Best small automatic cars 2023
Small cheap cars don’t just come with a manual gearbox, here’s a our list of the best small autos you can buy
There are lots of reasons for wanting a small car with an automatic gearbox, not least of which is the sheer boredom of sitting motionless in traffic jams every day developing an aching foot from repeatedly pressing down the clutch pedal.
Even drivers who enjoy changing up and down a gearbox manually have to admit there are times when an automatic car would be a blessing – and for lots of commuters in urban areas ‘those times’ make up most of their experience behind the wheel.
Some compact hatchbacks and superminis are terrific to drive, but plenty of drivers just want a car to simply transport them from A to B, and the more straightforwardly it can deliver on that promise the better.
Small automatic cars used to be pretty horrid. Slower and thirstier than their manual counterparts, with asthmatic, lazy or lurching gear shifts – and you couldn’t even bump start them with a flat battery.
Well you still can’t bump start an auto, but in all other respects the quality of small cars with automatic gears has improved no end. Thanks to the advent of slick changing dual-clutch gearboxes, high-tech multi-speed torque converter autos and even the resurgence of the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT), nowadays the lot of the small automatic driver is often happier than the driver stuck with an ‘old-fashioned’ manual transmission.
The rise of electric cars is having an impact here too, as EV powertrains don’t need you to change gears for them either. In fact, given the necessity for car companies to eke every last mile out of every litre of fuel these days, in all likelihood, it won’t be long before super-efficient auto transmissions are the rule in the small car sector, instead of the exception.
Whichever auto you end up with, if it's one of the top 10 small autos we’ve picked for this list, it will be just as good as the manual version to drive – and in many cases better.
The best small automatic cars to buy in 2023
- Renault Clio Hybrid
- Toyota Yaris Hybrid
- Fiat 500 electric
- Skoda Fabia Auto
- Vauxhall Corsa-e
- Ford Fiesta DCT
- Renault Zoe
- MINI Cooper auto
- Honda Jazz
- Toyota Aygo X
Scroll down to read more about all the best small automatic cars to buy now...
The Renault Clio is our favourite supermini, and it's available as a petrol-electric hybrid, badged E-Tech. An automatic transmission comes as part of this technology, and it isn't just any gearbox, because it features engineering inspired by Formula 1 technology, thanks to Renault's involvement in the sport.
With an efficient 1.6-litre petrol engine, electric motor and small battery pack, the Clio E-Tech Hybrid 140 has 138bhp, yet can return up to 64.2mpg with CO2 emissions of 99-100g/km. This makes it a good pick for company-car drivers, as well as people who just need an automatic. A low Benefit-in-Kind band makes it cheaper to run than most petrol or diesel rivals, and there's also a small annual discount on VED (road tax).
You can tell the Clio is a polished product from the moment you pull away, with steering, handling and damping that's up there with the best superminis, making it good fun to drive.
The Clio was previously available with a CVT automatic gearbox mated to a 1.0-litre petrol or a dual-clutch (EDC) transmission with a 1.3-litre petrol unit, but these were taken off sale with the arrival of the E-Tech.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
There’s no doubt the Toyota Yaris is one of the racier-looking superminis on the road, although sadly the driving experience is worthy rather than fun. That shouldn’t bother you if you’re looking for a small automatic though, when the Yaris hybrid’s eco-credentials should certainly appeal.
As one of the smallest hybrid on sale today, you won’t be surprised to hear the Yaris is economical, and the claimed 68mpg is definitely impressive. We like the current model so much we gave it our Affordable Hybrid Car of the Year award in 2022.
With light controls, the Yaris is easy to place around town or in traffic, but the ride can be a little too far on the fidgety side for some, and there’s pronounced lean in corners if you’re trying to press on. The CVT gearbox works well at low speeds around town, or when driving gently, but if you want to extract maximum performance then it can cause the engine to seem as though it’s revving too hard for the given speed. You soon get used to it though, and the trade-off is those great economy and emissions numbers.
The Yaris hybrid has all the other benefits the model offers too, including the roomy interior that boasts enough space to rival cars from the next class up.
Fiat 500 Electric
Having been on sale for the best part of 15 years, the Fiat 500 was due a refresh. Fiat has gone further than just refreshing the paint palette, though, as it has launched a brand-new third-generation 500 that’s looking forwards rather than back. It’s only available as an electric car (although the ageing petrol 500 will still be sold alongside it for a couple more years), and promises an impressive 199-mile range if you pick the bigger battery.
Cheaper trims make do with a 115-mile range, but that’s plenty for a car designed for city streets - and the electric Fiat 500 is best value at the lower end of the line-up. Base-spec Action trim forgoes a radio but plug your phone into the cradle and you’ll have a range of Fiat apps at your disposal. Higher Icon trims get a 10.25-inch screen.
Designed from the start to be an electric car, the new Fiat 500 offers a similar amount of space as the petrol one. While it’s still a little cramped inside, its compact size means parking is a breeze - and even the cheapest version gets rear parking sensors.
Skoda Fabia Auto
The latest Fabia comes with an automatic gearbox option throughout the range, meaning £19,890 will get you into a two-pedal Fabia.
The gearbox is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and is smooth in its changes, complementing the Fabia’s refined ride quality. Thankfully the DSG is not offered with the rather meek 79bhp MPI 80 models, it’s only available on the punchier 108bhp and 148bhp, turbocharged petrol units.
The 108bhp models are quicker from 0-62mph in DSG form by 0.1 seconds at 9.8 seconds, with the DSG-only Monte Carlo model offering an eight-second sprint time. CO2 emissions are slightly higher however- 129g/km compared to 118g/km in base Comfort trim.
The Corsa has always been popular, cheap to run and practical, but it has never really chock full of flair. French group PSA’s recent acquisition of the Vauxhall brand has set about changing all that, and the latest Corsa model rides on a shared platform with the Peugeot 208 – with all the benefits that brings.
An automatic gearbox used to be offered with the 99bhp, 1.2-litre Corsa, but the internal-combustion engined Corsa models have gone manual-only, leaving the Corsa-e as the only auto you can get.
That’s okay though because the Corsa-e is still an excellent small car. Like the petrol models, the driving experience majors on comfort chasing the class leaders for ride and refinement, and it even looks more stylish – albeit not as eye-catching as its Peugeot e-208 sister model.
The Fiesta may be on its deathbed with Ford planning to axe its iconic supermini in 2023 but don’t let that put you off, it’s still one of the best cars on sale. Ford’s seven-speed DCT auto transmission is available to those who are allergic to the clutch pedal.
Around £24,000 will get you into an automatic Fiesta, with the 1.0 EcoBoost 123bhp turbo petrol three-cylinder with mild-hybridisation. You pay a bit more of a premium for the 'PowerShift' auto than you do on some rivals, but it's a cutting-edge twin-clutch gearbox that shifts as quickly as you could with a manual, if not faster.
0-62mph stands at an acceptable 9.6 seconds and like every other Fiesta, the automatic hybrid is a joy in the corners with class-leading driving dynamics.
Equipment levels are decent too, given the automatic is available on mid-range Titanium models and up. There’s keyless start, traffic sign recognition, a driver alert function, an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and lane-keep assist as standard.
If you’re looking for a small automatic car for mainly urban or local driving, and especially if you have access to another vehicle for trips away, the Zoe EV can make a lot of sense as a family runabout.
Unlike some other manufacturers who have electrified versions of their regular models, Renault took an early decision to create a ‘ground-up’ electric design with the Zoe. It’s by no means as radical or funky to look at as BMW’s i3 which takes a similar approach, but it’s a lot cheaper, and in spite of being around for a few years the Zoe has benefited from regular tech updates along the way.
What you get today is an ‘official’ range of up to 245 miles with the biggest 52kWh battery, and that’s using the latest ‘real world’ WLTP figures. That’s easily enough to cope with most people’s day-to-day mileage, even if you can’t be bothered to plug the car in every night. A full charge takes nine hours from a home wall charger, but if you pay extra for the 50kWh charging feature you can use rapid chargers for an 80 per cent top-up in just over an hour.
With 108bhp from the R110 version or 134bhp from the R135 the Zoe is pretty nippy around town, although as with many electric competitors it gets a bit out of breath at motorway speeds. Aside from its drivetrain, the Zoe offers as much practicality as any typical supermini, and with five seats and a 338-litre boot it’s definitely more practical than the VW e-up! However, a poor Euro NCAP score is likely to put off buyers looking to travel further afield.
MINI Cooper auto
The MINI hatch has carved its own niche in the premium supermini sector that rivals can only hope to emulate. Its retro looks and range of personalisation hold plenty of appeal, and as it's the standard-bearer of the BMW Group's front-wheel drive cars, it's been given entertaining handling that lives up to the reputation of both companies.
Our pick of the MINI range is the Cooper, as it delivers all the fun of the Cooper S, but is far better value. The auto box on all the latest MINIs except the high-performance JCW is a dual-clutch Steptronic unit that shifts smoothly and rapidly between its seven-speeds and has paddle-shifters on the steering wheel for fingertip control. The JCW model retains a conventional eight-speed auto box, also with paddle shifters.
Taking away the manual process of changing gears removes some of the enjoyment from the Cooper, and left to its own devices the dual-clutch box doesn’t always know exactly which gear you want to be in. But the paddle-shift allows you to take back control in an instant, so if you're after a stylish and fun supermini which takes the strain out of everyday driving, it's definitely well worth a look.
The other option to consider is the MINI Electric, which has a single speed direct drive transmission that’s effectively just like an automatic to drive.
The Honda Jazz is only available with one powertrain - a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine and two electric motors producing a total output of 108bhp and 253Nm of torque. This engine is mated to a new “e-CVT” automatic transmission which Honda says creates an easier delivery of power and torque.
Unlike CVTs of old, we have no qualms with the refinement of the drivetrain in the Jazz, as you’d expect there’s some electric motor whine and the revs can soar if pushed hard, but Honda’s supermini is a comfortable place to rack up the miles.
If you want some extra SUV ruggedness in your life, the Jazz Crosstar model might appeal. It uses the same hybrid power and CVT gearbox with a lifted ride height and some wheel arch cladding.
Toyota Aygo X
£17,000 will see you into an Aygo X equipped with an automatic gearbox. Available on entry-level Pure trim and up, the automatic versions are mated to the same 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, pumping out 71bhp and 93Nm of torque.
While the engine sounds quite weedy, the Aygo X weighs just 1,000kg so it rarely struggles. It can actually feel peppy as long as you’re ready to rev it hard. The steering is light and has a reassuring weight to it, making it both easy to use around town yet not nervous at higher speeds.
If you drive economically, then Toyota says the automatic Aygo X can reach 54.3mpg - which is slightly down on the manual’s 56.4mpg.
What do you think about small autos? Do you own one? Let us know your opinion below...