There are lots of great small cars on sale, but if you want one with an automatic gearbox, then your choice is rather more limited. It’s not so much that small automatic cars aren’t available, but more that many of them aren’t very good.
That said, there are still some small cars that are every bit as impressive with an automatic gearbox as they are with a manual. Here we count down our top 10, and also name the models that are best avoided.
The best small automatics cars
10. Mazda 2 1.5 90 SE-L auto
The Mazda 2 isn’t as quiet or comfortable as the very best small cars, but if you want an automatic it’s well worth considering thanks to an excellent six-speed gearbox. Available only with the 1.5-litre petrol engine, it shifts smoothly and makes the car very nearly as economical as the five-speed manual version.
9. Honda Jazz 1.3 SE CVT
If space is your top priority and you do most of your driving in town, the Honda Jazz is well worth a look. It’s one of the most practical small cars around, bridging the gap between superminis and mini MPVs, and while its CVT auto gearbox lets the engine get very noisy when you accelerate hard, it works well when you’re in less of a hurry.
8. Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Dynamique Nav EDC
This baby Renault might look awfully expensive at more than £18,000, but sizeable savings are available. It combines a frugal diesel engine with a slick auto gearbox, and comes luxuriously equipped.
7. Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium auto
We’re such big fans of the i10 that it’s our reigning City Car of the Year. True, the automatic version isn’t as economical or ‘green’ as the manual version that’s our pick of the range, but performance is sprightly enough, and the auto gearbox copes well with both town and motorway driving. The i10 is also well equipped; you get air-con, remote central locking, front and rear electric windows and six airbags as standard.
6. Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge
The Zoe sets out to solve one of the problems most often levelled at electric cars – the cost. This five-door hatchback will officially do up to 250 miles on a full charge, and comes with plenty of equipment, yet it costs roughly the same on monthly finance as conventional alternatives such as the Renault Clio or Ford Fiesta. Plus, there are no gears to worry about.
5. Audi A1 1.0 TSI 95 Sport S tronic
If you’re looking for a pocket-sized car with a premium badge, the A1 is the default choice. Thankfully, it’s similarly impressive if you specify it with Audi’s dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox. Strong resale values, impressive economy and a high-quality interior make it easy to fall for, but make sure you avoid the bigger wheels and S line trim, because these make the ride overly firm.
4. Ford Fiesta 1.0 100 Ecoboost Zetec Powershift 5dr
There’s an awful lot to like about the Ford Fiesta, and that includes its Powershift automatic gearbox, which is particularly good when combined with the punchy 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine. True, this combination does push the cost over £16,000 if you also go for our favoured Zetec trim, but robust negotiating will shave a sizeable lump off that price. Remember, though, that an all-new Fiesta is just around the corner.
3. Mini 5dr Cooper Chili Media XL auto
While the Mini’s sporty character means it feels more suited to a manual gearbox than an automatic, the six-speed auto ‘box that’s offered generally shifts quickly and smoothly. The five-door model solves many of the three-door’s flaws, providing more rear space and a bigger boot, while retaining the retro charm and agile handling that have made the Mini so popular.
2. VW Polo 1.2 TSI 90 Match DSG 5dr
The Volkswagen Polo has always managed to distil the qualities of its hugely popular sibling, the Golf, into a smaller package, and the current version is no different. Quieter and more comfortable than most rivals, it also feels more suited to an automatic gearbox thanks to its easygoing character. Just like the Fiesta, though, an all-new Polo is coming early next year.
1. Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 110 SE DSG 5dr
The Fabia is related to the Polo and uses the same DSG auto gearbox, but it’s an even better all-rounder. Cheaper to buy and more enjoyable to drive, it also offers a sophisticated infotainment system, good resale values, a spacious interior and punchy, frugal engines. In fact, it’s currently our Family Car of the Year for 2017.
The small automatic cars to avoid
Seat Mii/Skoda Citigo/VW Up AST
The Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo and VW Up are so closely related that you can choose any of them and get one of the best city cars on sale – unless you specify an automatic gearbox, that is. The ‘box in question is actually an automated manual that’s jerky enough to ruin the driving experience and make your passengers feel car sick.
Alfa Romeo Mito
Expensive to buy and poor to drive, there are few redeeming qualities for Alfa’s smallest car.