Best city cars 2021

  • Parkers' pick of the best urban runabouts
  • In this case small can mean beautiful
  • Practical, efficient, cheap and fun

City cars are the smallest ‘proper’ cars you can buy. Generally well below four metres in length, as their name might suggest they’re perfect for driving round towns and cities – but there are many other reasons why you might want to opt for one.

Whether you’re a new driver looking for something with cheap insurance costs, a penny-pincher looking for something that’ll sip fuel, or just somebody who wants an easier life when it comes to parking and manoeuvring in tight spots, you’ll be able to find a city car to suit you. And though in the past opting for a car this small meant sacrificing equipment, refinement, safety and driving pleasure, the latest crop of city cars can be incredibly accomplished all-rounders.

Car manufacturers often have tremendous difficulty turning a profit on a city car, so they’re nothing like as commonplace as something like a compact SUV. This means, however, that there are relatively few poor choices on the market – those that have survived are almost all very good cars.

We’ve chosen our favourites below – click on the links to jump straight to the individual car or read on for some more buying advice.

Why buy a city car?

The most popular and best-selling cars in the UK belong to the supermini class – models such as the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Peugeot 208. As great as these cars are, it’s possible and in some cases desirable to opt for something even smaller. And this is where the city car comes in.

City cars are typically a significant step down in size from a supermini – a typical example such as a Toyota Aygo is less than 3.5 metres long, where a typical supermini such as a Ford Fiesta will be just over 4.0 metres long.

This miniaturisation applies to everything, and city cars will have smaller engines with comparatively dinky running costs.

It’s not always a positive – while some of these cars can be very practical for their size, they really aren’t suitable for more than two adults for anything longer than a trip to the shops. Only a scant few will accommodate four six-foot adults without being an uncomfortable squeeze.

Clearly then, city cars are best suited to lighter-weight duties than being a fully-fledged family bus. They make brilliant second cars – perfect for quick trips around the city, top-up shops or school runs while the larger car waits patiently for the weekend.

They’re also very popular as cars for new drivers, who appreciate their low running costs, small size and ease of manoeuvrability. Conversely, older drivers and empty-nesters may find downsizing an attractive proposition.

Petrol vs electric city cars

We’ve left diesel out of this simply because there’s not a single diesel city car on the market in the UK today. Instead, buyers can choose between a majority of petrol-powered vehicles, or a few electric models.

>> The best cheap electric cars

Both have their merits, however petrol still commands the lion’s share of interest due to its simplicity and cheapness.

Fiat 500 Electric

That doesn’t mean you ought to discount an electric city car altogether, though. Their purchase prices do tend to be higher than the equivalent petrol, but once bought their running costs are minimal – topping up their batteries overnight on an off-peak tariff is far cheaper than fuelling even the most efficient petrol city car.

Electric models are also fantastic fun to drive, and their lack of a transmission makes them ideal for schlepping around inner-city traffic jams. Most petrol city cars have manual gearboxes, with automatics being a pricey – and often fairly poor – optional extra.

Buying a used city car

Our list concentrates on new models, but almost every car here has been on sale long enough to gather a decent number of examples on the used market.

Shopping for a used city car is a bit different from, say, a family saloon, and there are a few things you need to extra vigilant in catching.

First of all, make sure equipment levels are as you need. Their position at the bottom of the market means many city cars do without features we consider commonplace on larger cars. You’re very likely to find cheaper examples don’t come standard with features such as air-conditioning, central locking or electric windows.

That tallies with their safety kit, too, and while most city cars are physically quite safe in a crash – with strong bodies and plenty of airbags – they lack the active accident protection features of larger cars, such as autonomous emergency braking.

You also need to look out for signs of a hard life in the city. Parking dings, kerbed wheels and premature clutch wear are part and parcel of a used city car that the previous owner’s been careless with – proceed with caution.

Volkswagen Up 

VW’s smallest model is one of its finest

Volkswagen Up

Pros:
✅ Great to drive
✅ High-quality feel

Cons:
❌ Lack of safety equipment
❌ No proper infotainment setup

The VW Up set the benchmark for the city car class when it launched back in 2012, and it’s a mark of how brilliant its original design was that it’s still very worthy of considering almost a decade on.

The Up’s boxy shape and wheel-at-each-corner stance gives it a practical and fun character not unlike an old Mini. There’s just about space inside for four adults, while the deep boot can accommodate a surprising amount.

The best part, though is how high-quality the whole package feels – just like one of Volkswagen’s larger, more expensive cars. You’ve the choice of two petrol engines – a non-turbocharged unit that’s efficient but rather slow, or a turbocharged GTI model that’s amazing fun. There’s also an all-electric e-Up if you prefer an EV.

Price new: From £12,705
Lease this car: From £205 per month
Find a used VW Up for sale here

Hyundai i10 

Practical, spacious and packed with quality touches

Hyundai i10

Pros:
✅ Space for four adults – no, really
✅ Plenty of safety tech

Cons:
❌ Dire automatic gearbox
❌ Best engine is pricey

Hyundai seems to have missed the memo that city cars are out of fashion – its i10 was new last year, features a full range of three engines (including a ‘hot’ model) and trim levels from the basic to the luxurious.

The i10’s always been a big little car, to coin a confusing phrase, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the current model. There is genuine space for four six-foot adults to ride in this car – not in amazing comfort, mind you, but more than enough for even a longer journey.

Hyundai equips the i10 with autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning, a rarity in a car this small, while the interior can be specified with heated everything, wireless smartphone charging and a connected infotainment system.

Price new: From £12,820
Lease this car: From £185 per month
Find a used Hyundai i10 for sale here

Suzuki Ignis 

The smallest SUV on sale? Baby Ignis is bags of fun

Suzuki Ignis

Pros:
✅ Cute, chunky styling
✅ Amazingly efficient

Cons:
❌ Cheap-feeling interior
❌ Not the best for motorway trips

Suzuki’s never been a brand that slavishly follows trends, and this is apparent in its Ignis. While many city cars aim to project an air of sportiness or sophistication that they don’t really deserve, the Ignis is unashamed of what it is – a cheap, lightweight and efficient car.

We’ve tested an Ignis exhaustively in our long-term test and thoroughly enjoyed its no-nonsense charm – it’s spacious, pretty fun to drive and incredibly efficient if you drive it carefully.

Suzuki will even sell you one with a mild-hybrid engine and four-wheel drive, which isn’t just a rarity in this sector, it’s unheard of.

Price new: From £14,509
Lease this car: From £204 per month
Find a used Suzuki Ignis for sale here

Kia Picanto 

Classy and spacious, with an amazing seven-year warranty

Kia Picanto

Pros:
✅ Well-built interior
✅ Fun to drive

Cons:
❌ Base engine needs working hard
❌ No model is particularly efficient

The Kia Picanto is what you might call a ‘grown-up’ small car – since launch it’s always offered a fully trimmed interior and five-door practicality. The latest model adds in a healthy dose of style and all-round ability.

The Picanto’s sporty looks even extend to a sporty engine – the 1.0-litre turbo available on top-spec cars is a gem. The same can’t quite be said of the lower-powered base engine, but all Picantos are nippy enough around town and corner well.

Top-end kit such as proper climate control, a sunroof and 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included on the higher trim levels, making the Picanto feel like a bigger car that’s been shrunken down.

Price new: From £10,995
Lease this car: From £163 per month
Find a used Kia Picanto for sale here

Fiat 500 Electric 

The electric reincarnation of an all-time great city car

Fiat 500 Electric

Pros:
✅ Usable electric range
✅ Modernised styling works a treat

Cons:
❌ Back seats rather tight
❌ More expensive than petrol-powered competition

When the time came to replace its 500 city car, Fiat went in a different direction than it had before – revamping it into an all-new model with exclusively electric powertrains. There’s a choice of two battery sizes, and the larger is capable of almost 200 miles on a charge – a really impressive range for such a small car.

The updated interior is worthy of comment, too - it retains a lot of the fun of the previous model but with a definite premium air that's been missing from Fiats for a long time. Charming little 'Easter Eggs' such as images of the Turin skyline in the smartphone pad are a nice addition, and the two screens - both the digital instrument panel and the infotainment screen - are clear and easy to use.

It's not very roomy, though, so the 500 probably shouldn't be your choice if you regularly want back-seat passengers.

Price new: From £22,995
Lease this car: From £291 per month
Find a used Fiat 500 Electric for sale here

Read more:

>> The best small cars to buy

>> Parkers First Car of the Year award

>> Renault Clio review