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 clear 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.

>> 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.

A word on electric vehicles…

You might notice a couple of pure electric vehicles in this list. Now, while EVs don’t technically have a gearbox, automatic or not, we’ve listed them because they offer the same clutchless driving experience and easy city-slicking ability. They can also be driven on an automatic-only license.

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.

Peugeot 208
Renault Clio
VW Polo
Vauxhall Corsa
Renault Zoe
SEAT Ibiza
Skoda Citigo-e iV
MINI Hatch
Kia Picanto
Audi A1

Peugeot 208

Best small automatics - Peugeot 208

We like the all-new Peugeot 208 very much indeed – it’s stylish, great to drive and has a gorgeous interior for a small car. It also just happens to have what we think is the best automatic gearbox in the supermini class.

It’s an eight-speed ‘traditional’ automatic which Peugeot calls EAT8. It’s available as an option on 100hp models and standard on 130hp models, but regardless of which you opt for it offers smooth shifts, decisive action and great gear ratios – top gear is so high that you’ll be cruising down the motorway with the engine barely at tickover, which is great for refinement.

Even a little hesitancy when manoeuvring slowly can’t stop us recommending this as the best small automatic on the market.

Renault Clio

Best small automatics - Renault Clio

Renault’s unusual in offering two different kinds of automatic gearbox for the new Clio. 100hp models get a CVT, which is fine, but unspectacular. 130hp models, however, get a really quick-shifting dual-clutch. It’s badged as EDC and we think it’s great to use.

It plays to the rest of the Clio’s strengths – namely, good driving manners, a really pleasant interior and exceptional value with some great finance packages. It’s so good that we rated it (the whole range, not just the auto) Parkers First Car of the Year 2020.

Volkswagen Polo

Best small automatics - VW Polo

Volkswagen’s reputation for solidity and quality carries over to its supermini offering, and the Polo feels like it’s screwed together with real care. It’s spacious, comfortable and good to drive, too, while those who want to personalise their cars can choose from a wide array of interior trim packs and equipment levels.

The real selling point is its DSG automatic gearbox, though. Volkswagen was one of the pioneers of this technology and it’s matured into an automatic that’s smooth, easy to operate yet rifle-quick if performance is desired.

Vauxhall Corsa

Best small automatics - Vauxhall Corsa

If the avant-garde design of the Peugeot 208 is a bit too much for you, don’t panic – Vauxhall sells the Corsa, which in this generation is based on exactly the same underpinnings as the 208, and so comes with the same sublime automatic gearbox.

Easy driving manners and a conventional interior mean the Corsa’s simple to get along with, while a wide array of trim levels mean you should be able to find something to suit almost any budget. It returns 45.6mpg, so slightly less than the 47.9mpg.

Renault Zoe

Best small automatics - Renault Zoe

If your lifestyle suits it, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t go electric for your next car. Although initial purchase price can be high, if you’re able to charge from the mains at home then you can bring your motoring costs down to mere pennies.

The Renault Zoe is one of the best of the breed – with a range of up to 186 miles on a full charge, a spacious interior and lots of smart tech, it’s ideal for slipping into your daily life with little to no compromise.

SEAT Ibiza

Best small automatics - SEAT Ibiza

The SEAT Ibiza’s very closely related to the Volkswagen Polo, and as such uses the same combinations of engines paired to that great seven-speed DSG transmission. There’s a small running costs penalty – with 45.6mpg trailing the manual’s 48.7mpg – but that’s not too bad in the great scheme of things.

Where it differs from the Volkswagen is in its styling, which is sharp-edged and handsome, its interior, which is cavernous, and its pricing, which is usefully lower. No wonder it scored Parkers First Car of the Year Award for 2019.

Skoda Citigo-e iV

Best small automatics - Skoda Citigo-e iV

The Skoda Citigo-e iV (daft name, we know) is the brand’s first pure electric car. It’s even smaller than most of the cars on this list but will still manage an impressive 161 miles of range on a full charge, with the instant torque of an electric motor providing plenty of zip around town.

The usual caveats apply when driving something this small – there’s only just enough space for four adults, and the boot is small. But it’s still well worth considering. If you’re shopping used, though, beware – the petrol-powered Citigo previously available did have an optional automatic gearbox, but it was utterly dreadful. Avoid it!

MINI Hatch

Best small automatics - MINI Hatch

No, the MINI’s not particularly mini these days – in fact it’s larger than most of the cars on this list, but it’s still titchy enough to make zipping round town and parking in small gaps a pleasure rather than a chore.

Automatic MINIs get a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which is smooth and easy to use. Given that the manual gearshift in a MINI is far from its best feature, there’s certainly no shame in opting for the automatic option.

Kia Picanto

Best small automatics - Kia Picanto

There’s a scourge on the smallest cars available in the UK. It’s called the automated manual transmission, and its jerky, erratic movement has plagued these tiny cars for years.

Luckily, the Kia Picanto – already a very good small car – comes with a traditional automatic gearbox instead of one of these dreadful automated manuals. It’s heavy, not very fun and quite inefficient – returning just 52.3mpg paired to a 1.25-litre engine. However, if you want a city car with an autobox, its smooth and easygoing nature makes it the best option.

Audi A1

Best small automatics - Audi A1

Small doesn’t necessarily have to mean cheap and nasty. The Audi A1 brings a touch of premium flavour to the small car market, and its DSG automatic gearbox is as good as the one you’ll find in the Polo and Ibiza – unsurprising, as it’s the same exact unit. Efficiency is impressive, too, with claims of up to 46.3mpg from the 30 TFSI petrol model.

The A1 also offers bold styling and the allure of that premium Audi badge. It’s expensive, yes – but worth paying for.