With rising fuel prices causing running costs to spiral for the UK motorist, it’s time to take ‘downsizing’ to its inevitable conclusion.
If you just need a small car as a runaround, or to nip in and out of heavy traffic during the morning commute, there are plenty of options to choose from on the new and used car market.
Below, we’ve chosen ten, each offering different strengths. Some will be more practical, while others offer some of the lowest running costs on the market.
It is even possible to have an eye-catching, fashionable small car, or alternatively something more luxurious. We’ve tried to cover all the bases in our top ten best city cars guide below.
10) Vauxhall Agila
The Vauxhall Agila is an often overlooked car. The likes of the Corsa and Astra have gone on to be huge successes in the UK, but their tiny four-door stablemate is a rare find on UK roads.
But this takes nothing away from its strong points – and these are numerous. For a start, the tall dimensions offer a strong driving position and helps the driver feel less vulnerable on the road.
They also help with practicality, and the Agila boasts head room in the rear rarely seen in this segment of the market.
It looks and feels well built despite its relative age, and despite the taller height there is very little body roll around corners. Performance is also strong, with the small petrol and diesel engines sourced from typically excellent engine-builders Fiat.
One of the older models on the market without looking it, the Agila can also be picked up for much less than, say, a Fiat 500.
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9) Fiat 500
Unlike the Agila, the Fiat 500 should need no introduction. The distinctive ‘cute’ body styling is based on the originals from the 50s and the word ‘retro’ is often used as a selling point.
There’s no doubt the 500 is a fashionable choice for young drivers and this is reflected in the price. Luckily, it also means residual values have remained high for the car, which was introduced in 2008.
Styling may be the main talking point – it was voted sexiest car ahead of a myriad of supercars by BBC’s Top Gear – but the Fiat 500 is also fantastic to drive.
Favoured by driving schools across the country, the 500 is easy to drive and handles superbly, meaning it is the perfect car for beginners or just city dwellers.
Smaller engine models also offer exemption from the London congestion charge and road tax – including the first petrol car in the UK to do so in the shape of the TwinAir models.
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8) Chevrolet Spark
The Chevrolet Spark comes in at the other end of the scale to the Fiat 500. Starting from just £7,215, it is one of the most affordable minis on the market today.
With top-spec versions with all the trimmings coming in at just £9,000, even getting those front fog lamps and body coloured spoiler will not break the bank.
The Spark is notable for a couple of clever innovations. The five-doors provide practicality and the raised rear roofline allows passengers the chance to sit upright – on surprise for such a small car.
The Spark should also appeal to younger buyers, with eye-catching colours, optional graphics and a motorcycle-inspired instrument pod to declutter the cabin.
We should be seeing much more of Chevrolet in the next 12 months with the launch of several exciting models – the Camaro is among them – but the Spark will remain one of the most practical for city driving.
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7) Renault Twingo
If the Chevrolet Spark is cheap to run, the Renault Twingo builds on this with low running costs and a typically chic exterior from the car maker that brought us the effortlessly stylish Clio supermini.
The Twingo’s frugal credentials are beyond doubt – car website Parkers recently named it the best value city car in the UK based on cost of ownership – but it’s the extra touch of style which will impress the most.
There is even a hint of practicality about the Twingo, with a sliding rear seat capable of seating two adults or boosting the size of the boot if necessary.
The Twingo has been criticised in the part for prices coming too close to the larger Clio, but the introduction of an entry-level Bizu edition has lowered the entry price to a VAT-busting £6,595 for three-door models.
It may be overshadowed by the Clio in Renault’s range, but the cheerful little Twingo is sure to put a smile on your face.
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6) Kia Picanto
The Kia Picanto is Kia’s bargain-basement small city car and comes in at one of the lowest prices on the market.
Equipment is basic and the styling is a little dated, but the car is ultra-cheap to buy and run for the motorist on a budget.
However, Kia has already unveiled the next generation of Picanto and it is a looker. Featuring the same design language seen on the attractive Kia Sportage, the Picanto will have grown up when it arrives in its new form.
The new model will look good but will remain inexpensive to buy and run. With it, Kia, one of the fastest growing brands in the UK, will make a huge splash on the city car segment in the UK.
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5) Ford Ka
To do this, the Picanto will need to match the success of the Ford Ka, which was a sales sensation when it first arrived thanks to its chunky bumpers and inherent charm.
The latest version is styled much more on the larger Ford Fiesta, but is actually based on the Fiat 500 platform.
However, Ford has tweaked suspension and steering to give it a Ford-like drive – this ensures it is as responsive, refined and fun to drive as ever.
While prices are inching towards Fiat 500 levels, the Ka is one of the cheapest cars to run that you can buy today. Fuel economy is excellent and it won’t cost much in road tax, regardless of the engine chosen from the impressive range.
If the morning commute is getting you down, the Ford Ka is the ideal car to weave through traffic, and it may even draw a few admiring glances on the way.
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4) Citroen C1
The Citroen C1 is an affordable, well-equipped city car which has enough quirky styling and features to ensure it doesn’t drift into anonymity.
It represents an excellent alternative choice for city driving, and running costs are particularly impressive if Citroen’s eco-signature Airdream+ model is chosen.
It is one of the lightest cars of its size and as such the small 1.0-litre petrol and 1.4-litre diesel engines don’t have to work too hard to propel the C1 around city streets.
Under the attractive dressing, the Citroen C1 is identical to the Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo, meaning any fears over reliability should be allayed.
Citroen may have released the Citroen C-Zero electric car recently, but the C1 could be an ideal candidate for an electric powertrain in future.
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3) Peugeot iOn
There is, however, already an electric car available to buy on the market. With four doors and space for four adults inside, the Peugeot iOn represents the first legitimate electric city car in the UK.
It offers a range of 93 miles and can be charged in six to eight hours – which makes it built for shorter city drives in the UK.
The big advantages of the Peugeot iOn – apart from zero petrol or diesel costs – are its compact dimensions and manoeuvrability.
It measures just 3.4 metres in length and boasts rear-wheel drive to improve the turning circle in busy city areas.
The Peugeot iOn is not available to buy. Instead it is offered on a four-year leasing deal. The battery is rented separately to remove costly replacement responsibility from the owner.
Perrys in Milton Keynes is one of only 22 specialist Peugeot iOn dealers in the UK and boasts a charging station, test car, specialist sales team and specially-trained aftersales support and servicing.
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2) Fiat Panda
The Fiat Panda is a fun, quirky little car that offers something very rarely seen in the city car segment – four-wheel drive.
This makes it ideal for winter driving and should keep the driver on the roads in icy and wet weather.
It is also available in standard two-wheel drive and three- or five door options are available. The funky style is out of the ordinary and although the Fiat Panda is getting on a bit now, it still looks good enough to be relevant.
It is incredibly compact, and the small size may not be as practical as larger models, but benefits the Panda in busy traffic, car parks and when the small turning circle is needed.
Starting from less than £7,000, the Fiat Panda represents excellent value, and running costs will be a welcome fillip to the hard-hit motorist.
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1) Vauxhall City Car
As the title suggests, this is a car you can’t currently buy because it hasn’t been made yet.
However, it has been signed off and should be here by the end of 2012. Early indications suggest it will be more stylish and better equipped than anything that has come before it from Vauxhall.
Expect ultra-low CO2 engines, low running costs and more practicality than the Agila, Vauxhall’s current small car.
The city car could be a popular model to be launched with an electric drivetrain in future as well, but nothing has been confirmed yet.