The best small cars to buy in 2021

  • Parkers picks out our favourite small cars on the market
  • Something for everyone, with prices for all budgets
  • Check out our Top 10 small cars below

Once upon a time, opting for a small car would mean sacrificing performance and luxury in favour of cheap plastics and wheezy engines. Not any more. Modern compact cars are seriously impressive - they can be as fun to drive and practical as much larger vehicles, yet are cheap to buy and cheap to run.

This list is dominated by cars fitting into the supermini class, around the size of the Ford Fiesta. These cars are ideal for a young, small family – able to accommodate four adults, if often at a tight squeeze – while singles and couples will find there’s more than enough space in the average supermini for their needs.

We’ve also included a couple of city cars. This class sits below the supermini category, and covers anything around the size of a Fiat 500. As the name suggests, these dinky options are ideal for nipping in and around urban areas. That’s not to say they’re a one-trick pony, though, with many of the latest crop well up to longer hauls. As long as you’re not expecting to use it for flat-pack furniture hauling, a city car makes a lot of sense as a second car or a young driver’s first.

>> Search for small car leasing deals

While there’s no doubting that electric mobility is on an ever-closer horizon, the technology has yet to fully storm small cars. That’s mainly because EVs are expensive, and manufacturers struggle to make worthwhile profits while maintaining a consumer-friendly price at this level. That said, four cars on this list are available as pure-electric with four also offering varying forms of hybrid technology.

>> Need an automatic? These are the best small automatic cars you can buy
>> Want a seriously cheap car? Here are some finance deals for less than £90 a month
>> Here are the best cheap fast cars

Best small cars 2020

1. Renault Clio
2. Peugeot 208
3. Ford Fiesta
4. Volkswagen Up
5. Renault Zoe
6. SEAT Ibiza
7. MINI Hatch
8. Toyota Yaris
9. Hyundai i10
10. Ford Puma


1. Renault Clio

The best all-around small car

Pros:
✅ Looks great
✅ Bargain price

Cons:
Cramped rear seats

Best small cars - Renault Clio

We think this latest Renault Clio is a really excellent supermini – in fact, it’s so good that we awarded it the Parkers First Car of the Year award for 2020. We were particularly wowed by its interior, which blends high-end tech into a package that’s familiar, easy to use and spacious. It’s also extremely well priced, with some really tempting finance packages on offer.

The Clio’s engine line-up includes a diesel, which we don’t recommend, and a hybrid, which we do – but the bulk of the range consists of two turbocharged petrols, which are smooth, refined and powerful. A generous list of standard safety equipment and fuel economy of more than 50mpg in most models make it a fine all-rounder – and there’s loads of space in the boot for all your kit and clobber.**

Price new: from £15,295
Leasing price: from £161 per month
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2. Peugeot 208

Great-looking with a fab cabin

Pros:
Amazing interior
Petrol, diesel, or electric

Cons:
Can be pricey

2019 Peugeot 208

Like the Clio above, the Peugeot 208 comes very highly rated with a compact but impressive range of engines and good on-road manners. Where it stands out is on the inside – Peugeot’s unique styling and high levels of build quality conspire to make a cabin that’s a true pleasure to sit in. It’s also ideal if you need an automatic car – we think the optional eight-speed auto is the best supermini self-shifter on the market.

The 208 is also available as the all-electric e-208 – capable of more than 200 miles on a single charge. With a price tag on the high side, it’s not for everyone, but it could prove a really compelling reason to go electric for those who are capable of doing so. And the fact it looks almost identical to its petrol counterpart is great for slipping under the radar.**

Price new: from £17,155
Leasing price:
 from £220 per month
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3. Ford Fiesta

The ubiquitous best-seller

Pros:
Fantastic to drive
Wide range of engines and trims

Cons:
No proper hybrid or electric versions
Cabin feels old now

2019 Ford Fiesta Trend front

There’s no fully-electric Ford Fiesta just yet and electrification is only covered by a pair of mild-hybrid offerings, but any other facet of motoring is just about covered by this supermini – which helps account for it being the bestselling car in the UK. Entry-level models (like the Trend model pictured) are well priced and cheap to run, but if you want a bit of luxury there’s a range-topping Vignale model stuffed to the gills with leather and technology.

Fan of SUV styling? You can have a Fiesta Active, with jacked-up suspension and body cladding. And of course, we can’t forget the ST, which is our favourite hot hatchback – it’s so good, we awarded it our Car of the Year gong for 2019. Regardless of which Fiesta you opt for, they’re united by the best driving experience you’ll find in a small car.**

Price new: from £16,640
Leasing price: from £175 per month
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4. Volkswagen Up

The half-sized hero

Pros:
Genuinely tiny
Super-efficient

Cons:
Larger cars aren't much more expensive
Base models very slow

Best small cars - Volkswagen Up

Our next range is another one that offers quite a wide choice. You can have your Volkswagen Up with a 60hp, 1.0-litre petrol engine, and that’s the route most buyers will take. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s an effervescent little thing, more than happy to keep up with traffic, but those wanting a bit more grunt can go one of two ways.

>> Watch our video review of the Volkswagen Up GTI here

First there’s the all-electric e-Up – with a range of 186 miles on a full charge and impressive performance. Or, there’s the 115hp Up GTI, which has a character rather like a little puppy: well-meaning, full of energy and incredible fun. Any of these three models has the benefits of Volkswagen build quality and an impressive level of interior space for such a small car, too.**

Price new: from £12,475
Leasing price: from £202 per month
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5. Renault Zoe

The best small electric car

Pros:
Great range for a small EV
Smart and practical interior

Cons:
Not everyone is ready for electric motoring
Driving position awkward

2020 Renault Zoe side

Unlike the Clio at the top of this list, Renault’s Zoe is all-electric, all the time, and it’s all the better for it – providing a really accessible driving experience in a practical package. The Zoe looks almost exactly like a conventional supermini, with only a slightly high seating position and EV-specific instruments giving it away.

With more than 250 miles available on a full charge, opting for a Zoe need be no less convenient than a petrol car – and if you don’t do extreme distances and charge up at home, you may never have to trouble a public charging bay.**

>> We ran a long-term Renault Zoe - check out our thoughts here

Price new: from £29,495
Leasing price: from £227 per month
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6. SEAT Ibiza

The Polo's stylish cousin

Pros:
Very practical
Former Parkers award-winner

Cons:
Drab interior
Not that cheap to run

Best small cars - SEAT Ibiza

A former Parkers First Car of the Year award winner, the SEAT Ibiza offers Volkswagen build quality without the Volkswagen price, plus a really great range of engines and gearboxes.

We’re always impressed at how practical this little car is too, with loads of space for adults in the rear and a massive boot that will dwarf the weekly shop.**

>> We ran a long-term SEAT Ibiza - check out our thoughts here

Price new: from £16,475
Leasing price: from £194 per month
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7. MINI Hatch

Small cars don't come more stylish than this

Pros:
Great fun to drive
Infinitely personalisable

Cons:
Not very practical
Expensive

Best small cars - MINI Hatch

The Mini is the most recognisable small car of all time, and though the current model may be a lot bigger in size, it’s kept the same personality. In fact, today’s model remains a standout hit thanks to its classic pastiche looks and impressively agile handling.

>> We ran a long-term MINI Cooper S - check out our thoughts here

With a vast array of personalisation options – and engines ranging from sedate to superb - there’s a MINI to suit everyone. You can have one with three or five doors, depending on your needs, and there’s a MINI Electric available too if you’re intent on going zero-emissions.**

Price new: from £16,200
Leasing price: from £206 per month
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8. Toyota Yaris

Hybrid-only and all the better for it

Pros:
Very efficient
Great to drive

Cons:
Small
Infotainment not the best

Toyota Yaris - best small cars 2020

It’s fair to say the previous Toyota Yaris was pretty underwhelming in comparison with stiff competition, lacking on quality, performance and outright desirability. The Japanese firm has very much fixed that with the latest take on the supermini though, propelling back up to the leading pack. 

If fuel consumption is a major concern, it’s hard to beat the Toyota Yaris, thanks to its sophisticated hybrid system, while a fresh look and 0% APR finance deals make it a serious attraction on the forecourt.

Price new: from £19,910
Leasing price: from £233 per month
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9. Hyundai i10

The grown-up small car

Pros:
Amazingly spacious
Lots of equipment

Cons:
Three-star Euro NCAP score

2020 Hyundai i10

The latest Hyundai i10 doesn’t exactly do anything new with the city car formula, but it improves it in almost every way. Think a tiny car can’t be spacious? You’ll find more room in the back seats of the i10 than in many cars from the class above.

You won’t have to suffer without all the luxury equipment you’ve got used to in your large car, either – the i10 can be had with an impressive connected infotainment system and more safety kit than you can shake a stick at. In fact, just about the only thing you’ll have to deal with is a weedy engine – but both options are more than enough if you go gently.**

Price new: from £12,820
Leasing price: from £178 per month
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10. Ford Puma

The best small SUV

Pros:
Smooth mild-hybrid systems
Very practical

Cons:
Cabin doesn't feel very special

2020 Ford Puma

The Ford Puma is the biggest car on this list, but it’s still pretty small for an SUV – and exceedingly practical. Many may bemoan the Puma name – previously used on a Fiesta-based coupe – being used on an SUV, but look past that and you’ll find a car that’s very practical and immensely good to drive.

A series of mildly electrified engines bring good performance, and the Puma’s high-set seating position and chunky styling are very in vogue. If you fancy a crossover with a small footprint, we reckon this is one of the best.**

Price new: from £21,640
Leasing price: from £191 per month
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** Deals are correct at time of publication. Everyone’s financial circumstances are different and credit is not always available – Parkers cannot recommend a deal for you specifically. These deals are indicative examples of some packages available this week. Bauer Consumer Media Limited is an appointed representative of ZenAuto Limited for the broking of regulated hire agreements. ZenAuto Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. ZenAuto Limited's registered office is Number One, Great Exhibition Way, Kirkstall Forge, Leeds LS5 3BF. ZenAuto Limited's company registration number is 10967345. ZenAuto is the trading name of ZenAuto Limited. Terms, conditions and exclusions apply.