Call them what you like – small cars, city cars, runarounds, first cars – but one thing’s for certain: they should be affordable to buy and run.
We’ve rounded up five of the best funky small cars for around £5,000 to suit drivers of all backgrounds, whether they intend to buy one as their first car or need it as a second vehicle to meet the demands of busy family life.
Because these are popular models, all of them are in good supply on the used car-market, so buyers can afford to be bullish about their preferred colour and trim (after all, small cars can get away with being cheeky and cheerful) and should walk away if the deal isn’t to their liking.
Best for: style
Bella! Standing out of the crowd but keeping the budget to around £5,000 is possible, thanks to the perennially stylish Italians. The current 500 has been around since 2008, but it still looks as fresh as a daisy. Owners love the cheeky design, reasonable running costs and zippy driving experience, but there are plenty who grumble about the dependability of both the car and Fiat dealers. So buy one with a warranty and ask friends who own a Fiat about their experiences with your local dealer.
Like the exterior, the interior could have come straight from a Milan catwalk
At this price, the 1.2-litre will be the most widely available. The four-cylinder petrol can return 55mpg, and it really suits the car’s enthusiastic personality, needing a healthy dose of revs to get it zipping ahead of other traffic.
Like the exterior, the interior could have come straight from a Milan catwalk, but bear in mind that there are different finishes available for the dashboard and doors, so shop around. The 185-litre boot is barely big enough for a Dolce & Gabbana clutch bag, but the back seats do fold.
Best for: warranty cover
If you want peace of mind from a £5,000 small car, head for the Kia Picanto. Since 2010 all new Kias have come with a seven-year/ 100,000-mile warranty, so the many 2012 Picanto 1.0 models that are for sale at about £5,000 through approved Kia dealers will come with warranty protection until 2019. For drivers who like to know they won’t face any unexpected repair bills, that’s seriously appealing.
There’s no road tax to pay and it can return 67mpg
Don’t dismiss the Picanto as a sensible but boring purchase, though. It’s a good-looking wee thing, with a tuneful 1-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. Carbon dioxide emissions of just 99g/km make it exempt from road tax, and it can return impressive fuel economy: how does an official average of 67mpg grab you?
It’s available in three-door and five-door body styles, and the interior is neatly done, with a stylish dashboard design and enough space for four people – or five at a pinch.
Best for: parking
Parking in Rome, Milan or Turin is an art form that is handed down generations of Italian drivers and the modern embodiment of that art form is the Fiat Panda. It’s the cheapest car Fiat makes, so even if its compact dimensions and clear view of all four corners don’t help get Italian drivers into an impossibly tight parking spot, a nudge here and there won’t be the end of the world.
The top speed is well beyond the limit for the autostrada. Well, the official one anyway
In this price range, you’ll probably be getting the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder engine. It offers an average of 54mpg, costs the owner £30 a year to tax and has just about enough poke to keep up with faster traffic – the top speed is well beyond the limit for the autostrada. Well, the official one anyway.
There’s space for five adults, if three of them are happy to snuggle up on the back seat, and there are handy stowage compartments throughout the cabin. The back seat slides to increase boot space from 225 to 260 litres, but check whether it can fold in sections, as this was not a standard fitting.
Best for: insurance
Young drivers like small cars that are not only affordable to buy and cheap to run but also approved of by insurers. This means the Seat Mii should be right up their street: nearly every version of the Mii is in the lowest insurance group possible, 1, out of 50.
It’s one of the cheapest cars for a young driver to insure
Seat claims young drivers prefer the Spanish brand’s youthful image to those of Skoda and VW, which make mechanically identical city cars, the Citigo and the Up!. For older drivers buying it as a second car, the space in the back seat is just about OK for adults and perfect for kids on the school run. There are three-door and five-door versions available, so if you intend to carry passengers, find one of the latter.
As with some other cars in this price range, the Mii has a three-cylinder engine that’s a hoot to thrash towards the rev counter’s red line, and the handling is good fun in the way that only an underpowered, skinny-tyred car can give you.
Best for: space
It would be tempting to suggest that drivers searching for the perfect small car head for their nearest Toyota dealer and test-drive a second-hand Aygo, but the current model is young (launched last summer) and therefore expensive, while the previous-generation model is too basic to get our recommendation.
Instead, consider the Yaris, a cracking little car that ticks all the boxes buyers want from this sort of runaround: compact enough to be easy to park; frugal enough that you won’t be forever visiting the pumps; roomy enough to take a week’s shopping or friends and family.
The back seat slides on rails to liberate more boot space
For around £5,500 we found a good selection of Yaris hatchbacks being sold by Toyota dealers. This means they come with the peace of mind of a year’s warranty that’s backed by Toyota.
As for the car, well, the 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is a perky performer that will go easy on the wallet, returning 55mpg and costing £30 a year to tax. The ride can be a little bouncy for some tastes, but the car is easy to handle in a tight spot, thanks to light steering, and the interior is spacious enough for four adults, while the back seat slides on rails to liberate more boot space as required.