City cars are designed to take up as little space on the road as possible while being usefully practical - as well as, of course, being cheap to lease and to run. Those defining characteristics mean it's actually pretty difficult to build a really good city car and keep it well-priced. And for a long time, most 'runabouts' were less-than-sparkling: heavily compromised, cramped, cheap, noisy... just not that much fun to live with.
Now though, the city car class is genuinely one of the most exciting. Manufacturers are making massive strides in the sector, including making fully electric and even SUV-shaped models. And there's nothing quite like driving a proper good small car - a small car that exceeds your expectations with excellent interior space, quiet motorway refinement and delightful cabin design. So, here are ten small cars that have those qualities.
1. Fiat 500 | 500 Electric
When Fiat launched the all-new electric-only 500, the 'old' version was still so popular that the company decided to keep making it. An unusual but very welcome move, because there's still a lot to love about the petrol-powered Fiat 500. It's perfectly small for city duties, and it's amazing value in terms of leasing costs, fuel efficiency and insurance rates. The electric version is a huge step forward for the model, though. The refinement levels are magnificent, the interior is neater and more accommodating to taller people, and there’s a choice of two battery packs, the bigger of which gives you up to 199 miles of range. And it feels super quick because the accelerator response is instant - perfect for tight, stop-and-start city situations.
2. Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta is technically a class up, if you want to get all technical about it - it's a 'supermini' rather than a city car. But ignore that pedantry, because the Ford has been an iconic small car for four decades now - a proper city car in all but name. The latest model is a classic, with enough space for four (five at a push) from a small footprint, a decent-sized boot and, most memorably, amazingly fun handling that combines road feel with genuine comfort.
3. DS 3
Again, not a city car by definition - it's a small SUV really - but the DS 3's chunky styling and tall driving position make it perfect for the city. Visibility in all directions is great, and because DS is a 'premium' brand, pitched against the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, the DS 3 is set-up to drive in a wallowy, comfortable, luxurious sort of way. It's an unusual looking thing too, with a distinct cabin design that plays with convention - the window switches are placed between the seats, for instance.
4. Hyundai i10
In terms of traditional, petrol-powered city cars, the Hyundai i10 is the best of the lot. Its smooth exterior styling hides a surprisingly large and nicely appointed cabin, and while a mere £188 per month will get you into a lower-spec model, you only have to up your budget a bit to land yourself in a Premium grade car - packed with equipment. The Hyundai's compact dimensions make it fantastically agile in the city, but it's surprisingly good on the motorway too - quiet and settled at speed.
5. Toyota Aygo X
Something of a class pioneer, the Aygo X is arguably the first time that a proper city car has been crossed with an SUV. Some dispute that - there've been tiny SUVs for decades - but in modern context there's just nothing like it. The Aygo X (the X pronounced 'cross') sits a chunky body on top of a really small wheelbase, meaning it's city-friendly while having loads of interior space. Cabin quality is excellent, and its 1.0-litre petrol engine sounds great while returning 56mpg, so it has a bit of character with its fuel efficiency. Looks nice too, right?
6. Peugeot 208
The Peugeot 208 is another 'technically not a city car' thing - it's about the same size as a Fiesta - but it's a car that feels small around you, in a good way. See, the 208 has a really unique driver set-up, called 'i-Cockpit", which is focused on an unusually small steering wheel. Sounds trivial, but it has a transformative effect on the way the 208 feels - more like a go-kart. It helps that the 208's fundamentals are exceptional: it's super-sharp to drive while being comfortable; the cabin is interesting yet easy to fathom; the quality is great; the engines are economical. Oh, and there's a fully electric version too, which is the pick of the bunch - zero-emissions driving with no loss of space or fun.
7. MINI Electric
Few cars encapsulate chic city driving better than an all-electric version of MINI’s ever-popular three-door Hatchback. It’s a shame the electric drivetrain isn’t available in a few of the other MINI models, like the 5-Door or the Clubman, but the MINI makes the most of its quite modest battery pack to deliver a sparkling driving experience. It has a 184hp motor – enough power to get it a spicy ‘Cooper S’ badge – and a generally superb chassis. Nobody doubts how much fun it is to drive a MINI Hatchback these days. Its 144-mile claimed battery range is modest by modern standards, but if you can make that work for you, this is one of the very best small electric cars.
8. Smart EQ Fortwo
There’s nothing else like the Smart on the market - albeit the Citroen Ami is arguably in the same tiny ballpark. The EQ Fortwo is absolutely minuscule – at just 2.7m long it can famously be parked 'nose-in' on a street (nobody ever does that though, funnily enough). It's so named because it seats just two people, but it feels surprisingly spacious for its pair of occupants, while being extremely nimble and agile in city traffic. Don’t expect to go far on a single charge – the official WLTP combined range is 80 miles – but with a punchy 82hp motor and hardly any mass to move about, the EQ Fortwo is perfect for daily city work.
9. Vauxhall Corsa-E
Like the Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Corsa is a larger supermini technically. But it has a trick up its sleeve that few rivals in its class can match, the Fiesta included: there’s an all-electric version. Called Corsa-E, it makes perfect sense in the city. With a 136hp motor and 50kWh battery pack, the Vauxhall is not only brisk but will officially go more than 200 miles on a single charge. Not only that, but it’s capable of sucking down electricity at 100kW if hooked up to the right DC charger, so replenishing its battery pack needn’t take long at all. It's easy to see why Corsa leasing is so popular...
10. Volkswagen Up
It may not be in the first flush of youth, and its Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii relations have already bit the bullet, but the Volkswagen Up goes into 2023 as a brilliant city proposition. The Up offers a choice of petrol or electric power, so while you can get in a 65hp 1.0 petrol for around £200 per month, you might want to go for E-Up EV version, which isn't too much more expensive per month but will be much cheaper to run day-to-day. Or you could splash out on the charming Up GTI, which looks mega and drives absolutely fantastically.