Currently reading: Top 10 best superminis 2021
The best superminis have evolved from small yet practical cars to ones with real dynamic prowess, filled with the kind of luxuries found on larger cars. So which would we buy?
Autocar
News
9 mins read
2 November 2020

The never-ending wave of new SUVs might suggest otherwise, but the most popular type of car across Europe is still the B-segment hatchback, otherwise known as the supermini. 2021 didn’t see any significant new models introduced, but there have been a fair few facelifts which have shaken up the rankings somewhat, with the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Mini Hatchback all receiving updates.

To make our top 10 list at all these days, a supermini needs to be so much more than just capable of carrying a couple of adults, a couple of kids and a decent amount of luggage. It must be desirable, well-packaged, easy-to-drive and pleasant-to-use.

A dynamic character that mixes in some simple agility, litheness and driver appeal is one route to standing out, but it’s now only one among several. Increasingly superminis offer a level of perceived quality, performance and technological sophistication that bears comparison with that of bigger hatchbacks; and the very best combine some or all of that with the agility only a small, light car can offer.

1. Seat Ibiza

The fifth-generation Seat Ibiza stormed to the top of our supermini class rankings when it appeared in 2018 and has had a very successful facelift in 2021. The Spanish company went to great lengths to replace the decent fourth-generation Ibiza with a handsome hatchback backed by real substance. It was the first of the Volkswagen Group's latest breed of MQB-based small hatchbacks – and since the recent facelift, it’s also the best.

Mimicking the bigger Seat Leon in many ways, the Ibiza is roomy, well equipped and much better finished than before. Combine that with its fine on-road handling and refinement manners, its value-for-money position, its impressive equipment features and its youthful styling, and it all adds up to a class-leading proposition for us. 

It’s not quite as entertaining to drive as the Ford, but it’s close, and since the recent update, the interior is much-improved, with more soft-touch materials, a more interesting dashboard design and Seat’s latest infotainment system (even if it can be buggy on some cars). 

The Ibiza is our current class leader because it is a more rounded, upmarket ownership proposition than the Ford, but still more fun to drive than the Polo and it has a nicer interior than either of them.

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2. Ford Fiesta

The latest Fiesta had the difficult task of bettering its class-leading predecessor, which might have been the best-handling supermini of the past 25 years. This new version is much more than just a reskin of the old one and in some respects – namely its supple ride, sparkling on-road handling dynamism and driver appeal - it remains best-in-class.

However, the Fiesta's new crop of opponents have moved the supermini game on in ways that this Ford can't quite cover. Interior quality lets the Fiesta down compared with the very best superminis, and equipment sophistication and practicality are not quite in the same league as in the VW Polo or Seat Ibiza, either. However, we’ll drive the facelifted version in 2022, which might put the Fiesta back at the top of this list.

The Fiesta’s ‘Ecoboost’ three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines remain outstanding for their blend of drivability and zest, however, and – even after so long with the same unimpeachable positioning – it remains the supermini that a keen driver should default to almost without thinking. It’s simply miles better to drive than it really needs to be.

Save money with new Fiesta deals from What Car?

3. Volkswagen Polo

Still the sensible supermini of choice and recently facelifted, the latest VW Polo is usable, refined, easy-going, spacious, comfortable, smart to look at and very solidly built. That kind of roster of qualities, presented at a price that’s not as high as with other VW models, can only make the car the very best option in a super-competitive class.

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Compared with the previous-generation carthis new Polo is a huge departure, mixing more impressive onboard technology with improved dynamic capabilities. Engines are almost universally strong, and both rolling and mechanical refinement are very good, while there’s room in the back seats for average-sized adults as well as kids.

The Polo's ascent up our top 10 list shows how close it is to being the ideal supermini: and that's pretty painfully close.

It used to be at the top, but other cars have come along with a more imaginative appearance, more vim on the road and an interior that feels both more playful and more upmarket. It’s also quite pricy and cars like the Fiesta and Ibiza are more fun to drive.

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4. Renault Clio

Not only is the new Clio still a charming-looking supermini, the latest generation has gained newfound substance and some new fundamental strengths behind its chic aesthetic. Cabin design, ergonomic layout and perceived quality have all been improved considerably to near class-leading levels, while value-for-money remains a real strong suit.

The car rides challenging stretches of Tarmac with more of a stiff-legged, occasionally slightly wooden-feeling gait than you expect of a French car. It's far from uncomfortably, though less supple than it once was.

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The car’s more serious gait doesn’t cause it to forgo handling verve, though. It might not have the most communicative steering rack but handling is intuitive and natural-feeling, and although the car rolls a bit more than some might like, there’s a striking sense of inherent cornering balance in its chassis.

Sadly, there won’t be an RS version. Instead, the fastest Clio is the 138bhp Clio E-Tech hybrid. For a supermini, that makes it quite expensive, but no more so than hybrid-only rivals like the Toyota Yaris or Honda Jazz. The E-Tech powertrain can feel a little underpowered in larger cars, but for the Clio, it’s perfect, and makes it quicker and more engaging than the two Japanese hybrids.

Save money with new Clio deals from What Car?

5. Mini One/Cooper

A modern rework of a classic name, the third generation is now on its second facelift, but continues to enjoy enduring sales success. It remains quite expensive to buy and you will need to tick a fair few option boxes to get all the equipment that many of its rivals include as standard - but the Mini continues to deliver retro style, singular charm and desirability, premium equipment features and driver appeal like few cars in this class.

The car's small by supermini standards, with packaging that isn't brilliant, and space is tight in the boot and rear seats. But its selection of nippy three-pot engines and a well-constructed, premium-feeling and quirky interior make it a great place to spend time, while its direct, terrier-like handling should seal the deal for keener drivers. 

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Together with the Fiesta, it’s one of only two cars on this list that is still available as a three door, and you can even get a convertible.

Save money with new Mini deals from What Car?

6. Toyota Yaris

The fourth-generation Yaris marks a superb return to form, and is easily the most appealing iteration of Toyota’s ubiquitous supermini since the packaging hero that was the 1999 original. 

It looks better than ever; handles very nearly as keenly as our class favourites; and, thanks to its hybrid powertrain, is impressively efficient in day-to-day use. That said, it does lack a bit of straight-line punch, and you need to be mindful of optioning the larger alloy design. Doing so introduces a stiffer suspension set-up that can afflict the car’s ride, but on the flipside it does make the Yaris look even smarter. 

Interior space could be a bit more generous, but the fourth-generation Yaris is nonetheless a very easy supermini to like, and is a prime example of Toyota’s new found sense of character. If this is anything to go by, the rabid, rally-bred Yaris GR-Four should be a hoot too. And of course, it spawned the brilliant rally-bred Toyota GR Yaris, a legend in its own time.

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7. Peugeot 208

As an exercise in supermini design, the new Peugeot 208 might just have been the high point of 2019. This is now easily one of the best-looking superminis in its class.

It backs up the fine exterior styling with a cabin of genuine richness and impressive perceived quality, as well as ritzy technological features such as 3D digital instruments and widescreen sat nav. It’s just a shame similar attention wasn’t lavished on the underlying cabin architecture, which provides only a compromised bent-legged driving position, only restricted visibility of the ‘iCockpit’ instruments, and very limited second-row space.

The car has perfectly amenable on-road manners and rides with particular dynamic polish. Although it handles in a largely sure-footed and predictable fashion, it’s possible to coax a degree of playfulness from its chassis, should you go looking for it. It might not be quite as alert or fleet-footed as our class favourites, but it’s far from dull.

Refinement also impresses, as does performance from its three-cylinder motor. For the first time, there’s an all-electric version, too.

Save money with new 208 deals from What Car?

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8. Audi A1

The second-generation Audi A1 sits staunchly at the premium end of the supermini class and has a price to match. There’s plenty to like about the way the car looks - particularly in some of the sportier trim levels available. Far from being cutesy, it’s one of the more athletically assertive contenders among cars that are predominantly quite pretty but may be lacking in visual presence.

It handles well and it’s evident that its chassis is biased towards a more enthusiastic style of driving. It’s not quite as alert as a Mini, Fiesta, or Ibiza, but there’s some verve on display here. At the same time, on sports suspension, it can lack finesse, and its steering is a bit too light and tight-lipped to warrant praise.

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9. Vauxhall Corsa

The fifth-generation Corsa didn’t have the easiest gestation period. Following the sale of Opel-Vauxhall from General Motors to PSA Group, the decision was made to bin all development work that had been completed on the new model up until that point, so that the supermini could instead be based on the French company’s new CMP platform.

Deadlines were tight, and development somewhat rushed, but the end result was nonetheless pretty impressive. Not only is the new Corsa a handsome, if understated, supermini, it’s one that drives quite well too. Performance from the newly-sourced PSA Group engines, including the electric version, is good, while it handles with plenty of tenacity. That said, it doesn’t quite engage its driver in the way the best superminis in the class do, the car’s controls haven’t been tuned with the last word in attentive care, and interior materials are a bit questionable in places.

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This remains a highly competent supermini with more static appeal than the Corsa has had before, albeit not one that carries a huge amount of enthusiast appeal.

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10. Honda Jazz

Among the automotive fraternity, the Jazz has something of reputation as one of the most, er, staid machines on the planet. 

However, is is a badge Honda wears with the pride, and superb ease of use and acres of cabin space are very much hallmarks of the Jazz experience. The latest iteration gets comfier seats, better visibility and, where once the only engine option was an insipid naturally aspirated 1.3-litre petrol with pitiful amounts of torque generated too far up the rev-range, now a 1.5-litre hybrid is the sole powerplant. 

The driving experience is also largely vice-free, though ride quality still falls short of the best in this class and you'll not want the exercise the hybrid engine too hard, as things quickly get more noisy but no faster. Inside, meanwhile fit-and-finish is good, the new dash is more attractive and progressive than ever, but it's still the cavernous space on offer that remains the one reason why you might buy the Jazz over any other car on this list. 

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