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?
27 November 2019

The supermini segment is packed with options for buyers of new cars, but it's no longer sufficient for a car in this class to simply be small, frugal and well priced.

To make our top 10 list, a supermini needs to be so much more than a car that's capable of carrying a couple of adults, a couple of kids and a decent amount of luggage. It must be desirable, well equipped, decently spacious and pleasant to use and to spend time in and have a dynamic make-up that mixes drivability and ease of use with agility, comfort, verve and refinement.

Increasingly, superminis offer a level of quality, equipment, performance and usability that bears comparison with that of bigger five-door hatchbacks; and the best ones combine all that with the agility only a small, light car can offer. 

So which supermini tops our list?

1. Seat Ibiza

Storming to the top of our supermini top 10 is the fifth-generation Seat Ibiza. The Spanish company went to great lengths to replace the decent fourth-generation Ibiza with a handsome hatchback that's backed by real substance. It was the first of the Volkswagen Group's latest breed of MQB-based small hatchbacks - and, to date, it remains 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 first-class 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. 

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Our Verdict

Volkswagen Polo

Volkswagen’s ever-sensible supermini gets even more grown-up as the Polo hits its fifth decade, but can it take top honours?

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2. Volkswagen Polo

Still the sensible supermini of choice, the latest VW Polo is usable, refined, easy-going, mature and very solidly built. 

Compared with the previous-generation car, this new Polo is a huge departure, mixing a tad more technology with improved dynamic capabilities. 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's a little unimaginative in appearance at, though, as well as reserved to drive and expensive, as is the VW way.

In many other respects, the Polo's an outstanding car. But it's much more likely to appeal to your rational side than your emotional one.

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3. Renault Clio

Not only is the new Clio still a charming-looking supermini, it also has an impressive amount of substance behind its chic aesthetic. Cabin design and quality have been boosted considerably (to near class-leading levels) and it rides challenging stretches of Tarmac with an air of civility that’s conspicuous by its absence in some of its more stiffly sprung rivals. It's not quite as inherently 'French' as it once was in this regard, but it's certainly comfier than the vast majority of its classmates. 

Its more relaxed gait doesn’t cause it to forgo handling verve, either. It might not have the most communicative steering rack and it rolls a bit more than we might otherwise like, but there’s a fantastic sense of inherent balance in its chassis. It’s impressively adjustable, too, if not quite as flickable as the Ford Fiesta. Still, we've high hopes indeed for any Clio RS that might follow.

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4. 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 the classy Ibiza, either.

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5. Mini One/Cooper

A modern rework of a classic name, and now in facelifted third-generation form, the 'new Mini' continues to build momentum and 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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6. Mazda 2

The Mazda 2 has matured over the years to become a grown-up supermini that is very well made. It may not be quite as vivacious to drive as some of the cars above it in this list, but it remains a car that an interested driver should naturally gravitate towards for its clean-revving atmospheric engines and nicely clipped, involving handling.

Those naturally aspirated engines do need to be worked hard but its perky handling will reward drivers who are willing to invest time and effort to search higher up the rev range.

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7. Peugeot 208

As an exercise in supermini design, the new Peugeot 208 might just be the high point of 2019. This is easily one of the best-looking superminis in its class - both inside and out. 

It backs this up with perfectly amenable on-road manners, too. 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.

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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 new A1 looks - particularly in some of the sportier trim levels available. Far from being cutesy, it’s one of the more athletically assertive contenders in a predominantly chic class.

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 impressive. Not only is the new Corsa a handsome, if understated, supermini, it’s one that drives well too. Performance from the newly-sourced PSA Group engines 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, and interior materials are a bit questionable in places. Nevertheless, remains a highly competent supermini, if not one that carries a huge amount of enthusiast appeal.

 

10. Nissan Micra

The fifth-generation Micra is a huge departure from the one that went before. For this iteration, Nissan brought Mirca manufacturing back to mainland Europe. 

Built on the same production line as the Renault Clio, it discards the old version's dowdy looks and the 50 shades of scratchy grey plastic associated with its cabin. In their place is an edgy hatchback that's really distinctive, well built and enjoyable to drive, with sharp steering and an impressive tech offering. The Micra is also available in a host of vibrant colours and personalisation options. 

The rear seats are small and the turbocharged 0.9-litre triple is a little unrefined compared with its rivals, but it is nevertheless easy to live with.

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