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.
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 facts you can get the punchy, 89bhp 1.0 TSI engine at the front and that a sporty Up GTI due to join the range imminently, it is the small car that can cater for everyone’s needs.
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.
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.
A recent facelift has helped lift the sense of quality to make it a more enticing proposition.
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.
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.
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.
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 4x4 from an urbanite into a small off-roader.
The only city car from the PSA and Toyota joint venture to make our top ten, with the Aygo and its sister cars, the Peugeot 108 and Citroën C1, all suffering from the same lack of refinement that doesn’t hold its rivals back.
The Toyota also is only available with one engine, whereas its French siblings get more powerful options. It makes the Aygo it feel very limited in such a diverse and competitive market.
However, the little Toyota grabs some kudos for having a decent infotainment offering and its impactful styling, even it is a old car wearing a new frock.
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?
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.