Call them small hatchbacks, call them superminis, either way, they’re one of Britain’s best-selling types of car. It’s easy to see why. Affordable to buy and run, they’re now well-made, safe, and pack more style and pizzazz into their pint-sized bodies than many more expensive cars put together.
As someone who has been reviewing new cars for more than 20 years, I think these five are the best money can buy at the moment. And as you’ll see, the market is awash with choice, so drivers can afford to be picky and should always drive a hard bargain.
We’ve set a price ceiling of £15,000, and all cars shortlisted are available on three-year PCP finance agreements for under £200 a month.
Audi A1 1.0 TFSI SE 3-door
Price: from £14,530 or £189 a month
If the Audi A1 was a piece of jewellery, it would be for sale in Tiffany & Co, where style, craftsmanship and a reassuringly expensive price come as standard. Actually, that’s not doing the A1 justice: Audi’s smallest need not be that expensive, considering the desirability of its badge.
It has a neat, clutter-free interior that feels robust, and the little 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is a gem. You don’t get a lot of cabin space, and the options list will be all too tempting. But with a monthly repayment of less than £190, this is a quality supermini with a sparkling price.
Ford Fiesta 1.0T EcoBoost Zetec 5-door
Price: from £14,895 or £197 a month
By normal standards, the Ford Fiesta should feel long in the tooth, given the design is nearly eight years old. But Ford’s engineers and designers got everything so perfectly ‘just so’ that it has aged incredibly well. Where the Fiesta still feels fresh as a daisy on the road. This little car is a big bundle of fun to drive, and has been given a real lift by its EcoBoost 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine which is a cracking little motor that can return up to 65mpg.
I think most drivers would appreciate the added versatility that the five-door body style brings and the extras that come with Zetec trim. It’s a bit expensive, but those that want to spend a bit less can always pick the three-door, or go for the more basic 1.2-litre engine, which is still sweet to drive.
Mazda2 90PS SE-L Nav
Price: from £14,395 or £199 a month
You don’t need that many reasons to put the Mazda2 on your shortlist of superminis, because it really is a cracking little car. But for anyone buying their car on finance, here’s one seriously compelling attraction: Mazda is offering interest-free finance on the 2, so borrowing to buy the car won’t cost you a penny more than its list price. Given that three quarters of new cars are bought on finance now, that’s bound to tempt plenty of drivers.
So what will drivers get? A clever little car that’s light, frugal (more than 62mpg) and truly delivers where it counts: in the real world. That’s because unlike other manufacturers, Mazda has favoured a large capacity engine without a turbo, which makes it easier for drivers to achieve the car’s claimed fuel consumption. It feels agile and alert on the road, but some drivers may find the dashboard layout and road noise a little off-putting.
Mini One 3-door
Price: from £13,935 or £169 a month
You don’t just ‘buy’ a Mini. You spend hours, if not days, playing around with the myriad options and trying to ensure that your new, personality-packed pint-size hatchback truly represents you. This is the first indication that driving a Mini One will be a bit different to driving other hatchbacks. When you slide behind the wheel for the first time, the interior quality is impressive for this price of car, the seat is set low and the wraparound windscreen feels like a panoramic viewing platform.
Once things get rolling, it’s clear this is a fun car. The Mini has been tuned by its engineers to be just a little bit more responsive to drive than rival hatchbacks, but not at the expense of practical considerations like fuel economy or refinement on the motorway. It’s cramped in the back seats and boot, but that’s a small price to pay for a fun, value-for-money motor.
Volkswagen Polo SE Design 1.2 TSI 5-door
Price: from £14,410 or £200 a month
The Polo is one of those small cars that manages to feel ever so grown up. It’s partly because it seems to be built tough, and partly because the interior is smart and impressively refined. But in the main it has to do with the way the car drives down a challenging road, smoothing out broken surfaces and keeping occupants comfortable at all times.
The 1.2 TSI turbocharged petrol engine is a great little motor. Even if it’s not the most economical of the cars here, it’ll power the Polo along motorways without breaking a sweat. You also get one of the larger cabins and boots of any supermini, so if it is to be used as a family car, this is the one to pick for those who don’t travel light.