Top Gear's Top 10 small cars
Bore off SUVs, these brilliant little cars are the perfect antidote
We start off with our wildest wild card in the list. Pricey, premium and powered by electricity, the i3 doesn’t immediately stand out as a traditional small car. But it does at least stand out, and in a world of ever shrinking distinctions between all cars (please no more crossovers), the i3 is a welcome blast of arctic air. It’s been recently refreshed, but the principles remain the same – electric motor, suitable range and brilliant interior. We’ve never got bored of those rear suicide doors and it manages to hit a zone of feeling like an early adopter car, but without any compromises.
There’s also now an i3S, a faster one that even has Dynamic Traction Control. Apparently, it will let you drift. Told you it should be in our list. The range-extender version with a petrol engine on board to charge the battery is no more, meanwhile, because of increases in battery performance. That’s progress.
Read the Top Gear full review of a BMW i3 by clicking these blue words.Advertisement - Page continues below
How many French references can we cram into a single car? It’s a well-trodden path talking about Gallic flair in a French car that’s been built for the European (mainly French) market. But then you look at a car like the Citroen C3 and realise there’s little other way to describe it. It’s interesting in a way that few other rivals manage and in a sector where individuality is hard to come by, that means something. You can take or leave the Airbumps, depending on your taste and parking habits, while the interior is fresh. There’s even an optional dashcam – handy in case of a shunt, but also if the view is worth remembering, as it’ll also snap a shot and send it round your social feeds. Very 2020s.
Fancy a full review of the Citroen C3? Click these blue words.
If you’ve ever been on a holiday in the Italian Alps, with ancient, seemingly clapped-out Fiat Pandas moseying around like docile mountain goats, you’ll appreciate why it is probably the coolest small car out there. Remarkably, Fiat has managed to bottle that essence and sprinkle it over the latest one. It’s teeny enough to manage those mountain passes, or the width restrictors in Croydon, but with five doors and a decent selection of engines (our pick is the perky, bonkers TwinAir petrol), it’s practical enough to ferry the family about its day to day business. There’s even a four-wheel drive version – a rarity in this class. It all adds to a sense that this is minimal fuss motoring at its best.
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The Fiesta is to the small car world what the Porsche 911 is to the sports car – an omni-presence, a car you always try to argue against because you refuse to trot out the same group test winners again and again. And you always fail – it’s just too good. And here in the UK, we’re still buying them in our droves. The latest one has fixed the bits that were wrong with the last – poor infotainment, general ambience in the cabin, driver assistance tech – and made sure the bits that were excellent remain so. And unlike a lot of rivals, Ford has kept faith with the hot hatch version, the ST. Those of a less zippy mindset will be very happy in the range of three-cylinder petrols, turbo’d and peppy enough to cope with any journey. Like the 911, it’s tricky to see how Ford will improve for the next one.
Read the Top Gear full review of the Ford Fiesta by clicking here.
We once took one to the Korean DMZ, just because … well, just because it’s there. But, truth be told, you don’t really need a TG stunt to sell the Picanto – now into its third generation, the car is a good looking, smart urban runaround that has transformed perceptions of the Korean manufacturer. As ever with Kia, it gets the basics right. The wheels are pushed out to the edges to maximise cabin space, the cabin has the right balance of tech and practicality, and the petrol engines, either four or three cylinders, have enough gumption to cope with any sort of trip. This is what continues to impress us about modern small cars and this one is no different – gone are the days when any long journey would have filled you with dread. Even trips to military checkpoints.
Fancy reading a full review of the Kia Picanto? Click here to find out more.
Peugeot is on something of a roll at the moment. The styling is bang-on, the cars drive well and they seem to be building things that people actually want. The new 208 is no different. And yet it also is. Because Peugeot has gambled by offering customers three engine choices – petrol, diesel and electric. There’s no separate electric model, unlike VW or Renault or others. But that’s not why it’s here. No, with a brilliant balance between curves and edges, the 208 is as handsome as any small car out there. Plus, the engines are wide-ranging with power outputs going from 74bhp to 128bhp (which even gets an eight-speed auto! In a supermini!). The French do know their small cars and they know how to build good ones. The 208 continues that tradition.
Read the Top Gear full review of a Peugeot 208 by clicking these blue words.
While the British love affair with the Ford Fiesta continues unabated, our friends across the water (no, not our American chums) continue to j’adore the Renault Clio. Wisely, then, Renault has largely left the latest one alone and carried on an evolutionary path. It’s a handsome thing, but our money would be on the 208 in a style-off. Still, where the Clio does score big points is inside. If minimal cash was spent on the exterior, then the entirety of the rest went on the cabin – there’s a portrait-style floating infotainment screen that dominates and Renault has wisely kept some buttons beneath for air con and the like. No need to wildly stab a touchscreen to change the temperature half a degree. It’s a roomy, smart interior that feels bang up to date. Looks like the French obsession will continue.
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Amidst all the noise of Jaguar I-Paces and Audi e-trons, and the shoutiness of the Tesla-rati, it’s often easy to forget that Renault was one of the earliest electric car adopters. That was courtesy of the first gen Zoe and now there’s a new one, which tackles a lot of the issues from the first but wisely leaves the styling largely alone – it looks futuristic enough without falling into the bland-trap of so many electric cars. The key thing now is the range, as the battery has jumped from 41kWh to 52kWh, which gives up to a third more mileage. Renault says it’ll go 240 miles between charges if you’re really careful. That’s absolutely crucial and, along with DC charging now being available, means the Zoe has the hardware to keep up with the approaching rivals. Early adopters can’t afford to stand still.
Read the Top Gear full review of the Renault Zoe by clicking these blue words.
Nope – don’t click away. You are still looking at the Top 10 best small cars. We couldn’t justify this list to ourselves without putting the brilliant off-road Jimny in it – technically not a small car by the traditional definition, but no less excellent for it. And while it’s fair to say it’s not without its compromises compared to other small cars (you only really get a choice between rear seats or having a boot, not both, and its three-door only), the Jimny’s looks and proper four-wheel drive set-up mean that it’s too brilliant not to include. It’s got bags of attitude, refusing to tow the wider industry line of having paper-thin 4WD credibility. In today’s Instagram-filtered world, its honesty is refreshing.
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Yes, we know the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo are cheaper. But every time we jump in an Up, we have a smile on our face. And what price happiness, eh? VW had previous with small city cars, gamely trying to flog the Fox for a few years before giving up with its tail between its legs. Happily, it came back with the Up, a car with its own identity and personality, worthy of its place within the wider VW stable. Like other cars in our list, the Up manages any sort of journey easily, managing to feel refined and punchy despite only mustering a maximum of 75bhp. Unless you count the GTi. Thankfully, the Germans have decided to reintroduce this version. The world can never have too many GTi cars.
Fancy reading a full review of the VW Up? Click these blue words to find out more.