Best small cars 2024
These aren't just the best small cars, they're some of the best new cars you can buy in the UK, full stop. Affordable, cheap to run and packed with the sort of kit you'd associate with a larger and more expensive car.
Many of the cars on our list have a Euro NCAP five-star safety rating, while some even come with hybrid power or an electric option for incredibly low running costs. They might not offer enough space for a family holiday, but all will seat four adults in comfort and come with a boot large enough to cope with a day of retail therapy.
As the cost of living crisis continues to put a strain on our household budgets, maybe it's time to downsize to one of these small but perfectly formed cars. Small is beautiful (other clichés are available).
Best small cars
The latest Skoda Fabia takes this popular small car’s far-reaching appeal to new levels. For starters, it’s bigger than ever before. It still remains manageable and car-park-friendly, but these extra millimetres on the outside have liberated one of the most spacious cabins in the sector, particularly for rear-seat passengers. The boot is also a massive 380 litres – as big as the Volkswagn Golf from the next class up. It has modern infotainment systems, a brace of Skoda ‘Simply Clever’ design innovations and a fuel-efficient range of turbocharged petrol engines that deliver big-car levels of pulling power. Euro NCAP praised the Fabia in its latest round of safety testing as well. All this comes at prices that show Skoda’s value proposition is alive and well.
With the latest Corsa, Vauxhall’s small car has gone from being a middle-ranking supermini to a genuine class front-runner. The Corsa took the second spot in Britain's best-selling new cars chart in 2022, outselling the Ford Fiesta by nearly 11,000 units. Visually, it’s appealing, and the well-built interior features comfortable seats and a decent boot. The core 1.2-litre turbo engine is a cracker, with fun performance and great fuel economy, plus an automatic gearbox in range-topping spec. You can even buy a pure electric version, called the Corsa Electric. A growing number of small car buyers are making the switch.
Fiat 500 Electric
Small cars are among the last section of the car market to get myriad electric-only models, such is the cost of relatively new technology. But the latest Fiat 500 model is one of them, and it’s a little cracker. The older model is still available with mild-hybrid technology but the electric 500 is a different car entirely, with chic looks, zippy performance and up to 199 miles of driving between charges (depending on the model you go for), which is considerably more than rivals like the Honda e and the MINI Electric. If you’re after zero-emission driving in a small package, this is where we’d recommend you start your search.
The Dacia Sandero has long held the title of Britain’s cheapest new car. It’s not quite as bargain-priced as it was (that’s inflation for you), but it still represents exceptional value for money. The current model is considerably more sophisticated than the original. It has been honed and improved in every way, with vastly better refinement, a sturdier feel through corners and excellent performance from its tiny turbocharged engine. Fit and finish is solid and quality is anything but basic. The only stumbling block is a disastrous safety rating from Euro NCAP, but Dacia insists it is a brand that doesn’t intend to chase star ratings. So far, customers seem to agree.
The Hyundai i10 is a great all-round hatchback, with sharp looks, room four four adults and class-leading boot space. It features luxuries like a cruise control and a heated steering wheel, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, as is wireless phone charging. The i10 is surprisingly good to drive, too, with agile handling and a choice of efficient engines. The 1.0 MPi model is particularly recommended, and makes the i10 as at home on the motorway as it is around town. The automatic gearbox isn't great though, so stick with the far-superior manual.
The classy Volkswagen Polo is an understated gem. Unlike some rivals, it doesn’t aim to stand out in a crowd, rather, it focuses on long-term satisfaction and delivering the goods day after day. The inbuilt quality is obvious the first time you slam the door and hear that robust thud. You also feel it in the solid way a Polo rides the bumps, and how its smooth engines hum happily away in the background, delivering ample power and good fuel economy. Even the retained values when it comes to trading in your Polo will ease your mind. It’s not the cheapest small car on sale, but it remains one of the best.
The Ford Fiesta is a British institution. For years, it has been one of the nation’s best-selling cars – and so well does the Fiesta drive, it somehow makes you proud to be British. Even the most basic Trend variant has the sort of tactility to shame many hot hatchbacks, while the EcoBoost petrol engines feel peppy and are reasonably efficient. However, it’s not just a driver’s car, because the Fiesta is also refined, has decent interior space and a comprehensive infotainment system. What a shame Ford has decided to axe the brilliant supermini, with the last Fiesta rolling off the production line in July 2023. Buy one while stocks last...
The latest Jazz combines its famously ingenious practicality with newfound style inspired by the designer-favourite Honda e. It’s still an upright and boxy five-door hatchback, but it’s much less utilitarian-looking than previous models. The interior has a high-quality feel, and it’s extremely light and airy inside. Naturally, it’s also extremely roomy. Rear-seat space is more akin to a larger family car, while the clever Honda Magic Seats transform it into a small van in seconds. Standard hybrid tech beneath the bonnet saves fuel, with a surprising amount of engine-off EV running in everyday driving. The Honda Jazz is back to its best.
Toyota has rediscovered the curvaceous and characterful styling that set the original 1990s Yaris apart. Sportier-looking than most of its rivals, it’s easy to confuse it with the rally-bred Toyota GR Yaris at first glance – despite this version offering five-door practicality. Faultless Toyota build quality gives a solid, built-to-last feel, and the petrol-electric hybrid system works faultlessly in everyday driving. It’s not uncommon for more than half of an urban journey to be driven in electric mode. And there’s no need to plug in this ‘self-charging’ hybrid either.
Peugeot’s latest small car revives the clean-cut style that makes classic models such as the 205 so celebrated. It has an upmarket appearance that is reflected in premium pricing, but which is justified by an interior that’s among the most distinctive and delightful in the sector. The Peugeot ‘i-Cockpit’ layout takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’re familiar, you’ll find this an entertaining and appealing daily driver. Neat handling and sweet engines give strength in depth, and Peugeot offers some intriguing technology if your budget allows. We particularly love the fascinating 3D digital instrument display.
How safe are the best small cars?
Euro NCAP safety tests are tough enough to ensure car manufacturers don't cut corners. Even the smallest cars are thoroughly crash-tested, and most buyers expect a four- or five-star score from the European safety agency. All but one of the superminis here perform really well, bolstering their credentials as safe small cars. The Dacia Sandero is the standout exception, scoring just two stars out of five. However, as the company points out, it’s still appreciably safer than even a three-year-old secondhand small car.
Which small car is the best value for money?
While the Dacia Sandero slips in terms of Euro NCAP safety ratings, it thrives if your priority is value for money. Simply put, no small car is as cheap as the Sandero – and no small car comes anywhere close, either. You can buy a top-spec Sandero for the price of a basic Fiesta or Corsa, which says it all. If you’re looking for the best-value car in the UK, look no further than the Dacia. And if you want to save even more, consider the Bi-Fuel Sandero, which can run on LPG. Where available, this sells for half the price of regular unleaded.
Are small cars cheap to insure?
Small cars tend to be cheap to insure because they’re offered with low-power engines, are cost-effective to repair and generally don’t attract car thieves in the same way sportier and more luxurious cars do. Insurance costs will rise as you move up the range into more powerful models, though, so keep things sensible if you want to find a small car that’s cheap to insure. It certainly explains why such cars are so popular amongst younger and newly-qualified drivers, who are most sensitive to car insurance prices.