spacious interior and plenty of kit make it a fine choice. Adding to its appeal is an upmarket cabin, as well as composed dynamics and a confidence-inspiring seven-year warranty. There’s also the choice of practical five-door or sporty three-door bodystyles.

 

Buyers wanting to keep costs down can choose the entry-level 1.0-litre 1 version, which offers road tax-free CO2 emissions of 99g/km and nearly 70mpg. If you’re looking for more glamour, the range-topping Halo models get racy red trim for the front grille, plus big-car kit such as heated seats, climate control and Bluetooth.

 

In less than a decade, Kia has overcome many hurdles to deliver one of the most desirable small cars money can buy.

 

Runner up

 

Fiat 500

Price range: £9,960-£16,060

 

Here’s a car that proves age is no barrier to success. The Fiat 500 has been around for nearly four years now, but still has what it takes to run with younger competitors. At the heart of the Fiat’s appeal are its cheeky retro looks and surprisingly upmarket cabin. It also has keen engines, including the characterful two-cylinder TwinAir, a composed chassis and good build quality. If entry-level models were better equipped and there was more space in the rear, the 500 could have made the podium.

 

Runner up

 

Toyota iQ

Price range: £10,655-£13,825

 

If medals were handed out for ingenuity alone, then the iQ would take gold. Billed as the world’s smallest four-seater (it’s actually 3+1), the cleverly packaged iQ is barely bigger than a Smart ForTwo, but boasts a roomier cabin and more mature handling. What’s more, an incredibly tight turning circle, light controls and great visibility make it an ideal choice for threading through crowded city streets.

 

Yet the Toyota feels equally at home on the open road, where strong refinement and a decent ride mean it’s a relaxing long-distance companion. And while the entry-level 1.0-litre three-cylinder needs to be worked hard, it’s still smoother and peppier than the more powerful 1.33-litre.

 

False start

 

Chevrolet Spark

Price range: £8,475-£10,695

 

On paper, the Chevrolet Spark has what it takes to succeed. Bold looks, plenty of kit and a five-year warranty mark it out as a pre-event favourite. Yet the Spark fails to deliver. A low-rent cabin, coarse engine and clumsy dynamics are to blame, along with surprisingly high prices. As a result, it’s still trailing around while rivals complete their victory lap.

In this review

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