We demand a lot from a modern supermini. It must be small enough to cope with tight city streets, comfortable on a long motorway journey, as safe as a larger car, and packed with the latest tech you’d find in a car with a much higher price tag.
A case of supermini by name, super by nature, then?
We’ve pulled together a list of the best small cars to buy in 2021, with our choices presented in alphabetical order.
The Audi A1 isn’t the cheapest supermini you can buy, but it pays to look beyond the purchase price. Even the entry-level Technik trim features 15-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED rear lights, dynamic rear indicators, a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, an 8.8-inch infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Sport, S line, Black Edition and Vorsprung models are more lavish, and it’s easy to spend £30,000 on an A1 if you’ve gone a little crazy with the options list. However, the A1 is arguably at its best in its most basic form, which means it costs about the same as a top-spec Ford Fiesta.
We said: “Predictably, the interior is superb, with genuine wow-factor that’s rare in the supermini segment. Some of the plastics feel cheap, which makes it harder to justify the price of the more expensive versions, but gloss is added by the range of personalisation options. The latest A1 remains one of the most desirable cars in its class.”
The Ford Fiesta is the UK’s most popular new car. It’s not hard to see the appeal, because there’s a Fiesta for everyone, from the affordable Fiesta Trend to the sporty Fiesta ST. There’s also a luxurious Vignale model, a rugged Active version and even a Fiesta Van.
Standard equipment is generous, with the entry-level Trend featuring 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You also get a heated windscreen, which will come in handy on cold winter mornings.
All versions are brilliant to drive, especially the Fiesta ST, which is one of the greatest hot hatches of the modern era. Low running costs are guaranteed by a range of efficient petrol engines, some of which are enhanced by mild-hybrid technology. The diesel engine was axed in 2020, but the 1.0-litre turbocharged engine should deliver 50mpg.
The Honda Jazz has always felt like more than just a supermini. Its spacious interior and clever Magic Seats combine to create a car that’s able to muscle in on the family hatchback and small MPV segments. With the seats folded down, the Jazz offers a VW Golf-rivalling 1,205 litres of luggage space. Impressive stuff.
You can flip and fold the Magic Seats like collapsible dining room chairs, creating enough room in the back for a mountain bike. They also fold into the floor to turn the Jazz into something resembling a van.
This latest model features hybrid technology to deliver fuel economy of 62.7mpg and CO2 emissions of just 102g/km. There’s also a more rugged Jazz Crosstar, which features the styling of an SUV. At £19,000, the basic Jazz isn’t cheap, but the price is justified by the standard kit, hybrid technology and likely reliability.
There are three good reasons why you should consider the Mazda 2 over the other superminis on our shortlist. It’s arguably the best looking car in its class, it’s almost as good to drive as the Ford Fiesta, and it’s blessed with a beautifully built interior. Prices start from less than £16,000, which means it’s also one of the most affordable superminis you can buy.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine isn’t as efficient and punchy as the latest breed of 1.0-litre turbocharged engines, but it should deliver 53.3mpg if you’re not trying to pretend you’re driving a Mazda MX-5. Yes, it really is that much fun.
We said: “It’s a car that feels like it’s been thoughtfully engineered by specialists, rather than just created by a committee set on meeting generic targets. It’s this that gives it a bit of the MX-5 spirit. Sure, it’s not quite the driver-focused sports car the Mazda two-seater is, but there is plenty to please enthusiasts without scaring off the core buyers.”
Gallery: What Car? Awards 2021: The best cars you can buy (What Car?)
Not many of us will be fortunate enough to own the Mini Hopkirk Limited Edition (pictured above), but even the most affordable Mini is great to drive. In fact, you don’t need to progress too far beyond the entry-level version to enjoy a Mini adventure.
Rear-seat accommodation and boot space are in short supply, even in the more practical five-door version, but most buyers will fall in love with the Mini for its style, gilt-edged image and array of personalisation options. One and Cooper models are powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, while the Cooper S and John Cooper Works get a 2.0-litre unit producing 178hp and 231hp respectively.
We said: “If you like the look of the Mini, you’ll love the way it drives and makes you feel. Sure, it’s expensive, but the cost is offset by slow depreciation and affordable finance options.”
Right now, this is probably the UK’s best supermini. It might look like the old model, but the evolutionary styling hides a revolution beneath the skin. It’s now good enough to rival the Volkswagen Polo in terms of quality, and the Ford Fiesta in terms of how it drives. Little wonder it’s one of the most popular small cars in Europe.
There’s enough room inside for four adults, while a 391-litre boot is impressive for this size of car. Luggage capacity is reduced in diesel and hybrid versions, but the Clio remains competitive in terms of practicality. You even get a five-year warranty.
We said: “The 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol is the range sweet-spot, offering a terrific blend of punch and efficiency. The cabin is more upmarket than before, there’s a wealth of new technology and it’ll be cheap to run.”
The Suzuki Swift should be on everybody’s three-car shortlist when searching for a new supermini. It’s not quite the bargain it was before, but it offers exceptional value for money, with the entry-level SZ-L coming in at less than £15,000. Even the top-spec SZ-5 costs just £18,000.
Although it dates back to 2017, a facelift in 2020 keeps the Suzuki Swift competitive in a congested segment. All versions now get LED headlights as standard, while the 1.2-litre Dualjet engine has been given an added dose of efficiency thanks to mild-hybrid technology.
Even the Swift Sport benefits from mild-hybrid tech, with Suzuki claiming its 1.4-litre Boosterjet engine delivers the same performance as a 2.0-litre unit. However, at £22,000, it’s difficult to make a case for the Swift Sport over the Fiesta ST.
The Toyota Yaris is one of the newest superminis on the market, so you’ll benefit from the very latest engine, safety and connectivity technology. Prices range from £20,000 to £22,000, with even the entry-level Icon trim featuring 16-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, reversing camera and a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist technology.
Power is sourced from an efficient 1.5-litre petrol hybrid engine, which delivers between 57.6mpg and 68.8mpg, as well as offering pure electric power at speeds of up to 80mph. One electric motor is used to drive the wheels, while the other one starts the car and charges the batteries.
We said: “The hybrid drive is terrific. It’s now genuinely able to deliver a sophisticated, EV-heavy, multi-mode experience with energetic response, refinement and superb economy. All without having to plug it in.”
Looking for the best value supermini? Look no further than the Vauxhall Corsa. It shares a platform and engines with the Peugeot 208, yet offers better value for money than its French rival. Petrol and diesel engines are available, along with an all-electric version with a range of up to 209 miles.
The Ultimate Nav trim features the kind of equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in a more expensive car, such as a 10-inch colour touchscreen media system with sat-nav, adaptive cruise control, electronic climate control, a wireless phone charger and a driver’s seat massage function.
We said: “The Corsa looks more upmarket than before, both inside and out. Rear-seat space is good and the 309-litre boot is class-competitive. It also drives like a bigger car, and boasts equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in the class above.”
The Volkswagen Polo feels every inch the scaled-down Golf. All versions have a quality feel throughout, with power sourced from efficient 1.0-litre petrol engines. It’s a tad expensive, but the Polo retains its value better than most other superminis and its image remains second to none.
The entry-level Polo Match features 15-inch alloy wheels, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, air conditioning, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking.
We said: “The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which injects the Polo with some added pep, would be our choice. It’s not cheap, but the price is offset by strong resale values and competitive finance deals.”