Although personal vehicles tend to get bigger and grander by the day, there’s still a burgeoning market in the smallest models of all – the city cars. Whether it is a petrol or electric car, a tiny, well-equipped and likeable city commuter can satisfy all the needs of an urban user, no matter how demanding a customer they are. Here’s our pick of the 10 best small cars for carving up the city streets.
1. Fiat 500 Electric
from £254* p/m inc. VAT
You can still get the petrol-powered, ‘old’ Fiat 500 under the ‘Classic’ tag if you want, but we’re looking specifically at the all-electric, all-new version here. Because it’s simply brilliant. The refinement levels are magnificent, the interior is wonderful (and slightly more accommodating than it was/is in the 500 Classic) and there’s a choice of 2 battery packs – one of which gives you up to 199 miles WLTP of motoring to a charge. Good news: our leasing best price above is for the 87kW (118hp) model with the larger 42kWh battery, and you also get a free home wallbox charger installed too.
2. Ford Fiesta
from £254* p/m inc. VAT
The Fiesta is a bit of an interloper here, as it’s actually a supermini – a larger class of car including things like the Volkswagen Polo, Toyota Yaris and so on. However, what has long been considered Britain’s favourite car (going on the year-on-year sales figures for the past few decades) is great in the city and it’s super-affordable too.
3. Honda E
from £369* p/m inc. VAT
Cars, electric or otherwise, rarely come with the immense sense of style and occasion that’s packed into the compact body of the Honda E. And this is a machine geared up for city use – Honda has fitted it with a relatively small 35.5kWh battery pack, which means the E will only do between 125 and 137 miles on a single charge. But that’s WLTP combined, so keep it to the city streets where it belongs and this charming electric vehicle (EV) will probably get you up to 170 or so miles without needing to be plugged in. And just look at it! Outside or in, the Honda E is a complete winner.
4. Hyundai i10
from £168* p/m inc. VAT
In terms of traditional, petrol-powered city cars, the Hyundai i10 is the best of the lot. Its smooth exterior styling hides a surprisingly capacious and nicely appointed cabin, and while a mere £168 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 or even an i10 with the 1.2-litre engine. Where the Hyundai scores remarkably highly is in an environment it is not designed to excel within, namely high-speed motorway cruising, but it is naturally equally adept when simply buzzing around the city streets.
5. Kia Picanto
from £146* p/m inc. VAT
Related to the Hyundai i10, some people prefer the more angular, somewhat aggressive appearance of the Picanto and it soon ramps up into genuinely sporty styling as a GT-Line model. There’s also a ‘faux’ off-roader-type version called the X-Line if you fancy it, which makes the Picanto one of the smallest cars going with lifestyle aspirations. A typically brilliant Kia interior, some gutsy and willing engines, and that 7-year manufacturer warranty all make the Picanto a shoo-in for our top 10 list of the best city cars.
6. Mazda MX-30
from £268* p/m inc. VAT
Have we gone mad? What is an SUV doing in this list? Well, the Mazda MX-30 is actually an all-electric family crossover and the Japanese company has only fitted it with a 35.5kWh lithium-ion power pack – what it calls ‘rightsizing the battery’ for usage needs. Anticipating that most commuters and target consumers only drive 30 to 40 miles a day, the MX-30 has just 124 miles of single-charge range (WLTP combined). But that’s more than enough for urban and semi-urban confines, while its sustainable interior finishing – which even includes surfaces rendered in cork – and funky rear-hinged back doors all add to the appeal. With its higher seating position and the feeling of added security that a crossover imbues on its occupants, the MX-30 is an unusual but wholly worthwhile option on this list.
7. MINI Electric
from £324* p/m inc. VAT
Few cars encapsulate the brio of chic city driving better than an all-electric version of MINI’s ever-popular 3-door Hatch. 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 modest 32.6kWh battery pack to deliver a sparkling driving experience. That’s because it has a 184hp/270Nm motor – enough to get the MINI Electric some spicy ‘Cooper S’ badging – and the 3-door’s generally superb chassis balance, so while it will only go up to 144 miles on a single charge, you’ll be having so much fun behind the wheel that you won’t care about its limited range.
8. Smart EQ Fortwo
from £242* p/m inc. VAT
There’s nothing else like the Smart on the market, or at least there isn’t until Citroen brings its standout Ami quadricycle EV to the UK’s streets. The EQ Fortwo is absolutely tiny – at just 2695mm long (all the other cars on this list are comfortably more than 3600mm from tip to tail) and 1663mm wide, the Fortwo is so named because it seats 2 people – ‘for 2’, geddit? And that means it can park in spaces other cars can only dream of fitting in, while it is 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 scooting.
9. Vauxhall Corsa-E
from £272* p/m inc. VAT
Like the Ford Fiesta we picked out earlier, the Vauxhall Corsa is a larger supermini. But it has a trick up its sleeve that few rivals in its class can match – the Fiesta included. And the trick is that there’s an all-electric version in the line-up called the Corsa-E, which makes perfect sense in the city. With a 136hp/260Nm 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 up half your day.
10. Volkswagen Up
from £192* p/m inc. VAT
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 soldiers on into 2022 and it remains a brilliant city proposition. Alone of all the vehicles on this list which are true city cars, the Up offers a choice of petrol or electric power (OK, the Fiat 500 does too, but that’s across 2 entirely different models, strictly speaking…). So while you can get in a 65hp 1.0 MPI petrol for £187pcm, we’d be going for the £202pcm E-Up EV version, which comes with a free home wallbox charger. Even more tempting, though, is to splash out £224pcm on the charming 115hp Up GTI, which looks mega and drives fantastically.
*All prices correct at the time of writing June 2022.