Buying a car Top 10 supermini tips
- How to choose the best supermini - whether you want fun or functionality
- Find the superminis with the most equipment and lowest running costs
- Avoid compromising on reliability or safety with help from our reviews
Buying a small car needn't become a big problem. But with dozens of models available, from the spartan to the sumptuous, it's more complicated than you might expect.
Our top 10 tips for buying a supermini will show you what to look for. Then read our best superminis guide to find out all the small cars we recommend.
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Audi's A1 has a long, expensive options list
1. Downsizing? It's not just about the Audi A1 and Mini
If you’re used to a large car and want something smaller that still offers big-car quality, the Audi A1 is one of the best picks in the supermini class.
However, standard versions are surprisingly ill-equipped, so you could spend a lot of money on options. The same goes for the Mini.
Plenty of less fashionable superminis, like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, can be specified with gadgets like touchscreen sat nav, MP3 connections and other toys at a lower cost. Read our car options guide for more advice.
Ecoflex versions of the Corsa are frugal
2. Running costs are key
Superminis are generally cheap to run, but eco-branded models can be especially frugal. Popular examples include the Seat Ibiza Ecomotive and Vauxhall Corsa Ecoflex.
Fuel bills may be low, but don’t assume that insurance for superminis will also be cheap. Top-end versions of the Mini are in higher insurance groups than most BMW 3 Series models.
3. Beware the ‘brochure special’
Most carmakers build a super-basic version of each car that can be touted at a low price, simply to get people into showrooms.
In reality, hardly anybody buys this 'brochure special'. That's because dealers are taught to 'upsell' to pricier, better-equipped models.
Make sure you know what you’re looking for before buying, and what the real price will be.
Mini's nimble handling makes it fun to drive
4. Mini and Fiesta best for driving fun
If you don’t want to sacrifice fun for frugality, the Mini is one of the most engaging cars to drive at this price.
There are also the famed Renaultsport versions of the Clio, while the Ford Fiesta and Suzuki Swift Sport should keep you smiling behind the wheel.
5. Small cars can be very reliable
The Which? Car Survey has shown that superminis tend to be more dependable than large cars, perhaps due to them having fewer things to go wrong. As an added bonus, parts and repair bills will also be cheaper.
However, there’s still a big difference between the best and worst in class – check out the results of our car reliability survey to find out the cars to avoid.
Kia Picanto is cheap to buy and run
6. City car stars
If most of your driving is around town, the latest Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto are very impressive. And with prices starting from around £8,000, they represent great value.
The Korean pair are also among the lowest depreciating cars in terms of actual pounds in your pocket, losing only about £1,000 in value per year (in the first three years).
7. Taking the kids?
Superminis might not make ideal family transport, but if you need to transport children then a five-door model with Isofix mounting points for fitting child car seats will save lots of time and effort.
Read our reviews of child car seats to find the safest seat for your child.
8. Is it safe?
Small cars are inevitably built to a price – but there's no excuse for carmakers skimping on safety equipment to keep costs low.
We think electronic stability control (ESC) is essential, but it’s missing from basic versions of the Fiat Panda, Nissan Pixo, Renault Twingo, Suzuki Alto and Volkswagen Up, among others.
9. Don’t assume superminis are impractical
The Skoda Fabia has a spacious boot, comparable with much bigger cars. The Honda Jazz does too, as well as clever rear seat bases (christened 'Magic Seats' by Honda) that flip-up to create a large vertical load space.
Don’t forget that there are estate versions of the Fabia, Renault Clio and Seat Ibiza, as well as the Mini Clubman.
10. Watch out for feeble engines
If you're planning to venture beyond the city limits, you may find that a 1.0-litre petrol engine runs out of puff on faster roads, or when the car is fully loaded.
Many manufacturers are making their smaller engines more powerful and efficient, but there are still plenty of feeble options that are best avoided. Check out the performance ratings in our supermini reviews, and always test-drive the car on a variety of roads before you buy.