City cars are getting better all the time. The days of cheap-to-buy runabouts that aren’t particularly well equipped but are easy to drive and practical for their size are long gone.
Our list of the top ten best city cars is stuffed with perky little cars designed to be practical and good around town, but mixes those traits with appealing designs, quirky colour choices and generous standard equipment levels. In some cases, they even outdo their bigger supermini counterparts by being great fun to drive when the occasion allows.
1. Volkswagen Up
The Up may be the smallest car on offer in the Volkswagen range, but it doesn’t miss out on all the hallmarks that the marque is renowned for. It may not be revolutionary in the segment, but the Up beats its closest rivals on finish, refinement, desirability and economy.
Add in the fact you can get one in go-faster Up GTI guise, with a punchy 113bhp turbocharged three-pot under the bonnet, and the smallest Volkswagen makes a strong case for itself as the driver’s choice in the segment, too.
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2. Seat Mii
Based on the Volkswagen Up, Spain’s take on a small city car is no less impressive. It majors on a chic ambience and fashion-led trim levels, but the Mii is nearly as good to drive as its German cousin, and slightly better in terms of value.
It does lack the desirability and the plushness that the Up conveys. It only comes with choice of two naturally aspirated three-pot engines, neither of which is particularly fast but both of which like to be worked hard – as you will need to, to get the best out of them.
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3. Skoda Citigo
The cheapest member of the Volkswagen Group triumvirate, but don’t think for one moment that it lets the side down. Yes, it is plainer and less well equipped than its siblings, in order to fulfill that lower price point, but the Citigo is a typical Skoda, which means it is extremely well finished and involving to drive.
The 2017 facelift has helped lift the sense of quality to make it a more enticing proposition.
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4. Suzuki Ignis
A quirky contender in this rather congested segment is ultimately a zesty little car that looks more like a crossover than some of its contemporaries do.
It is brilliantly packaged, with a massive amount of interior space for its size, but its low-rent interior and an infotainment system that looks and feels like an aftermarket addition leaves a bit to be desired compared to polished competitors such as the Volkswagen Up, as does the on-road dynamics, which aren’t as sharp or refined as some rivals.
It is possible to spec the Ignis with Suzuki’s AllGrip all-wheel-drive system, meaning this little car will go further off-road than many of its rivals.
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5. Hyundai i10
The model that kickstarted the success Hyundai has experienced in the UK in recent times is back with this second-generation version.
It makes significant strides forward in desirability and overall quality compared with its predecessor, the result being that this city car is smarter looking, richer to touch, roomier and better equipped than ever before. It is let down by a lack of the kind of zesty performance its predecessor was acclaimed for. In all, it doesn’t feel quite as well rounded as the Volkswagen Up.
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6. Kia Picanto
Just like its cousin, the Hyundai i10, the Kia Picanto has grown up significantly since it first graced our roads.
The latest car is certainly better looking that its predecessors, but is also finished better inside and gains a decent level of standard equipment. It even scores fairly well on the ride and handling front, with the Picanto dealing with the scarred British roads better than some.
However, its weedy 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine is ultimately what lets the side down.
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7. Toyota Aygo
The dinky Aygo was treated to a mid-life facelift in 2018, which helped sharpen its already appealing styling while also introducing a greater level of standard specification than before.
The Aygo’s 1.0-litre three-pot motor also had its wick turned up slightly to 71bhp to 68bhp; but its naturally-aspirated congifuration means its 68lb ft of torque isn’t particularly accessible, compromising its ease-of-use in busy city environments. Those competitors with turbocharged motors are preferable in this regard. Still, there is a good deal of enjoyment to be had from revving it out when the mood takes you.
A sprucing up of its cabin also lifts its appeal, as does a sharper and more responsive infotainment suite.
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8. Fiat Panda
The Panda is different in character to most of its rivals. Fiat itself states that it is more of an ‘essential car’ than a city car.
Now in its third generation, the Panda may be long-in-the-tooth compared to its younger, fitter and more frugal competition, but it doesn’t stop its charm shining through. While it may be sparsely equipped on the inside, the Panda remains robust and more practical than most on this list. It is also available with four-wheel-drive, turning the Panda 4×4 from an urbanite into a small off-roader.
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9. Suzuki Celerio
The budget Suzuki makes no qualms about what it is – a no-nonsense option, and it’s very likeable because of it.
The Celerio may lack the panache and sense of occasion that some of the more premium city cars will offer in abundance, but it more than makes up for that lack of inspiration by doing all the basic things well, including being pleasing to drive and easy to get comfortable in. What more could you ask for from a small car?
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10. Vauxhall Viva
Reviving a model name from the past can often be fraught with problems. However, Vauxhall reinvented the 1960s Viva from a small three-door saloon into a smaller five-door hatch with some success.
You get a lot for your money, with plenty of space inside. It is comfy enough to live with and competent enough to drive, but is not sparkling or well-equipped like the VW Group trio, and lacks the joie de vivre required to really cut it in this class.
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