► The best superminis you can buy
► From Corsa to Clio – via a Fiesta in Ibiza
► Buying tips and links to our full reviews
Small is the new big. A current Ford Fiesta has roughly the same footprint as an original Focus. And a new Volkswagen Polo takes up as much tarmac as a Mk4 Golf. No wonder the supermini is now Britain’s best-selling class of car. Buyers have downsized as cars have upsized.
So what is a supermini? This peculiarly British expression – Americans prefer ‘subcompact’ – refers here to B-segment cars. Our sister site, Parkers, defines one as ‘a relatively small, cheap and economical car. Larger than a city car but smaller than a family hatchback’. So now you know. Next week: the finer points of four-door coupes and shooting brakes.
The past two decades have seen the supermini sector expand and diversify. First, the Mini introduced premium-style personalisation. Then the Nissan Juke launched the compact crossover – a bandwagon others swiftly piled aboard. Lately, there’s a new breed of small EVs: still niche for now, but certain to swell in popularity as costs come down. Could a hydrogen supermini be next?
For electric alternatives, explore our full guide to EVs. And for pint-sized fun, read our round-up of best hot hatchbacks.
Best superminis 2020: a buying guide
Think about your requirements first. If most of your driving is around town, a city car such as a Volkswagen Up may fit the bill. Trading down from an SUV? You might enjoy the loftier driving position of a crossover. Don’t assume everything SUV-shaped is more practical, though: larger wheels and longer-travel suspension take up valuable space. There are even a handful of supermini estates, such as the Skoda Fabia.
The majority of hatchbacks now have five doors, but there are other considerations if you have children to carry. Can you fit child seats in the back and are there Isofix mounting points? Is the boot large enough for a buggy? And how does the car fare in Euro NCAP crash tests? Lower-spec models may be missing active safety equipment, which reduces their star rating.
Despite the move towards EVs, petrol power is still the default here. Modern turbocharged three-cylinder engines are impressively punchy – even the 197bhp Fiesta ST is a three-pot – and efficient. We’d think carefully before paying a premium for diesel, especially with the prospect of more cities emulating the Bristol ban. As for hybrids, they’re a rarity in this class: just the Toyota Yaris at present.
Read on for short summaries of our favourite superminis, or click the links above for our full reviews.
The best electric superminis: Honda E vs Peugeot e-208 vs Mini Electric
Best superminis 2020
Mediocrity is no barrier to success, as Ford proved with the front-driven Escort. Yet the Fiesta – Britain’s best-seller since 2009 – has contributed more to our collective happiness than Monty Python. Now in its seventh iteration, this is the established standard bearer for supermini dynamics. Following the Richard Parry-Jones credo, it’s a 50-metre car: one that feels instantly just-so. Thanks to fizzy steering and brilliant body control, even the 84bhp diesel will make you smile.
That said, we’d go for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol – ideally in 138bhp guise. It’s peppy and capable of 50mpg with a restrained right ankle. The Fiesta’s interior feels a bit flimsy and its 303-litre boot is merely average. However, the Sync3 touchscreen offers all the connectivity you need, while the optional B&O Play hi-fi sounds superb. Ford’s Quickclear heated windscreen is a huge boon in winter, too. Sometimes the ‘will of the people’ makes sense after all. Ahem.
Read our Ford Fiesta review
The 208 looks like an ‘homage’ concept car with number plates. Pert and perfectly proportioned, it riffs on the classic 205 – it’s all about that C-pillar – without resorting to pastiche. See one in the metal and you’ll be half-way to a PCP contract. The interior is more avant garde, with 3D ‘hologram’ dials, tactile piano key switches and subtle ambient lighting, plus build quality to make a 205 owner weep. High-tech options include auto parking and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go.
Peugeot wants buyers to pick a powertrain the same way they choose a trim level. At present, the choices are 1.2-litre petrol (in three outputs), 1.5 diesel or electric e-208. The latter offers 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds and a 211-mile range, but is hamstrung by a hefty price tag – nearly £30k in GT spec. Twirly, over-assisted steering, a vague manual ’box and a brittle ride mean the 208 is mildly underwhelming to drive. But if you’re sold on the styling, there’s much to enjoy here.
Read our Peugeot 208 review
Compare the fortunes of Smart and Mini: while Mercedes’ small car has floundered, BMW’s has flourished. Bold design and clever marketing – including never-ending options for ‘personalisation’ – mean Minis are somehow both youthful and fashionably retro. However, only the three-door Hatch is truly supermini-sized. The range stretches from vanilla One to piri-piri John Cooper Works, and now includes the BMW i3-based Mini Electric.
We’d go for the 134bhp three-cylinder Cooper, which offers a gutsy 162lb ft from just 1250rpm. Not enough to blow the bloody doors off, granted, but you could see a real-world 50mpg. Besides, the Mini is a born entertainer. Taut and tenacious, it changes direction like a terrier chasing a tennis ball. Flick to Sport mode and the central screen promises ‘Maximum go-kart feel’. It’s the oldest cliché in the car journo’s playbook, yet the Cooper walks the talk with infectious enthusiasm.
Read our Mini reviews
The Corsa had a difficult gestation. A replacement for the outgoing car was already three years in the making when PSA bought the company, canned the project and ordered engineers to start from scratch. The result is a thoroughly modern supermini, based on the same CMP platform as the Peugeot 208 and DS 3 Crossback. Would the stillborn Corsa have made this list? Based on GM’s track-record, it seems doubtful.
Whisper it, but the Corsa outshines the 208 on the road. Its steering is more alert, its controls more consistent and its damping better resolved. Most buyers will choose the 99bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol, which feels keen, characterful and adequately quick. And who’d bet against the Corsa-e becoming Britain’s best-selling EV? Less glamorous than its Parisian cousin and less edifying than a Fiesta, this is still a polished and well-priced supermini – not to mention a huge improvement on its prosaic predecessor. All’s well that ends well, then.
Read our Vauxhall Corsa review
A girlhood crush, a teenage tryst, a sham marriage and a tearful reconciliation. Renault’s ‘30 years in the making’ Clio ad (look it up on YouTube) pushes boundaries and tugs at heartstrings. The car itself is more conventional, with same-again styling that lacks the flair of French rivals. Still, you can’t blame Renault for playing safe with its best-seller, and the fifth-gen Clio is a step-change for quality, connectivity and driver assistance tech. Like our 30-year-old heroine, it’s grown comfortable in its own skin.
Inside, the standout feature is a jutting 9.3-inch touchscreen, backed up by a 7.0-inch driver display (both standard on higher-spec cars). Graphics are sharp, menus are intuitive and there’s voice control for the first time. The Clio also offers a best-in-class 391-litre boot. With the Zoe ticking the electric box, engines are limited to three petrols and one diesel, plus the E-Tech non-plug-in hybrid. Feelsome steering and a fluent ride make the Clio fun around town, but there’s no evidence of any Renault Sport alchemy yet.
Read our Renault Clio review
Funkier than a Fabia and less predictable than a Polo, the Ibiza is the most stylish of the MQB siblings: all ironed-on creases, intersecting angles and distinctive DRLs. The designers clearly ran dry of inspiration when they reached the interior, but there’s space for one six-footer to sit behind another, plus a useful 355-litre boot – bigger than some cars from the class above. Standard sat nav helps if you’re Going to Ibiza and seamless phone connectivity provides the Boom, boom, boom, boom. Other Vengaboys hits are available.
Actually, banish any hopes of Balearic hedonism; this Ibiza is more Rich Tea than disco biscuit. Its light steering is calm and consistent, its chassis feels unflappable and NVH is well suppressed. The default 1.0-litre TSI petrol feels eager and friction-free, while the 148bhp 1.5 TSI Evo does a passable impression of a warm hatch. Opt for FR trim – with a bodykit and sports suspension – and you can tell your friends it’s a Cupra.
Read our Seat Ibiza review
Lacklustre GTI excepted, the Polo distils what’s good about the Golf into a smaller, more affordable package. Of all the superminis on sale, it’s the one you could imagine owning until its wheels fell off, rather than chopping in every three years for the Next Little Thing. In truth, the Polo feels no better built than a Clio or 208 – how times have changed – but its unobtrusive design and affable road manners take time to earn your esteem.
Most buyers go for the 94bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol, which works best with the seven-speed DSG gearbox. The chassis feels rather disinterested, although Sport Select suspension, including variable-rate dampers and four drive modes, sharpens things up appreciably. Inside, the Polo accommodates four adults and 351 litres of luggage, plus you can opt for digital instruments, brightly coloured dash panels and a Beats audio system. Too jazzy? A plain Polo will do you just fine.
Read our Volkswagen Polo review
In some respects, the C3 is the wildcard here. It raises a quizzical eyebrow at our lust for low-slung styling, stiff suspension and oversized alloys, then retorts with a nonchalant Gallic shrug. Comfort is unashamedly the Citroen’s USP, aided by soft seats and a long-legged ride. And for the 95 percent of time you’re not on a brilliant B-road, it’s hard to argue with that. Reports it will carry a basket of eggs unbroken across a ploughed field are unconfirmed.
The C3’s takes inspiration from the C4 Cactus, with Airbumps to shrug off parking knocks and plenty of wacky colour combinations. It’s smaller than its SUV-lite looks suggest, though, which means limited rear legroom and a modest 300-litre boot. The 1.2 petrol is a peach, but muddled ergonomics, comically light steering and a gearshift that feels like stirring fondue won’t endear it to everyone. Nonetheless, it has a quirky appeal that, for some, could outshine its laissez faire attitude to corners.
Read our Citroen C3 reviews
We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for our latest thoughts on the best superminis.