It’s easy to understand why so many UK car buyers are downsizing to smaller cars. Especially when you look at how much we pay for fuel and how poorly our roads are designed for modern traffic, having a large car seems like an extravagance.
Small cars were once seen as second cars or cars for kids to learn in but now many people use them as the sole car in a family. This shift in emphasis means manufacturers are now making small cars that are more spacious on the inside than most of us would ever have thought possible.
Here’s a look at ten of the best on the market today, divided by segment. If any of these compact cars sound perfect for you, our PCP calculator can give you a better idea how much they could cost.
Probably the first car we think of when it comes to small-scale motoring. The current Ford Fiesta is without doubt the best it’s ever been which, based on its predecessors, really is saying something. Its modern styling, incredible handling, roster of technology and award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine means it’s easy to understand why the Ford continues to be so popular.
The latest facelift has even seen boot space increase for extra practicality. You can now fit 295 litres of luggage in the Fiesta’s boot, or as much as 979 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The Honda Jazz may be one of the more expensive options in its class, but you’ll certainly feel the benefit when the time comes to trade-in. Few small cars hold their price as well as the diminutive Honda, and that’s even more the case now it’s a practical five-door only model.
But if that’s not enough reason for you to take a closer look at the Jazz, its near-legendary reliability and Tardis-like amount of interior space really should be. It isn’t the sportiest model in the segment, but it’s certainly one of the best choices if you want a supermini as your main car.
If you need even more room for the kids and all their stuff, mini-MPVs like the excellent Hyundai ix20 might do the job. The impressive Hyundai gives you all the room and practicality you want at the lower end of the price scale for such vehicles. The ix20 costs a little over £12,000, but higher-spec models represent the best value and they’re really where this South Korean gem comes into its own.
Hyundai has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the ix20 is a great example of what it does best. The Asian auto giant makes excellent cars that represent great value and outstanding practicality, with resale values significantly better than they used to be.
At first glance, the Ford B-Max could seem like a tall Fiesta with a few gimmicks. However, the unusual sliding rear doors and absence of a central “B” pillar make this one of the most easy to access vehicles in its class – ideal for new parents or those with elderly relatives.
The B-Max carries over enough the good things we already know about the Fiesta it’s based upon. As well as the easy access (especially to the rear), you get a classy interior, attractive styling, loads of features and handling that’s better than anything else in its class.
When it comes to small SUVs and crossovers, you can’t fail to have noticed how many Nissan Qashqais there are on the roads these days. Its forebears laid the groundwork meaning it’s now one of the best-selling vehicles of its type in the country.
One look at the stylish Nissan should be enough to win most people over, but things get even better when you get inside. Nissan has really upped its game with both the styling and the materials on display here, and the latest model comes as well-equipped as ever. If there’s one area of complaint, it’s that the boot isn’t as big as we’d like.
In just about every area, the Skoda Yeti wins praise for its handling, refinement, performance and practicality. You now have a choice between the standard model and the more SUV-like Outdoor version, but both versions offer the high seating position and excellent all-round visibility buyers in this segment look out for.
You have a 1.2-litre petrol and two diesel engines to choose from along with optional four-wheel drive and DSG automatic gearboxes. You also get the added peace of mind of being part of the Volkswagen family.
If you really want to go as small as possible with your new car, the Volkswagen Up is one of the best on the market right now. It may be easy enough to build a small car, but it’s tough to build one as good as this. Like the larger Honda Jazz, the Up has a remarkably large amount of interior space compared to its external size.
City cars like this are aimed primarily at the urban environment but the Up is a fine performer out in the country as well. With high quality materials on the inside, VW build-quality and competitive pricing, the Up is a hard act to beat in its class.
The Fiat Panda offers something a little different for city car buyers in the form of its high roof and upright stance. That means you get pretty good visibility and a spacious, airy cabin with lots of useful storage spaces.
You can get as much as 67.3mpg from the TwinAir petrol model, and CO2 emissions are low enough to mean you don’t have to pay road tax on smaller engines. If you want more than most people demand from the average city car, there’s even a four-wheel drive option that follows in the footsteps of the legendary Fiat Pandas of old.
Small family hatchbacks
SEAT is forging quite a reputation for itself these days, and the Leon, in particular, is now regarded as one of the very best small family cars out there. It comes in versatile five-door, a rakish SC and a spacious ST estate version, all of which have ample room inside for five adults.
As well as plenty of room for passengers, there’s loads of room for all their stuff with a boot that matches the class leaders with a sizeable 380 litres of space. But if you want more than just practicality, the SEAT Leon also offers a combination of agility, comfort and refinement that make it a package to be reckoned with.
The Mazda 3 is a great example of just how well the brand is developing now it’s divorced from Ford. It has all the practicality you need from a small family car, but it also delivers when it comes to its ride, handling, looks and economy. The Mazda 3’s ‘SkyActiv’ platform improves stiffness, and is largely responsible for the outstanding driving characteristics on show here.
The diesel variant matches a Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI on CO2 emissions but beats it on peak torque by almost 20 per cent. The Mazda 3 is, perhaps, the surprise package in one of the most fiercely-contested segments of the market.
Small, but perfectly formed
If any of the cars above have piqued your interest, why not take a look at them in our car configurator to see how much you could save on one – our handy PCP caluclator can help you get a better idea how much your new car could cost, too. If you’re especially taken with the idea of a small SUV or crossover, read our best compact crossover article. Or, if you’re not sure which is for you, head over to our deals page to see our latest discounts.