Which small cars work best with an automatic gearbox? We name the best – and the ones to avoid
There are lots of great city cars and small cars on sale, but if you want one with an automatic gearbox, your choice is rather more limited. It’s not so much that automatic cars that are also small aren’t available, it’s that many of them aren’t very good.
That said, there are still some that are every bit as impressive with an automatic gearbox as they are with a manual. Here, we count down our top 10 and name the models that are best avoided.
Best small automatic cars
10. Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 90 Dynamique Nav EDC
This baby Renault may look awfully expensive at more than £18,000/$23,940, but sizeable discounts are available from dealers. It combines a frugal diesel engine with a slick auto gearbox and comes luxuriously equipped.
9. Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium auto
We’re such big fans of the i10 that we named it our City Car of the Year in 2017. True, the automatic version isn’t as economical as the manual, 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.
8. Kia Picanto 1.25 3
City cars have to provide seriously cheap motoring without compromising too much on space, quality and decent driving manners. And that’s just what the Picanto does – it handles well, has a roomy interior and comes with an industry-leading seven-year manufacturer’s warranty.
7. Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge
The Zoe sets out to solve one of the problems most often levelled at electric cars: cost. This five-door 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 and Ford Fiesta. Plus, there are no gears to worry about.
6. Audi A1 1.4 TFSI 125 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 fuel economy and a high-quality interior make the A1 easy to fall for. Just make sure you avoid the bigger wheels and S line trim because they make the ride overly firm.
5. Ford Fiesta1.0 100 Ecoboost ST-Line Powershift 5dr
There’s an awful lot to like about the latest 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 above £18,000/$23,940 if you also go for our favoured ST-Line trim, but robust negotiating should shave a sizeable lump off that price.
4. Mini hatchback 1.5 Cooper Chili Nav Plus 5dr auto
While the Mini’s sporty character means it feels more suited to a manual gearbox than an automatic one, 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.
3. Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE DSG 5dr
The Polo has always managed to distil the qualities of its hugely popular big brother, the Golf, into a smaller package – and the latest 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.
2. 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 a 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. That’s why we voted it our Small Car of the Year in 2017.
1. Seat Ibiza 1.0 TSI 95 FR DSG 5dr
The Ibiza may be slightly more expensive than the Skoda Fabia, but it’s an even better car. It’s great to drive, remarkably spacious inside and comes with a range of strong petrol engines, including our favourite 1.0-litre turbo, which works well with the DSG automatic gearbox.
Small automatics to avoid
The small automatic cars to avoid – Seat Mii/Skoda Citigo/Volkswagen Up
The Mii, Citigo and 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.