Today, we celebrate the small car. And not just any old compact junker, but the best small cars in the world. Many of these vehicles remain top sellers in Australia year after year, cherished among family men and practicality seekers alike. Accordingly, most of the top small cars offer streamlined efficiency, cutting edge technology and all sorts of wonderful value. That is, after all, what the best small cars are really all about it. Plus, the sector itself has never been broader, implementing all sorts of new designs and features while nevertheless sustaining an approachable vibe. As a result, you can find pretty much anything you might be looking for, whether that be speed, power, safety, innovation or all of the above. For proof, look no further than our list below. Presenting the 15 Best Small Cars.
This article is part of our On the Road series.
Streamlined on the outside, roomy on the inside and packed with features, the Subaru Impreza is an ideal car for those who just want to get around. While not exactly powerful, this top small car comes equipped with all-wheel drive and premium safety tech like automated emergency braking. From the base model hatchback or sedan, expect a 152 hp 2.0-litre flat-four engine under the skin, and a 6.5″ touchscreen infotainment system on the dash. Nice.
The privilege of driving an Audi RS3 will cost you, but rest assured this top small car is worth every penny. Sporty by design, the compact beast is powered by a 400-hp turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. It takes the car from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and fires out an unmistakable sound through controllable exhaust flaps. Throw in seven-speed clutch automatic transmission, formidable front air intakes, copious amounts of tech and a premium leather trim, and you’re looking at the best of all worlds.
The verdict is in: Australians cannot get enough of the Hyundai i30 (aka the Hyundai Elantra GT in the USA). Thanks to its low price point and elevated design, the car was awarded ‘Best Mid-Size Car Under $28,000’ upon its 2007 debut and has gone on to rake in numerous “Best Car” awards since. Is it the bevy of safety features? The European design influence? The supreme drivability? The irresistible comfort? Oh, who are we kidding? It’s all that and more! Suffice to say, this is one of the best small cars that money can buy.
Emanating with allure, the Toyota Yaris provides (more or less) everything one might look for in a small hatchback. On the outside of the latest model you’ll find dynamic, horizontal bodywork along with new front bumpers and LED headlamps . Slip inside to discover a spacious interior adorned with glossy black ornamentation. Also included are advanced safety features like pre-collision and automatic braking. As one might hope and expect, this top small car handles like a dream. It’s also quite affordable.
Chevrolet Bolt EV
Stylishly cruising into the future is the Chevrolet Bolt EV, undoubtedly one of the best small cars on the market. This nimble stunner is equipped with a 200-hp electric motor that offers an EPA-estimated 238 miles on a single charge, and gets the car from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Also included are four strategically placed cameras for “surround vision” views. Meanwhile, inside the car is a 10.2″ touchscreen and 8″ digital gauge cluster, delivering entertainment, safety and accessibility in equal measure. The best part, however? The all-electric Bolt EV is actually quite affordable.
Comfortable, savvy and affordable, the Holden Astra is a terrific way to get a top small car into your hands without breaking the bank. Drawing from a well of influences, the roomy sedan exudes quality by way of steadfast design and a formidable turbo engine. The interior, meanwhile, is the stuff that Aussie dreams are made if. We’re talking heated leather-appointed sports seats, an electric sunroof, power lumbar adjustment and plenty of modern tech. Keep it local, gents!
MINI JCW Hardtop 2 Door
It’s 2018 and no one argues with a MINI. The JCW (John Cooper Works) Hardtop 2 Door is accordingly a beautiful sight to behold, not to mention the brand’s most powerful model to date. Aimed squarely at those who want a little more punch to go with that sophisticated design and brilliant handling, the compact car hosts a 228-hp MINI TwinPower Turbo engine, which delivers seamless torque and gets the car from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds. You’ll also find upgraded transmission, 4-piston Brembo brakes and Sport Suspension with rigid stabilisers and dyno tuning. It’s the MINI you know and love, upgraded.
BMW 1 Series
Top small cars don’t get much more luxurious than the BMW 1 Series. The first generation ran from 2008 to 2013, and came available as a two-door coupe, a convertible or a hatchback. Each model in the range hosts rear-wheel drive and either a diesel or petrol engine, both engines available in naturally aspirated and turbocharged form. As beautiful to gaze upon as it is fun to drive, the BMW 1 Series puts plenty of good things in a small package.
Universally considered one of the best small cars in the world, the Volkswagen Golf is an absolute champion. The standard model features a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that generates up to 170 hp, joined by six-speed manual transmission (automatic is also available). Inside is a bevy of luxury and technology to say the least. At the end of the day, the Golf is a practical, responsive car that never fails to win over the newest generation of consumers. Sealing the deal is an affordable price tag.
Ford Fiesta ST
Fun, agile and always ready to party is the Ford Fiesta ST. It comes bolstered by a 1.6-litre inline-four engine, which cranks out 197 hp and 202 ft-lbs of torque. Pair that with six-speed manual transmission, angular bodywork, a high-mounted real spoiler and 17″ aluminium wheels, and you get some serious race car vibes from this compact machine. Helping the car retain its dexterous performance is a brake-based torque-vectoring system, daring drivers to cruise those corners. Also included is a 6.5″ touchscreen infotainment system and plenty of smart technology.
Available in either hatchback or sedan, the Mazda 3 famously delivers supreme versatility and immediate style while retaining the core tenets of a compact car. In the standard model you’ll find a 155 hp 2.0-litre inline-four engine under the hood along with six-speed manual transmission. Six-speed automatic is also an option, as is a 184-hp 2.5 litre inline-four. Whether you stick with the basics or upgrade to your leisure, expect nothing but the utmost tier of steering and handling in return, as well as some impressive fuel efficiency. That’s all topped off by an unbeatable price point. It’s no wonder so many people fall in love with this legendary small car.
Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport
Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz, and make it an A250 Sport while you’re at it. The compact car handles like a champ and stands out amidst its A-Class peers. A recent face-lift resulted in all-wheel drive and a new, 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that generates a stellar 214 hp. Paired up with that engine is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Specs aside, you knew it was one of the best small cars as soon as you saw the words “Mercedes-Benz”.
Few compact cars are more synonymous with modern practicality than the Honda Civic, which is now more efficient than ever. As such, drivers should expect unfettered steering, handling and braking alike. That’s not to mention the roomy, comfortable interior. Under the hood is either a 158-hp 2.0-litre four or a 174-hp turbo 1.5-litre four engine, depending on how much cash you’re willing to throw down. Available in sedan, coupe and hatchback models, the Honda Civic remains a pure classic, and an affordable one at that.
Distinguished by a unique, lightweight chassis and fully electric drivetrain, the BMW i3 will feel just right as it turns heads cruising down the street. The punchy, dynamic car gets from 0 to 62 mph in a smooth 7.3 seconds, while the i3s incarnation gets that number down to 6.9 seconds. It’s all thanks to an electric engine that enables emission-free driving for up to 124 miles on a charge. Each car also includes a two-cylinder gas engine that extends the range to 180 miles.
Citroen C4 Picasso
Like so much output from the famous painter, the Citroen C4 Picasso is an acclaimed work of art, though far more practical in spirit than any cubist masterpiece. It’s also one of the best small cars you’re likely to find. Think spacious and efficient and you’re on the right track. Thanks to recent touch-ups, the model is also lighter, stronger and better than ever before. Choose between a range of diesel engines, such as a 120 bhp 1.6 petrol or a 156 bhp turbo. Whichever version you decide, you and the whole family will simply swoon over this iconic multi-purpose vehicle.
This article is part of our On the Road series.