Practicality, affordability, efficiency, style and fun – these best-selling cars have to offer it all. So which ones do the best job?
Victory tastes even sweeter when it’s achieved in a close finish. So taking gold in the supermini category of our New Car Championship is a really big deal, because few sectors of the new car market are as tough or packed with such strong contenders.
Price range: £9,495-£16,445
The Ford Fiesta is the Sir Steve Redgrave of the new car market. No other model demonstrates such superiority and longevity, with the Ford being crowned Best Supermini in Auto Express’s New Car Awards for three years on the trot – and it’s a clear gold medal winner in this contest, too.
It’s hard to believe this car is nearly four years old because, even in the fast-paced world of supermini development, a host of new pretenders has failed to knock the talented Ford off the top step. In fact, with more models joining the line-up and the frugal ECOnetic version now available in a range of trim levels, Ford’s champion has strengthened its grip on the class over the last 12 months.
But it’s the sparkling chassis, comfortable cabin and sharply styled exterior that are key to the Fiesta’s appeal. The classy interior offers a perfect driving position, a neatly laid-out dash and plenty of passenger space. All controls are beautifully weighted and precise, while few cars at any price offer such an exquisite balance between ride and handling. A light gearshift action and a strong range of engines finish off the well rounded dynamic package.
Effortless around town, fantastically engaging on a twisty road, yet grown-up, comfortable and refined on the motorway – the Fiesta is great to drive in every situation.
Price range: £9,995-£14,895
When a talented newcomer arrives and displaces a host of established stars, it causes a stir. But given Kia’s current record, the latest Rio’s silver medal isn’t a big shock. For starters, it’s the best-looking supermini Kia has ever made, and the good news continues inside with a spacious, airy and smart cabin. Boot capacity is a match for rivals and the quality of switchgear and materials is class-leading.
On the road, the tidy handling and decent refinement impress. Only artificial steering responses and a fidgety ride prevent it from challenging the Fiesta. It comes with a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines. The 1.1-litre CRDi EcoDynamics diesel dips below the magic 100g/km mark, but it’s short on pace, so the larger engines are a better choice if you cover long distances or carry several passengers on a regular basis.
Price range: £13,420-£17,865
The premium supermini class is growing fast. It was dominated by MINI for years, but now there’s a new class leader. The A1 brings traditional Audi virtues to a new audience and has seen off not only the MINI, but the Citroen DS3 and Alfa MiTo as well. Its blend of style, refinement and quality is hard to fault, and while it lacks the MINI’s agility and driver appeal, the baby Audi makes up for this with its well built cabin, extra interior space and sophisticated image.
An excellent engine line-up and a huge range of options mean this is a small car with a big-car feel. The 1.4 TSI is our pick of the range, but we’d avoid the firm suspension and bigger wheels of S line models for the comfort and value of the SE. The upcoming five-door Sportback will make it even more practical.
Compared to some larger superminis, the Swift has a small boot and relatively cramped rear seats, but it’s a worthy runner-up. It looks great, is solidly put together and feels well engineered. There’s a choice of 1.2-litre petrol or 1.3-litre diesel engines, plus the option of three or five-door bodystyles. Yet whichever model you go for, the dash features top-notch materials and smart switchgear.
Crucially, the Swift is good to drive, too. Like a successful but under-funded sporting nation, this car proves you don’t have to spend big to succeed: it’s affordable, cheap to run and loaded with standard kit.
Price range: £12,195-£16,045
The ix20 is our favourite of the recent wave of supermini-MPVs. This practical family car is affordably priced and well built, plus, like other recent Hyundais, it offers impressive interior quality and comfort. With suspension fine-tuned for UK roads, it handles better than its Kia Venga counterpart, and the diesel version promises fuel-sipping economy. Better still, Hyundai’s Triple Care deal takes care of warranty and breakdown recovery for five years.
Price range: £9,650-£14,650
Despite its oddball styling, the Nissan Micra was once a big-selling and much loved supermini. Unfortunately, the current low-cost Micra has been designed for emerging markets, and it shows. Interior quality is dreadful and the driving experience is dull. Even a low price tag can’t save the Micra from our wooden spoon.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWe name the best new cars of 2012, with 72 contenders for Gold, Silver and Bronze
- 2Best city carsThis is one of the most hotly contested classes out there, and the fierce competition has produced some extremely capable cars...
- 3Best superminis - currently readingPracticality, affordability, efficiency, style and fun – these best-selling cars have to offer it all. So which ones do the best job?
- 4Best small family carsHard-fought class has a vast range of new hopefuls – but an all-time classic takes gold
- 5Best large family carsLots of space, low running costs and a dash of style are needed to win this category
- 6Best estate carsBig is beautiful for estate buyers – but big has to be clever, too, in a category where all-round practicality is essential
- 7Best executivesAll of our contenders gain points for style, but class is permanent – and BMW is the big winner with updates to its timeless 3 Series
- 8Best crossoversThey’re the gymnasts of the car market – flexible, muscular and versatile. That’s why this is one of the hardest gold medals to win
- 9Best compact SUVsGenuine mud-plugging ability meets comfort, refinement and efficiency in this fast-growing and increasingly competitive class
- 10Best large SUVsThese big cars make a big impression – but which off-road star is the class of our Championship field?
- 11Best roadstersFeel the wind in your hair and wear a smile on your face with these great-handling, stylish and quick drop-top sports cars
- 12Best MPVsExcellent carrying ability alone isn’t enough for the latest people movers. The best buys do it in style
- 13Best hot hatchesOn your marks, get set, go... These small cars all have pace, but it will take something special to outsprint VW’s reigning champ