This month we’ve tested some of the biggest-name small and medium cars on the market, including the latest BMW 1 Series and Renault Clio, plus sportier options the Hyundai i30 N and Audi A1 Sportback. But are our Best Buys from the brands you expect? Our experts reveal which ones you should focus your attention on.
Small and medium cars are ideal for those looking for a practical car without the bulk or cost of larger cars. And the latest designs really push the envelope. From the stylish Renault Clio to the suddenly striking all-new Peugeot 208, some have a truly eye-catching presence on the road.
And, for city drivers, we take the brand new Hyundai i10 for a spin too and find out if this is the way to go for high quality at a remarkably low price.
Best cars: whatever you’re looking for, our rigorous lab tests, professional verdicts and owner reliability surveys go further and test harder than anyone else.
BMW 1 Series, £24,430
The 1 Series medium car is one of BMW’s most important models, accounting for one in five of all cars it sells. It attracts buyers looking for a premium feel without the dimensions of a larger saloon. However, the latest generation is a stark departure from its predecessors.
It’s attracted a different type of buyer than the BMW faithful, targeting those who prefer practicality over keen driving dynamics.
Compact dimensions and a rear wheel-drive layout on previous versions saw it lose ground to rivals like the Audi A3, so for its latest generation BMW has switched the 1 Series to front-wheel drive for most models to allow for more front and rear space and a larger boot for the same size of car. You’ll need to opt for the top-of-the-range engines to get BMW’s XDrive four-wheel-drive configuration.
So is the car now more desirable, or has it lost the brand’s distinctiveness? Find out in our definitive BMW 1 Series (2019-) review.
Hyundai i30 N, £25,995
Keen drivers have plenty of medium hatchbacks to choose from, with almost all mainstream manufacturers offering hot hatch versions of their cars.
Starting from a similar price to the BMW 1 Series, the i30 N’s specs look seriously competitive. Hyundai’s five-year warranty and generous kit come as standard, including adjustable suspension stiffness, LED headlights, tinted windows, all-round parking sensors, a rear parking camera, Apple Carplay/Android Auto and much more.
It’s fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which is available in 250hp and 275hp ‘Performance’ versions, and has a clever rev-matching system for effortless gear shifts. The performance doesn’t come at the expense of practicality either, with plenty of inside space and a usefully square-shaped boot.
Could this be the new brand for the keen driver? Our experts put it to the test in our extensive Hyundai i30 N review.
Audi A1 Sportback, £18,435
The Audi A1 is Audi’s smallest car and hasn’t been around for too long – this is only its second generation after its predecessor launched in 2010. Don’t be misled by the name ‘Sportback’ into thinking this is a performance model – it’s just Audi’s lingo for it having both front and rear doors.
All the Audi A1 models are front-wheel-drive only, without Audi’s famed ‘quattro’ four-wheel-drive system. The overall dashboard design varies little from the A1’s cheaper sister car, the Volkswagen Polo.
That said, luxury and style are becoming increasingly important to buyers in this market, and the A1 features a hi-tech offering with LED headlights, alloy wheels and a 10.25-inch digital cockpit display as standard.
In addition to the standard ‘Sportback’ model, there’s also a ‘Citycarver’ crossover model with more off-road looks. All engines are currently turbocharged petrols ranging from 95hp to 200hp.
Is this a smart choice for premium features on a budget, or are rival brands closing the gap in the superheated market for mainstream family hatchbacks? Our experts put it to the test in our thorough Audi A1 Sportback review.
Renault Clio, £14,695
The Renault Clio, Europe’s bestselling car, is exactly the kind of model turning up the heat on the Audi A1. It’s a car moving upmarket that’s no longer seen as a cheap alternative to the A1’s sister model, the Volkswagen Polo.
For the new 2019 version, Renault has maintained the attractive looks of its predecessor and has now turned its focus on improving the interior, with far less black plastic trim.
Standard equipment includes cruise control, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth telephone connectivity. Choose the Iconic trim to add a seven-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels, keyless entry, tinted rear windows and more.
Those drawn to the Clio’s chic styling won’t find themselves short-changed – its interior has undeniably closed the gap in quality and refinement with its closest rivals.
So is this a brand you should consider? Our experts reveal if it has the quality drive, reliability and practicality to make it one to watch in our comprehensive Renault Clio review.
Peugeot 208, £16,250
The Ford Fiesta may be the darling of UK motorists, but the new Peugeot 208 small car (much like its sister the new Vauxhall Corsa) has done much to shake off its generic also-ran image. Petrol, diesel and electric models are on sale, with petrol engines ranging from 75hp to 130hp and the long diesel engine offering 100hp.
Like the Renault Clio, Peugeot has pushed the 208 more upmarket, with higher quality interior materials and construction, rivalling the very best competitors.
Standard features are impressive too, including autonomous emergency braking, Bluetooth telephone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB digital radio, voice recognition, alloy wheels, air conditioning, rear parking sensors and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
Is this a small car brand that should now be on your radar? See if Peugeot has done enough to close the gap in our exacting first look Peugeot 208 review.
Hyundai i10, £12,495
With so many cars pushing upmarket, those looking for a bargain might be tempted to opt for city cars for urban driving.
2020 sees the Hyundai i10 enter its third generation, and it’s by no means a bare-bones offering. In fact, with comfortable seats and generous space both front and back, it’s a car that can be taken on longer journeys – worth considering alongside small cars for a smaller, cheaper package.
On-board tech has been upgraded, with all but entry level models getting an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Even the entry level trim is pretty generous, with Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, all-around electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, and modern active safety features.
Two petrol engines are available – a 67hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder and a 84hp 1.2-litre four-cylinder. And, like all new Hyundai cars, the i10 is covered by a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.
So is this a brand that should make your shortlist? Our experts give their thorough verdict in our expansive Hyundai i10 review.