Good city cars are small, practical and easy to drive around town, but the best in class also have bold designs, plus peppy engines that make them fun to drive. These are the ones Autocar recommends
26 February 2020

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. Hyundai i10

Hyundai’s diminutive i10 city car has gone from strength to strength to strength. The first- and second-generation versions helped to bring considerable UK success to the South Korean brand - a trend that this new one should only accelerate.

Interior quality and general desirability have increased significantly, while its sharp new exterior lends it an additional dollop of style appeal. It rides very well by the standards of the class, is generally well-equipped and its 82bhp turbocharged triple lends it useful real world performance.

It might not have the star appeal of the VW Up GTI models behind it, but as a well-rounded, sensible city car it takes pride of place at the top of the class.

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2. VW 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 and outright desirability.

That said, a recent rationalisation of its engine line-up means it’s no longer our go-to pick of the segment.

As far as its petrol engines are concerned the slightly gutless 59bhp three-pot that we always felt was the weakest performer in the range is now the only motor available - save that in the go-faster Up GTI. Speaking of, with its punchy 113bhp turbocharged three-pot under the bonnet and endearing handling, this sportier strain of city car has a strong claim for not only being the driver’s choice in the segment, but one of the most desireable too.

As with its cousins from Seat and Skoda, the Up is also available in all-electric guise. But while battery power suits the dinky city car well, its elevated price doesn’t make it as accessible as it once was.

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3. 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.

Admittedly, its 66bhp 1.0-litre engine does feel a bit weedy at times, but the larger 1.2-litre three-pot (related to that in the Hyundai i10) is a far more willing workhorse. In fact, there’s really very little that separates the Picanto from the i10 - save their looks and the fact the Kia’s boot is slightly smaller.

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4. Skoda Citigo-e iV

No longer is the Citigo the cheapest member of the Volkswagen Group triumvirate. This smallest of Skodas is now exclusively available as an electric vehicle, and calls on a 36.8kW battery to provide it with up to 170 miles of range on the WLTP test cycle.

Electrification suits this new Citigo-e iV incredibly well, actually. Performance is punchy enough courtesy of its instantaneous torque, while its soft-edged ride makes it a comfy city car. Travel at pace on undulating roads and its additional mass does makes itself felt, though.

Were it not for the sharp increase in price that accompanied its switch to electrification (the cheapest model is now just under £17k), the Skoda would still sit towards the top of this list. Nevertheless, it remains a well made, refined and - thanks to its electric motor - cheap to run city car. Highly likeable indeed.

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5. Seat Mii Electric

The same story applies to the classically style-driven Seat Mii as it does the Skoda Citigo. The Spanish arm of the Volkswagen Group’s city car is now electric only, and uses the same 36.8kW battery to power its 82bhp electric motor.

But while the Mii may be slightly more desirable on the design front than its Czech counterpart, it isn’t quite as easy to recommend. Its ride is a bit firmer, while Seat claims a maximum range of up to 160 miles versus the Citigo-e’s 170-mile maximum. The clincher in this respect, however, is the price: the Mii Electric costs £19,300 after the plug-in grant - which is a lot for a city car, if still fairly affordable by wider EV standards.

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6. 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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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’s now available as a mild-hybrid, too.

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9. Fiat 500

The reborn Fiat 500 has now been on sale across three separate decades, which is quite an amazing thing to consider given it still looks so fresh some 13 years after its launch. And to keep it as appealing as it possibly can, Fiat has launched a new mild-hybrid version with a 69bhp three-cylinder petrol engine.

It’s the same unit that appears in the flawed but loveable Fiat Panda Mild Hybrid, and until the fully-electric 500 arrives later this year it’s the only powertrain available under the 500’s diminutive bonnet.

Performance is pretty strained, and you really have to thrash it to extract any meaningful acceleration, but it remains a charming car to drive. It feels eager and keen to impress - even if it doesn’t ride as well as its VW Group rivals, isn’t as comfortable inside and doesn’t handle quite as convincingly. Still, it remains a likeable city car - and is easily one of the most stylish in the class. Which probably counts for quite a lot.

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10. Dacia Sandero

So the Dacia Sandero isn’t a city car per se, but given the fact it can be had for considerably less than most of the cars on this list, it seems reasonable enough to include it. With a larger footprint than a regular city car, the Sandero is understandably more spacious inside, but its cut-price positioning does come at a cost.

Its interior looks and feels decidedly old-school, the seating position is a touch awkward, and while it will go around corners it proceeds to do so with considerable body roll. But its 89bhp turbocharged three-pot feels willing and returns decent economy, and even with things like satellite navigation and rear parking sensors it’ll cost you less than £10,000. Which is by no means a bad thing.

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