2020 Honda e review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving.co.uk

5 best city cars to buy in 2024

Little cars, big value

The humble city car might be a dying breed. The smaller the car, the tighter the profit margin, and that means decreasing numbers of manufacturers vying for a slice of what is a pretty sizeable market. Yet here, among the dwindling number of small, cheap hatchbacks on sale in the UK, is a disproportionate number of hidden gems.

Often aimed at younger buyers, they can be great fun to drive and quite easy on the eye, as well as offering plenty of technology.

And despite the compact dimensions, car makers have managed to squeeze in electric and hybrid powertrains, offering buyers even cleaner modes of urban transport that won’t break the bank.

Sure, city cars aren’t always perfect. Electric versions often lack the ability to travel long distances on a single charge, and all tend to be less comfortable on the motorway than larger family hatchbacks — and not just because, by definition, they aren’t especially roomy; they often don’t offer the same refinement as larger vehicles.

But they’re often really fun, nippy and nimble to drive, and in their intended environment a good city car is difficult to beat. They’re also the most affordable cars on the market.

Here’s our rundown of some of the best you can buy in the UK this year.

Hyundai i10

From £15,420

Compact and smartly styled, the i10 is one of very few city cars that really can cope with more than just the city streets. The smallest car in Hyundai’s range, the i10 is perfectly suited to driving around town but it comes with more of a premium edge than some of its closest rivals.

Not only does it look more upmarket than many, with a mature design that takes cues from larger Hyundai models, but it also has a classier cabin than some, with a smartly-styled panel across the dash and a central touchscreen.

Okay, it’s far from the most luxurious thing on the road but high-specification models look more mainstream than budget, despite their competitive pricing.

Combine that with some really efficient engines and a more powerful turbocharged N Line option for those seeking fractionally more performance, and you’ve got a car ticking plenty of boxes. But the fact that it’s comfortable on the motorway and even stable in a crosswind — the Achilles heel of many a tall, short car — and the i10 feels really usable for more than just pottering to the shops.

And though the steering may be too vague for it to feel truly sporty, the light controls mean it’s perfectly adequate in traffic and easy to park, which are far more important considerations in this most grown-up of city cars.

Toyota Aygo X

From £16,130

The smallest car in the Toyota range, the Aygo X has taken over from the now-defunct Aygo with a slightly more rugged attitude, as well as chunkier styling. Some off-road-inspired body cladding aside, though, this is a brilliant small car, and in 2022 we named the Aygo X our Small Car of the Year.

Admittedly, it isn’t high-tech — it only has a little 1-litre petrol engine, and you can’t expect any hybrid assistance –— but simplicity is part of its charm, and the prospect of a back-to-basics vehicle with enough ground clearance to deal with kerbs, potholes and speed bumps is undoubtedly appealing.

Not that the cabin feels too pared back. You can have a proper touchscreen with all the smartphone connectivity you need, and it has a bit of style about it, too. You can even get two-tone paint and a canvas folding roof to add a bit more fun to the experience, as well as some funky paint colours.

But best of all, the Aygo X drives very tidily, despite its comparative lack of power. Pick between manual and automatic transmissions (we’d stick with the manual) and enjoy the balance of agility and comfort that makes it as much fun on a country road as it is around town. True, the engine means it’s a bit slow for regular motorway runs, but it’s fine once it’s up to speed.

Fiat 500e

From £28,195

The electric powertrain means Fiat’s latest-generation 500 doesn’t come cheap up front, but running costs will be lower if you can recharge at home and it is ideal for the demands of modern cities. The compact dimensions always play well in town centres, making it easy to park and manoeuvre, while the electric motor means it behaves just like an automatic, albeit one with much smoother power delivery and instant responses.

But the enduring appeal of the 500 is nothing to do with its city centre credentials and everything to do with the way it looks. The retro design has been modernised perfectly, giving the 500e a really contemporary feel without losing the cute styling cues that have made the petrol-powered 500 model such a common sight on UK roads. And with a choice of hatchback and convertible body styles, those living in sunnier climes can enjoy the open-top experience.

Similarly, the 500e comes with a smart, retro-inspired interior that is also bang up to date. There’s a big central touchscreen that definitely is not inspired by the 1960s but ensures the cabin feels modern, while the two-spoke steering wheel harks back to the 500s of old.

Admittedly, with a relatively small battery under the floor, the 500e is not exactly flush for range, but a new larger battery version offers an official 203.2 miles per charge over a mix of roads, or 287 if it spends most of its time at lower speeds in the city. The more affordable model is pegged at just under 118 miles from a charge, and real-world ranges will vary — in cold weather that’d likely equate to less than 100 miles.

But due to its size, manoeuvrability, effortless acceleration, and lack of gears to contend with, the 500e is well suited to urban environments. And if you want something a little sportier, there’s an Abarth model, too.

Kia Picanto

From £13,695

Picanto might be a strange name for a humble city car — it references the Spanish and Italian words for “spicy” — but the smallest Kia has more kick than its dimensions might suggest.

Under the skin, it shares a massive amount with the Hyundai i10 (above), but that just means it has many of the same qualities. It’s efficient, well-built and surprisingly comfortable on a longer drive, as well as being quite good fun to drive. And like the i10, it’s available in a slightly sportier form, which makes it enjoyable on a good back road, even if it never manages to feel especially fast. Or, indeed, spicy.

For most, though, the Picanto will be a tool for getting around town with ease, and it’s perfectly suited to the task. It’s small, easy to see out of and powerful enough for the job in hand. The boot isn’t enormous, but it’s the perfect size for shopping and school bags, while the standard five-door body means access to the back seats is sufficient, even if there isn’t all that much space back there.

But the Picanto can do more than just ferry people around town. While top-of-the-range models will bring a smile to your face on a country lane, every version will prove reasonably efficient and smooth on the motorway, and while the Kia isn’t necessarily the car you’d choose for a longer journey, it is at least capable of doing so when needs must.

Equipment levels are impressive, too, despite the starting price of less than £14,000. Bluetooth, USB charging and driver assistance tech all come as standard, and a mid-range ‘3’ model offers climate control, navigation and a reversing camera, all for less than £16,000.

Citroën Ami

From £7,695

An oddball in more ways than one, the Ami is of limited use to the vast majority of drivers.

To kick-off, electric power means off-street parking is more or less a must-have for Ami buyers, and the tiny 5.5kWh battery means the range is limited to about 40 miles in the real world. It’s also left-hand-drive, even in the UK, and because it has a less-than-massive 8bhp, it isn’t exactly fast. In fact, it’s limited to 28mph. It’s not allowed on motorways, of course.

What’s more, it’s a quadricycles, not a car. Quadricycles are technically in the same class as scooters and mopeds, which means they’re suited to young people who want the freedom of mobility but with a little extra protection from the elements. Don’t expect one to come out as well as a car in a crash, as the safety standards aren’t the same, but it will likely be more reassuirng than a two-wheeled mode of transport.

So why include it here? Because if you stick to roads with a 20 or 30mph limit, it’ll do the job nicely. Compact, with good visibility and enough acceleration to keep pace with traffic, it’s the ideal car for traipsing around cities, and interchangeable body panels mean it can cope with the rough and tumble of urban life, too.

Best of all, it’s cheap, with prices starting at just over £7,500. Sure, that means it has some odd features, including identical door panels and remarkably similar front and rear ends, while the cabin feels a bit cheap. But it can carry two people without much trouble, and few cars generate this much intrigue as you drive around a town centre. And we include supercars in that.

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