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The best superminis have evolved from small yet practical cars to ones with real dynamic prowess and versatility

The onslaught of high-riding crossovers and full-size SUVs paints a different picture, but small, B-segment hatchbacks – that is, superminis – remain the best-selling cars in Europe

In recent years, few significant new models have been introduced, but there have been a fair number of facelifts, which have shaken up the rankings. And it's one of these revised cars - the Renault Clio - which we deem to be the best supermini on sale.

To make our top 10 list for 2024, a supermini needs to be so much more than just capable of carrying a couple of adults, a couple of kids and a decent amount of luggage relative to its small footprint. It must now also be desirable, well packaged, easy to drive and pleasant to use. A pedigree performer, in other words. 

Dynamically, the key attributes are transparency and good basic agility. Superminis should be inherently nimble and at least moderately fun to drive in all their forms. Sluggish steering is a worse crime than soft suspension. Modest power and five doors are no impediments to a rewarding driving experience. 

Increasingly, superminis also offer a level of perceived quality, performance and technological sophistication that bears comparison with that of bigger hatchbacks. And the very best combine some or all of that with the agility that only a small, light car can offer.

How we tested

Autocar first began testing cars in April 1928. Since then, the testing methods have changed, but the fundamentals remain. Collectively through our road test and web teams, we have tested and evaluated every supermini on sale. This includes drives abroad, in the UK and at specialist facilities such as the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. For some of these cars, such as the Renault Clio, we have lived with them for several months at a time. This article takes our rich data and experienced opinions and neatly distils them into a top 10.

The best superminis

1. Renault Clio

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20supermini%20Renault%20Clio

Cabin design, ergonomic layout and perceived quality are all much higher than you might imagine if you haven't sat in a Clio for a few years, while value for money remains a real strong suit.

The Clio rides challenging stretches of Tarmac with more of a stiff-legged, occasionally slightly wooden-feeling gait than you expect of a French car. It's far from uncomfortable but less supple than it once was.

This more serious gait doesn’t cause it to forgo handling verve, though. It may not have the most communicative steering rack, but its handling is intuitive and natural-feeling, and although the car rolls a bit more than some might like, there’s a striking sense of inherent cornering balance in its chassis.

Sadly, there won’t be an RS version. Instead, the fastest Clio is the 138bhp Renault Clio E-Tech hybrid. For a supermini, that makes it quite expensive, but no more so than hybrid-only rivals like the Toyota Yaris or Honda Jazz.

The E-Tech powertrain can feel a little underpowered in larger cars, but it’s perfect for the Clio and makes it quicker and more engaging than those two Japanese hybrids.

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2. Seat Ibiza

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20supermini%20Seat%20Ibiza

It was the first of the Volkswagen Group's latest breed of MQB-based small hatchbacks – and since the facelift in 2021, it’s also the best.

Mimicking the bigger Seat Leon in many ways, the Ibiza is roomy, well equipped and much better finished than before. Combine that with its fine on-road handling and refinement manners, its value-for-money position, its impressive equipment features and its youthful styling and it all adds up to an outstanding contender in our view. 

It’s not quite as entertaining to drive as a (now off-sale) Ford Fiesta, but it’s close, and since the recent update, the interior is much improved, with more soft-touch materials, a more interesting dashboard design and Seat’s latest infotainment system (even if it can be buggy on some cars). 

The Ibiza is among our favourites because it's a more rounded, upmarket ownership proposition than the Ford and still more fun to drive than the Volkswagen Polo, and it has a nicer interior than either of them.

3. Skoda Fabia

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20superminis%20Skoda%20Fabia

Skoda has marched upmarket in recent years, and that suits some of its models better than others. Some have got a bit too expensive, but with the latest Fabia, Skoda has nailed the balance.

It’s no longer as cheap as it once was, but it’s still one of the more affordable options in the class. It is also one of the most spacious superminis on the market, with only the Honda Jazz offering more room.

The interior isn't particularly plush, but it is, especially in some of the lower-spec versions, as intuitive as it gets, with big, simple buttons and ergonomics that are spot on.

The engine range is similarly no-nonsense, with no hybrids or diesels available. Instead, there’s a choice of three-pot petrols and one four-cylinder. We would avoid the weedy naturally aspirated models and go for the 95PS TSI turbo. The more powerful engines aren’t really worth the additional outlay.

Despite sharing much of its mechanical make-up with the Ibiza and Polo (also found on this list), the Fabia neatly differentiates itself with its driving experience. It's not trying to be sporty or exciting. Instead, it rides extremely well without becoming frustratingly floaty in the corners.

The Fabia works best as a practical value option, but if you value tech such as matrix LED headlights, driver-assistance systems and active safety features, or a big touchscreen and a digital gauge cluster, Skoda does offer all of those as options.

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4. Volkswagen Polo

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20supermini%20VW%20Polo

The Polo is usable, refined, easy-going, spacious, comfortable, smart to look at and very solidly built. That kind of roster of qualities, presented at a price that isn't as high as for other VW models, makes it one of the very best options in this super-competitive class.

The current model marked a huge departure from the previous-generation Polo, mixing more impressive technology with improved dynamic capabilities.

Its engines are almost universally strong, and both rolling and mechanical refinement are very good, while there’s room in the back seats for average-sized adults as well as kids.

The Polo's ascent up our top 10 list shows how close it is to being the ideal supermini, and that's pretty painfully close.

It used to be at the top, but other cars have come along with a more imaginative appearance, more vim on the road and an interior that feels both more playful and more upmarket. It’s also quite pricey, and cars like the Fiesta and Ibiza are more fun to drive.

5. Hyundai i20

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20supermini%20Hyundai%20i20

The existence of the garden i20 is overshadowed by the sensationally good Hyundai i20 N derivative at the top of the range.

However, there’s a lot to like about the i20, starting with its spacious cabin, big boot and high level of standard equipment.

On the other hand, the cabin ambience isn’t as welcoming as what you get with the Clio and certainly the Polo, and you might expect just a little better in this regard for the money being asked.

In dynamic matters, the i20 is fairly firm-riding, but this does give it an alertness that's lacking in several alternatives. It’s not as enjoyable as a Fiesta, but it’s far from being outright dull.

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6. Dacia Sandero

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20superminis%20Dacia%20Sandero

Superminis are about simple, affordable, insurable transport, and if they’re good to drive, that’s an added bonus. 

We won’t pretend the Sandero is the most rewarding driver's car on this list, because it absolutely isn’t. But at just over £12,000 and with plenty of space and a surprising lack of crudeness about its build quality, it has plenty of strength elsewhere. 

Add in comfortable seats, well-located controls, decent motorway economy and a crisp exterior design and you begin to understand why the Sandero sits so high in our estimations, despite being somewhat flat-footed compared with the Fiesta.

Equally, there’s a rather charming simplicity to operating this car, and you can sense its underlying Frenchness – no bad thing.

7. Toyota Yaris

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20superminis%20Toyota%20Yaris

The fourth-generation Yaris marked a superb return to form, being easily the most appealing iteration of Toyota’s ubiquitous supermini since the packaging hero that was the 1999 original. 

It looks better than ever; handles very nearly as keenly as our class favourites; and, thanks to its hybrid powertrain, is impressively efficient in day-to-day use.

That said, it does lack a bit of straight-line punch, and you need to be mindful of optioning the larger wheels. Doing so introduces a stiffer suspension set-up that can afflict the car’s ride, but on the flipside, it does make the Yaris look even smarter. 

Interior space could be a bit more generous, but the Yaris is nonetheless a very easy supermini to like and a prime example of Toyota’s new-found sense of character.

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8. Peugeot 208

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20supermini%20Peugeot%20208

As an exercise in supermini design, the new 208 might just be the best in the business.

It backs up the fine exterior styling with a cabin of genuine richness and impressive perceived quality, as well as ritzy technological features such as 3D digital instruments and widescreen sat-nav.

It’s just a shame that similar attention wasn’t lavished on the underlying cabin architecture, which provides only a compromised bent-legged driving position, restricted visibility of the i-Cockpit instruments and very limited second-row space.

The car has perfectly amenable on-road manners and rides with particular dynamic polish. Although it handles in a largely sure-footed and predictable fashion, it’s possible to coax a degree of playfulness from its chassis, should you go looking for it. It might not be quite as alert or fleet-footed as our class favourites, but it’s far from dull.

Refinement also impresses, as does performance from its three-cylinder petrol engine. For the first time, there’s an electric version too, called the Peugeot e-208.

9. Audi A1

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20superminis%20Audi%20A1

The second-generation A1 sits staunchly at the premium end of the supermini class and has a price to match.

There’s plenty to like about the way it looks - particularly in some of the sportier trim levels available. Far from being cutesy, it’s one of the more athletically assertive contenders among cars that are predominantly quite pretty but may be lacking in visual presence.

It handles well and it’s evident that its chassis is biased towards a more enthusiastic style of driving. It’s not quite as alert as a Mini, Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza, but there’s some verve on display here. At the same time, on sports suspension, it can lack finesse, and its steering is a bit too light and tight-lipped to warrant praise.

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10. Mini Electric

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https://zephr.autocar.co.uk/Best%20superminis%20Mini%20Electric

Electric superminis have come a long way in a short time. So much so that they are now featuring in articles such as these, and not just in specific EV-related ones.

If we wrote this list in pure objective terms, the Mini Electric wouldn’t get a look in. The electric range, in our real-world testing, is only 100-120 miles. The boot is small, and the rear seats tricky to get in and out of. But luckily this list isn’t scientific.

The Mini Electric is among our favourite small electric cars because of its engagement and its energy.

The powertrain develops a healthy 181bhp and 199lb ft of torque, which means the performance is much brisker than the other cars on this list, while the handling is agile, grippy and very much on par with petrol Minis.

A new version is due soon, with a larger battery and more range. We’ve had a brief drive in prototype form and can confirm it is very good.

FAQs

What are superminis?

Superminis tend to be small hatchbacks (a type of car with a boot that can be used as a door) and are broadly Ford Fiesta-sized. They're generally larger and more practical than city cars.

Is the supermini class dying?

Superminis were once the mainstay of the European car market. SUVs are fast becoming the norm, and bestselling models, such as the Ford Fiesta, are no longer on sale. But there are still plenty of superminis to choose from, for now. 

How many doors do superminis have?

Superminis can have three or five doors, although very few new superminis come with three doors now. Most have been phased out because buyers prefer the versatility of five doors.

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine, buyacar.co.uk, parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine, as well as carmagazine.co.uk.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

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LP in Brighton 3 April 2024

I'm surprised that the Vauxhall Corsa doesn't make this list. It must be one of the more popular offerings in this class and one of the few available in petrol, hybrid and pure electric versions. Is the Peugeot 208 really that much better? 

And effectively the VW Polo appears in all four brand versions which seems a bit much!