Best buys small cars: Seat steals the show with its Ibiza

Our choice of the best small cars on the market right now


Best One: Seat Ibiza

Sometimes when we say a car has ‘become more grown up’ it’s code for that car abandoning any pretence of being fun and just accepting that it’s now a boring box on wheels. Just for a change though, the Seat Ibiza grew up in a big way but didn’t actually become any less fun. Much bigger and more spacious than it used to be (thanks to sharing a chassis with the new VW Polo), and its interior quality has had its game seriously raised. Basic models are a touch dark and plastic-y, but everything feels tightly assembled and there’s stretching space in the back seats now. Basic 1.0-litre engine with 75hp is surprisingly fleet-of-foot, but if you upgrade to the 115hp 1.0-litre version, you’ve got a terrific all-rounder that raises serious questions about needing to buy a bigger Leon. SE models get a decent touch screen and air conditioning, or you could get a pricey FR model for faux-hot-hatch looks. Avoid the dreadful ‘Mystic Magenta’ metallic puce paint. Take all of the above as read for the equally excellent Volkswagen Polo, but add around €1,500 to the price tag.

Best model: 1.0 75hp SE for €17,335 Price range: €14,995 to €22,115. Finance from €154 per month. Co2 emissions: 99 to 112g/km Sum up: Spanish Polo won’t cost you your shirt.

Worthy Contenders

Ford Fiesta

It really was nip-and-tuck to decide between the Fiesta and the Ibiza (& Polo) for the best-in-class rating, and the Ford only lost out to the Seat because the Spanish car has a lower entry price, and fractionally higher quality in the cabin and a touch roomier. The Fiesta hits back, and hits hard, with a more rewarding driving experience (sharp steering, excellent balance) and some excellent engine options. Basic 1.1-litre three cylinder unit is a cracker, while the turbocharged EcoBoost engines are among the best in class. Upcoming 190hp ST version takes its place as the king of the small hot hatches.

Best model: 1.1L Ti-VCT 70hp Zetec for €17,250 Price range: €16,650 to €30,270. Finance from €144 per month. Co2 emissions: 97 to 136g/km Sum up: Party-time for Fiesta.

Citroen C3

We are partial to a bit of French quirk, albeit not necessarily with the levels of unreliability and awkwardness that once upon a time was the natural sidekick to such quirk. Thankfully, the C3 is all quirk, no pain - mechanically it’s actually quite conservative with a choice of 1.2-litre petrol engine (turbo or non-turbo) and a 1.6 diesel. It looks arrestingly different on the outside and the cabin shows the too-awkward C4 Cactus just how things out to be done. Big touchscreen looks good, but is somewhat fiddly. Decent space and very comfy seats compensate for that. Steering and ride are classically French - twirly and floaty, respectively, but that just makes the C3 all the more engaging to drive.

Best model: 1.2 PureTech 82hp Feel for €18,595 Price range: €16,395 to €21,895. Finance from €165 per month. Co2 emissions: 92 to 110g/km Sum up: C3 gets an A-grade.

Toyota Yaris

If there is a disappointment with the current Yaris, it’s that it never manages to be as engaging to drive as its far-off 1998 progenitor (which was actually delightful to drive, in spite of the dowdy image). The current car is in no sense bad to drive, but it lacks for fun. It makes up for that by being rigorously sensible. There’s very good space in bot sets of seats, the build quality is every bit as excellent as you’d expect, and the engines are very frugal and reasonably powerful. Hybrid model is much improved, if rather expensive. Ultra-rare GRMN hot hatch feel like a 90s Touring Car to drive, in the best possible sense.

Best model: Go all-in and get a Hybrid Sol for €21,595 Price range: €15,950 to €22,990. Finance from €144 per month. Co2 emissions: 75 to 109g/km Sum up: Straight-up sensible.

Wild Card: Suzuki Swift

Cute and cuddly, the Swift is almost a cut-price rival for the Mini Cooper, so engaging are its looks. It suffers slightly from a too-dark cabin, but Suzuki’s quality and reliability (net of the scare over the Celerio city car’s brakes some time ago) are generally pretty peerless. Clever mild-hybrid system boosts engine power and helps economy at the same time. 1.0 BoosterJet engine is the star of the range, but definitely consider the engaging Swift Sport if you’re in the market for a small, fun car.

Best model: 1.0 BoosterJet SZ-T for €16,995 Price range: €14,995 to €20,995. Finance from €174 per month. Co2 emissions: 97 to 125g/km Sum up: Swift? Sure.

Incoming: Hyundai i20 facelift; Skoda Fabia facelift; Opel Corsa; Renault Zoe facelift