Many drivers still prefer to drive small cars without a clutch pedal. Some are better than others
The small car market is packed with excellent choices – until you decide that you don’t want a manual gearbox. There’s still plenty of choice on offer, but the number of good autos in this sector is lower, making the buying choice more difficult.
Still, there are a few standout small autos that are just as good as their manual relatives. Here’s our top ten, plus one we really wouldn’t recommend.
10. Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Dynamique Nav EDC
Many buyers might be frightened off by the scarily high £18,000 price of this small Renault, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find generous discounts on offer. That makes it easier to appreciate the fuel-sipping diesel engine, the high equipment levels and the slickness of the transmission.
9. Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium auto
The manual i10 is a brilliant city car. The auto version is a bit heavier on fuel but it does well on both town and motorway roads and whizzes along at a decent rate. High standard equipment levels include air-con, remote central locking, front and rear electric windows and six airbags.
8. Kia Picanto 1.25 3
If your definition of a city car is one that will provide good room, build quality and an entertaining drive, all with low running costs, the new-model Kia Picanto should be on your short list in either manual or auto versions. It also has a class-leading 7-year warranty.
7. Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge
The all-electric Zoe cracks one of the main EV problems: purchase cost. The new model has an official range of up to 250 miles, five doors for practicality, and no shortage of equipment, but the monthly finance costs are about the same as a ‘normal’ car like the Clio or Fiesta. And it’s gear-free.
6. Audi A1 1.4 TFSI 125 Sport S tronic
‘Small and premium’ is a tough act to pull off but the A1 manages it easily. It’s just as good with dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox as it is with the manual and it will provide fine economy and cabin quality while holding its value. Don’t bother with the S line spec as it’s too hard-riding.
5. Ford Fiesta 1.0 100 Ecoboost ST Line Powershift 5dr
The Fiesta has been a fine car for many years, and the new one is better than ever. Its Powershift automatic gearbox marries up very successfully to the nippy 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine. The sticker price for the desirable ST Line trim goes over the £18,000 mark, but Ford dealers always expect energetic haggling.
4. Mini hatchback 1.5 Cooper Chili Media 5dr auto
Sportiness (and therefore a manual gearbox) go most naturally with the Mini, but the six-speed auto is no sluggard, giving quick and smooth shifting. In five-door format the Mini also gets around some of the three-door’s practicality drawbacks, like rear compartment access and boot space.
3. Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE DSG 5dr
If you like the idea of a small Golf, the relaxed and easygoinf new Polo hits the target more accurately than any previous iteration. It beats most of the opposition on refinement and comfort and somehow seems better suited to automatic transmission than many.
2. Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 110 SE DSG 5dr
A close relative of the Polo, and featuring the same DSG automatic gearbox, the Fabia pips the VW on all-round ability. Not only is it a better drive it has a good infotainment system, plenty of room and a strong range of engines. On top of all that it has a lower price tag and stable resale values.
1 Seat Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 FR DSG 5dr
Seat’s new Ibiza is a little dearer than the Fabia, but it’s worth paying the extra as it’s a super drive, with amazing cabin space and excellent petrol engines. Our recommended partner for the DSG automatic gearbox is the 1.0-litre turbo.
A small auto you might want to avoid
Seat Mii/Skoda Citigo/VW Up
Mii, Citigo, Up: badges aside, there’s very little to pick these excellent city cars apart. But if you get one with an automatic gearbox, it will stand out for all the wrong reasons. The ‘automated manual’ transmission is not smooth and will make passengers queasy.