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Best cars

Best Small Cars for 2017

By Martin Pratt

Article 4 of 14

Looking for the best small car? The best are affordable, reliable and easy to drive, yet well-equipped and feel secure on a motorway.

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The best small cars are loved by their owners. And for good reasons: they're compact enough to be easy to drive in town and just large enough to be comfortable on long-distance trips. 

Plus they're affordable to buy and run, and practical so they cope well with everyday duties. From shopping and the school run, to ferrying about friends or even a daily commute, the best small cars are up to the job.

Below are the very best small cars we've tested – reliable new and used models that scored highly enough to become true Best Buys. 

We've also uncovered three small cars that are a poor example of the small-car class, displaying none of the comfort and efficiency you'll find in a Best Buy model. These cars are fault prone, dull and in some cases downright unsafe to drive and must be avoided.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access to our table and all of our online reviews by taking a £1 trial to Which?

Best new small cars

Toyota Yaris Hybrid (2012-)
Typical price £14,961
Brand score 76%
Reviewed Jul 2012
Best Buy
Driving stability:
4 out of 5
Ride quality:
3 out of 5
Model reliability 0-3 years:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

This pleasing hatchback is a comfortable drive, cheap to buy and more spacious than most of its competitors.

Skoda Fabia (2015-)
Typical price £10,494
Brand score 75%
Reviewed Jan 2015
Best Buy
Driving stability:
4 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
Model reliability 0-3 years:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

This advanced motor is technology heavy but doesn't abandon the basics. It's practical, cheap to run and easy to drive.

Best used small cars

Honda Jazz Hybrid (2011-2015)
Typical price £6,672
Brand score 77%
Reviewed Feb 2011
Best Buy
Driving stability:
4 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
5 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

It may not be sporty to drive but it gets the basics right and is well suited to drivers looking for simplicity. Practicality remains a great plus point, although the hybrid version loses around 100 litres of boot space due to its batteries.

Suzuki Swift (2010-2016)
Typical price £3,970
Brand score 77%
Reviewed Sep 2010
Best Buy
Driving stability:
5 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
5 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

It's a really good small car choice and gets most things spot on. It's a Which? Best Buy.

Honda Jazz (2008-2015)
Typical price £3,484
Brand score 71%
Reviewed Oct 2008
Best Buy
Driving stability:
4 out of 5
Ride quality:
3 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

A spacious cabin and well-designed seats help make this small car feel bigger than it actually is. Its clever folding rear seat system only increases that practicality.

Mini Coupé (2011-2016)
Typical price £8,596
Brand score 70%
Reviewed Oct 2011
Best Buy
Driving stability:
5 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

This is one for keen drivers. Performance and handling are excellent, making it a Which? Best Buy, provided you can handle its lack of practicality.

Ford Fiesta (2008-2017)
Typical price £3,389
Brand score 70%
Reviewed Oct 2008
Best Buy
Driving stability:
5 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

This model's range of talents and broad appeal make it easy to see why it's remained a favourite in the UK, and easy for us to make it a Which? Best Buy. Dynamically, it's the best one yet, offering a blend of performance, comfort and safety that puts many larger cars to shame.

Suzuki Swift (2005-2010)
Typical price £1,955
Brand score 69%
Reviewed Apr 2005
Best Buy
Driving stability:
3 out of 5
Ride quality:
3 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

This is an excellent second-hand choice, but we'd strongly suggest you choose a model with stability control.

Mazda 2 (2007-2015)
Typical price £2,619
Brand score 67%
Reviewed Sep 2007
Best Buy
Driving stability:
3 out of 5
Ride quality:
3 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
4 out of 5
On sale date:
Member exclusive
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive

An excellent small car that covers most of the bases, and one that Which? readers report is reliable. It's also good fun to drive, and it's roomy, at least up front; the boot's a bit small, though.

Not found the car for you? Click to jump straight to all our small car reviews

And here are three small cars to avoid

Small cars are, well, small, but that doesn't mean they need to feel cramped. We've found models that are deceptively spacious with more legroom than you would expect from the outside. That said, we've found cars that are a tight squeeze for two occupants, let alone five. 

Some manufacturers see the small car moniker as a challenge, adding creative storage solutions and smart folding seats. But other manufacturers see it as an excuse, creating cars with puny, badly-designed boots with high lips that make them difficult to load. 

Being smaller and lighter than most cars doesn't mean a low-powered engine will suffice. Our testing has uncovered engines that struggle to get their cars going. The city car excuse of being designed for driving around town doesn't hold water with small cars. They should be as comfortable on a motorway as they are weaving down narrow streets. If the engine can't manage this, then you'll moving through the gears too often to maintain your speed. 

Below, you'll find three of the worst small cars we've tested. These models are unsafe, frustrating to drive and shouldn't be considered - no matter how tempting the price tag.

Small cars to avoid

Suzuki Baleno (2016-)
Typical price £10,833
Brand score 45%
Reviewed Apr 2017
Don't buy
Driving stability:
2 out of 5
Seat comfort:
2 out of 5
Ride quality:
2 out of 5
Euro NCAP:
3 out of 5
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive
CO2 emissions (best measured):
Member exclusive

Some cars don’t age gracefully, they get outdated and advances in safety technology render them less safe to drive. This 2016 small car has no such excuse. Low-spec models aren’t fitted with Radar Brake Support, which means the car won’t stop if it detects an imminent collision. Consequently the car only received a three-star Euro NCAP rating. Even if you go for an improved trim level and the four-star safety rating that comes with it, you’ll be driving a car with little steering feedback, a drab cabin and poor brakes.

Fiat Panda (2004-2011)
Typical price £1,330
Brand score 45%
Reviewed Jan 2004
Don't buy
Driving stability:
3 out of 5
Seat comfort:
4 out of 5
Ride quality:
3 out of 5
Euro NCAP:
3 out of 5
Model reliability 3-8 years:
4 out of 5
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive
CO2 emissions (best measured):
Member exclusive

This is an affordable, practical small car with lots of character. But the poor crash protection and lack of safety kit means it's a Which? Don't Buy model.

Chevrolet Aveo (2008-2012)
Typical price £1,952
Brand score 5%
Reviewed May 2008
Don't buy
Driving stability:
1 out of 5
Seat comfort:
3 out of 5
Ride quality:
4 out of 5
Euro NCAP:
1 out of 5
Boot space with seats up (litres):
Member exclusive
Combined mpg (best measured):
Member exclusive
CO2 emissions (best measured):
Member exclusive

A catastrophic front-end crash result in the Euro NCAP test and absence of stability control, relegates this model to Which? Don't Buy status.

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Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 900 miles in every car we test.

Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs,

And, so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.

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