The face of the small car market is rapidly changing, but rest assured there are still plenty of excellent superminis available to buy in the UK.
While superminis (hatchbacks larger than city cars such as the Fiat 500, but smaller than family hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf) may remain popular among the buying public, they’re not so popular among manufacturers. That’s because, while crossovers such as the Ford Puma and Peugeot 2008 cost roughly the same to build as their Fiesta and 208 stablemates, their makers can command a higher sticker price for what is seen as a more upmarket car.
With dwindling sales due to a range of factors including the global semiconductor shortage, Ford announced this year that in 2023 it would axe one of the UK’s best-loved superminis, the Fiesta, in favour of more crossovers and electric vehicles.
Although Corsa sales remained strong in 2022 (as did sales of another supermini, the Mini Hatch), such is the buying public’s appetite for crossovers that the Nissan Qashqai is likely to become the best-selling car of 2022 — the first time a crossover has managed that, and knocking the little Vauxhall off its top spot. Crossovers are beginning to push all the traditional hatchbacks out of the top 10 sales charts in the UK, in fact.
All that said, the supermini is far from being in terminal decline and there are some excellent examples on the market offering a versatile blend of practicality, ease-of-driving and low running costs.
Here are some of the best superminis to buy in 2023.
It’s really no wonder that the most recent Corsa has been doing so well in the sales charts. It’s by far the best-looking Corsa yet, quality has improved and the line-up of powertrains, with petrol, diesel and electric options, means that there’s a Corsa for everybody.
The Corsa makes good use of the same versatile underpinnings as the Peugeot 208 (see below) and while it’s not exactly a hoot to drive, its road manners are highly competent and it’s a little bit lighter and nimbler than its predecessor.
All engine choices are decent. Both 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol options are peppy and frugal while the 1.5-litre diesel is really very economical and so represents the best choice for those regularly covering long distances.
The 134bhp pure-electric Corsa-e, with its 50kWh battery and 222-mile range, should in theory prove more than adequate for most supermini drivers. You pay a premium up front for the electric model but could save on running costs over the long term, and won’t be pumping exhaust gases around your neighbourhood.
Given how good a supermini the Fiesta remains, it’s a shame that the model is on its last legs (the end of production has been confirmed). The Fiesta has long been one of the sharpest-driving small cars on the market and, even after all these years, the 1-litre three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine (with up to 138bhp) remains a remarkable powerplant.
The Fiesta’s range of engines isn’t actually huge — mostly made up of 1-litre and 1.1-litre petrol engines, some with mild-hybrid assistance and some without.
The specification levels across the different Fiesta models are generally high for the segment though even on base-model Trend versions, moving up through the plush and gadget-laden Fiesta Titanium and ST-Line models to the keen driver’s choice, the turbocharged 1.5-litre 197bhp Fiesta ST hot hatch.
The Fiesta may not be quite as sophisticated as some of its rivals such as the Seat Ibiza, but it still has loads to recommend it, not least the fact that it’s still the class leader in terms of driving dynamics (translation: fun).
The Seat Ibiza is built on underpinnings that are also used for Volkswagen Group sister cars such as the worthy VW Polo, sensible Skoda Fabia and premium Audi A1. The Ibiza is arguably the sweet spot, delivering all the virtues of the Polo and Fabia with a decent dash of sporty style.
The Ibiza received a host of useful updates in 2022 with a revised dash and bigger infotainment screen. It’s nicely finished inside with a very substantial boot (355 litres) for a car of its size, making it one of the most practical entries in the segment and one of the most accomplished superminis for those with small families.
There aren’t any Ibiza hybrid or electric options, but the 1-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine is reasonably refined and economical once it gets up to speed, though it needs its neck wrung a little to get there.
Under the floor, the Peugeot 208 shares almost everything with the Vauxhall Corsa, with same appealing range of petrol, diesel and electric power options, though the French effort is arguably a more stylish affair. It certainly has a shout at claiming the title of best-looking supermini on the market (though the Toyota Yaris is also a contender).
Like the Corsa, it’s not the most engaging car to drive, though we found the pure-electric e-208 to have the best balance of the bunch (and the most pep).
Its virtues are many, though, particularly its cabin, which is one of the most attractive in its class. The tiny, low-down steering wheel and i-Cockpit layout take a little getting used to, though, and tall drivers will feel particularly cramped.
Those regularly pounding the UK’s motorways aren’t going to be buying a supermini in the first place, so, economical as the diesel version is, it’s probably not the best option. Both 1.2-litre petrol versions are good, but the 222-mile e-208 is our pick not just for its handling and performance but also the lower daily running costs and more refined driving experience. You do pay around a £6,000 premium up front, though.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
If you want a supermini with reliability as the overriding concern, buy a Yaris. Though its enviable reputation for not going wrong may have been the only thing that made the Yaris stand out in its class in the past, that’s not so any more.
The new Yaris looks great for one. It’s well-finished, too, with a good level of spec.
There’s only one engine option — a 114bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor (it’s a full hybrid) and with a dull CVT automatic transmission — but it’s definitely economical, officially returning more than 68mpg. According to Toyota, the Yaris is capable of running on electric power for around 80% of the time while on urban journeys.
The standard Yaris isn’t the most engaging drive in the world, but for those in need of a thrill, the motorsport-bred GR Yaris, with many upgrades over the regular car, is an exceptional bit of kit (Jeremy Clarkson named it his Car of the Year in 2021, in fact).
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