City cars are great. They’re the smallest new cars you buy today without straying into quadricycle territory. These days, they’re normally around four metres long and powered by tiny 1.0-litre petrol engine, which makes them perfectly suited for urban environments. Because they’re cheap to run and insure, they also make ideal cars for newly qualified drivers.
Don’t be fooled by their size, though. City cars are no longer the slow, utilitarian means of transport they used to be. Modern turbocharger technology and featherlight kerb weights means they’re surprisingly nippy off the mark. They’re reasonably accomplished out of town, too, with enough pace and refinement to stand up to motorway traffic.
In the past, opting for a car this small also meant sacrificing cabin equipment and safety technology – but todays city cars can be specified with some impressive extras. For example, the Volkswagen Up can be equipped with a six-speaker Beats audio system and the Hyundai i10 features lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking as standard.
There’s no getting around the size issue, mind. Tall drivers might find some of the cars in this to be a bit of a squeeze, and you wouldn’t want to use them for regularly carrying four passengers. The cost savings might just be worth the sacrifice, though. Browse our list below for some inspiration.
The best city cars for 2023
Still a brilliant city car after all these years
You can have the Up! with either three or five doors and, because it subscribes to the original Mini’s boxy-styling-wheel-at-each-corner design brief, its interior is surprisingly spacious. The boot’s a reasonable size, too, measuring 251 litres with the rear seats in place and up to 959 litres with the bench folded. Even the build quality is good, and the cabin is well-isolated from road noise.
Read the full Volkswagen Up review
- Class-leading build quality
- Peppy range of engines
- Fabulous Up GTI model
- Pricier than many rivals
- Three-star Euro NCAP rating
Grown-up choice with excellent reliability
You’re not exactly short-changed on the equipment front either. Even the most basic SE model comes with autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, lane-keeping assist and air conditioning. Make merry with the options list and you can have such luxuries as an 8.0-inch infotainment system, a wireless smartphone charger, a heated steering wheel and a rear-view parking camera. You can even have a sporty N-Line model with 100hp and a racy body kit.
Read the full Hyundai i10 review
- Exceptional interior space compared to rivals
- Classy, easy-to-use dashboard
- Lots of safety equipment
- Optional automatic gearbox is atrocious
- Higher trim levels are pricey
Still our favourite small electric car
Those figures are encouraging enough to coax you away from the city and onto the open road – as are the 500e’s punchy electric motors. The base-model has 93hp, while the range-topper has 118hp. More importantly though, both cars have 210Nm of torque which makes them spring away from the lights like a startled rabbit. You can have it as a convertible, too.
Read our full Fiat 500e review
- Wonderfully stylish inside and out
- Quick and fun to drive
- Long range for a small car
- Entry-level version trades range for cost
- Not particularly practical
Reassuringly reliable choice for two...
As a city car, though, the Aygo X works very well. Its taller suspension means it rides better than the old Aygo hatchback, which is handy when it spends all day dealing with potholes, speed bumps and stray footballs. It’s also packed with technology. The most expensive model comes with a 9.0-inch infotainment system, heated seats, a retractable canvas roof and a wireless smartphone charger.
Read the full Toyota Aygo X review
- Ride quality improved over Aygo
- Cabin stylish and functional
- Decent around town
- Puny engine struggles on the open road
- Terrible rear legroom
Sportier i10 with a longer warranty
The entry-level, naturally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is a little underpowered, but the range-topping turbocharged version fitted to the GT-Line S model is plenty spritely enough, serving up 100hp and 172Nm of torque. Both come with a snappy manual gearbox as standard.
Read the full Kia Picanto review
- Well-equipped, well-made interior
- 1.0-litre turbo is excellent
- Easy to drive
- Basic engine needs working hard
- Optional automatic is awful
You won't mistake it for any other car
We also haven’t addressed the Ignis’s trump card. Unlike anything else in the city car class, you can take it off-road because it’s available with four-wheel drive. We’d say it’s an option box well worth ticking if you live somewhere rural. Its 83hp 1.2-litre four-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol engine also is entertaining on a B-road, although it starts to labour once you hit the motorway.
Read the full Suzuki Ignis review
- Unique hybrid and 4x4 offerings
- Cheap to buy and run
- Fun to drive in the city
- Safety kit lacking
- High insurance grouping
Low in price, high on value
It isn’t even that spartan inside. Sure, the base-models don’t have a fancy infotainment system or lashings of leather trim, but we think modern buyers have learned to expect a little too much from new cars. The Sandero’s a perfectly comfortable place to be with air conditioning, electric windows, cruise control and privacy glass fitted as standard. Compare it to what you were driving 20 years ago and the consider recalibrating your understanding of the word 'utilitarian.'
Read the full Dacia Sandero review
- Big enough for a family
- Small enough for cities
- Well judged interior and quality
- Not the last word in refinement
- Low price can be undercut by rivals on finance
Taking city cars to the extreme
It’s powered by a tiny 5.5kWh battery pack that can store enough electricity for a maximum range of 43 miles. Power goes to a dinky 8hp electric motor mounted on the rear axle, which can push the Ami up to a top speed of 28mph – so you’ll never get a speeding ticket. Also, because the battery is so small, it’ll recharge fully in just three hours when connected to a three-pin socket.
Read the full Citroen Ami review
- Fun, funky urban transport
- Drier and safer than a moped
- Cheap to buy and lease
- It’s a quadricycle, not a car
- Very few frills or safety kit