The best small automatic cars in 2020

  • The best small automatic cars in 2020 
  • Take the stress out of city driving and commuting 
  • Find cars for sale that'll suit your budget and use 

The UK has a love affair with the small car and with the manual gearbox, but there’s no reason why the two must be irrevocably linked. While we love our small cars to have snickety, satisfying manual gearboxes, it makes a great deal of sense to fit these city slickers with automatic gearboxes instead.

The benefits are clear – if you spend all your time sat in traffic or nipping around a city, all a manual offers is the ability to keep your left hand and left leg constantly busy with a million gearchanges. Why not remove all that stress and allow an autobox to take the strain of city gridlock?

There are benefits for some users as well – those who, for whatever reason, are unable to drive a manual car. Regardless of which type of automatic transmission they use, every car on this list can be driven on an automatic-only license.

Of course, manual cars still make up the vast majority of sales in the UK, and they offer their own benefits. A manual car will normally be lighter, cheaper, and more engaging than its automatic siblings. You might find that automatic gearboxes are offered only in conjunction with top-spec trim levels, or that they’re only available with a particular engine.

These issues are being addressed, though. And while in the past a small automatic car was by its very nature slow, thirsty, jerky and expensive, all the cars on this list are on a par with their manual variants. They’re a pleasure to drive if all you want is to get from A to B with the minimum of fuss.

>> Automatic gearboxes explained

We’ve included cars in this list that use torque converter automatics, dual-clutch automatics, and CVTs. You can read more about these types of transmission on our jargon-busting explainer page, but all it really comes down to is this – not all automatic gearboxes are created equal, and for every one that offers smooth, quick shifts, there’s another that makes driving a misery. 

We’ve sorted the wheat from the chaff and chosen only cars that offer great automatic gearboxes in addition to being good to drive, practical and well-priced. 

Below, we’ve listed our favourite small automatic cars for 2020. Scroll down to discover them all or click on the quick links below to jump to your favourites. 

Best small automatics 2020

Peugeot 208
Renault Clio
VW Polo
Vauxhall Corsa
MINI Hatch
Nissan Micra
Renault Zoe
Volkswagen e-Up

Peugeot 208

Best small automatics - Peugeot 208

We think the Peugeot 208 range as a whole has plenty to offer, and rate it very highly – it’s stylish, great to drive and has a gorgeous interior. It’s a world away from the stodgy superminis Peugeot was building during the 2000s, and is a reminder that this is the company that brought us arguably the best small car ever made – the Peugeot 205.

The strength of the 208’s automatic offering is remarkable, though. It’s an eight-speed ‘traditional’ automatic, which Peugeot calls EAT8. It’s optional for 100hp models, commanding around a £1,400 premium and standard for 130hp variants.

It’s incredibly smooth and responsive, shifting between gears with the bare minimum of fuss. If you want to take control and shift yourself, it swaps cogs without hesitation. And with so many ratios on offer, top gear can be really long, making this a superb motorway cruiser.

We reckon the 208 is the best small automatic on the market, and though it’s quite pricey for a small car it’s well worth the outlay.

Price new: From £16,845
Lease this car: From £212 per month
Search for a used Peugeot 208 on Parkers here

Renault Clio

Best small automatics - Renault Clio

Renault actually offers two automatic gearbox options in the Clio, depending on which engine you opt for. The 100hp three-cylinder gets paired to a CVT, or continuously variable transmission – from our experience with this in the mechanically similar Nissan Micra, it’s a smooth and responsive option.

Our preferred option, though, is the 130hp four-cylinder, which comes paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This gearbox is quick-shifting and smooth, and doesn’t harm performance or economy either.

It’s a perfect match for the Clio, which we already rate very highly – in fact, it’s the Parkers First Car of the Year for 2020. With a huge boot, high-quality interior and good range of efficient and peppy engines, it’s as close to the perfect supermini as you can buy right now.

As a final selling point, Renault offers some fantastic finance offers on the Clio, meaning you can get your hands on one for much less than you might think.

Price new: From £15,295
Lease this car: From £161 per month
Search for a used Renault Clio on Parkers here

Volkswagen Polo

Best small automatics - VW Polo

Volkswagen’s reputation for solidity and subdued style carries over to its supermini offering – not only does the Polo feel like it’s been screwed together with real care, it’s rather classier than most small cars to look at.

It’s also spacious, with plenty of room for a small family, and good to drive with suspension that errs on the side of comfort without resorting to excess sportiness.

Volkswagen fits the Polo with its seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic – badged as ‘DSG’, or direct-shift gearbox. This transmission excels at shifting quickly – take control using the selector or steering-wheel paddles and it’ll rifle through gears as quickly as you can request them. In automatic mode, they can be a little hesitant, but under most circumstances it’s buttery-smooth.

Price new: From £15,875
Lease this car: From £212
Search for a used Volkswagen Polo on Parkers here

Vauxhall Corsa

Best small automatics - Vauxhall Corsa

If the avant-garde design of the Peugeot 208 is a little racy for you, then don’t panic – Vauxhall sells the Corsa, which is now based on exactly the same mechanical underpinnings as that car.

That means not only is this Corsa a huge improvement over the outgoing model in terms of driving dynamics, interior ambiance and efficiency, it also gets the same sublime EAT8 automatic gearbox – an eight-speed torque converter that shifts smoothly, quickly, and with the absolute minimum of fuss.

Easy driving manners and a very conventional (in a good way) interior mean the Corsa’s a simple car to get along with, and a wide array of trim levels means you should be able to find something to suit almost any budget.

Price new: From £15,925
Lease this car: From £205 a month
Search for a used Vauxhall Corsa on Parkers here

MINI Hatch 

MINI Hatchback

The MINI is one of the most popular small cars around, and it's certainly one of the most characterful by virtue of its cheery retro styling, fun handling and vast realms of personalisation options.

It's good news for two-pedal fans, then, that the MINI Hatch is offered with both a six-speed manual and a very well-rounded seven-speed automatic gearbox.

It's a dual-clutch type (except on firebreathing JCW hot hatch models... they get an eight-speed torque converter) and so offers snappy shifts whether you're pootling round town or zipping down an A road. Since the manual gearbox isn't exactly the MINI's strongest suit in the first place, there's no shame in opting for this automatic.

Price new: From £16,200
Lease this car: From £205 per month
Search for a used MINI Hatch on Parkers here

Nissan Micra 

2020 Nissan Micra

Nissan didn't initially offer this generation of Micra with an automatic gearbox - it was added when the car was a couple of years old in response to strong customer demand. We were initially apprehensive, as the Micra uses a CVT, or continuously variable transmission - a type of automatic gearbox that's typically whiny, noisy, power-sapping and generally unpleasant to drive.

However, the Micra automatic impressed us greatly with its smoothness and responsiveness, especially around town. Paired up to a 99hp 1.0-litre turbocharged engine, the Micra's actually quite fun to drive.

Other benefits include great interior space, striking looks and a really well thought-out interior. The Micra automatic is well worth a look if you don't demand a posh badge or the most engaging handling.

Price new: From £14,215
Find a used Nissan Micra for sale on Parkers here

Renault Zoe 

Renault Zoe

As an electric car, the Renault Zoe doesn't technically have a gearbox at all, automatic or otherwise. That's semantics, though - this is a two-pedal car and accessible to anybody with an automatic-only licence, so it belongs on this list.

The Zoe is one of the best affordable electric cars on the market today. It's only a mite bigger than Renault's Clio supermini so it's ideal for tight parking spaces and nipping around city streets. 

With a claimed range of 250 miles on a single charge, it's also a particularly convincing long-distance electric car - a rare breed. Add in a recent, comprehensive and Clio-aping facelift to bring it a high-quality interior and the Zoe really makes an excellent case for itself.

Price new: From £29,495
Lease this car: From £216 per month
Find a used Renault Zoe for sale on Parkers here

Volkswagen e-Up 

2020 Volkswagen e-Up

Like the Renault Zoe, the Volkswagen e-Up is an electric car with no gearbox at all. It's also happens to be one of our favourite electric cars.

The petrol-powered Up is available with an automatic gearbox, of sorts, but this is best avoided as it's jerky and slow. No such complaints with the e-Up, thanks to its smooth and remarkably swift electric powertrain - you'll certainly surprise people at traffic lights.

The Up feels its age a little bit inside as it lacks a true infotainment screen - instead, there's a phone cradle, which works well but can be hard to see unless you've a very large smartphone. It's roomy for such a small car though, with room for four six-foot adults on short journeys. Not that you're limited to short journeys - with a range of 174 miles on a full charge.

Price new: From £23,555
Find a used VW e-Up for sale on Parkers here

Further reading:

> Best small cars 2020

> First Car of the Year 2020

> Automatic gearboxes explained