CITY CARS are a lot more talented than their pigeonhole title suggests. These are some of the best value-for-money cars in showrooms and they’re not constrained by city limits. Nearly all are surprisingly capable, packed with features, comfortable to drive and safe in the event of an accident.
What’s more, they can be jolly good fun to drive. As modern cars continue to balloon in size like a binge eater locked in a bakery, it is refreshing to get behind the wheel of a car that feels small and wieldy and offers a sense of being in touch with the road.
That playful side also comes across in the way they look. Cars like the Fiat 500, Smart ForTwo and Volkswagen Up are larger than life characters, with interesting design and the ability for buyers to personalise the way they look.
Their diminutive size means they’re perfect for navigating tight streets lined with parked cars, not to mention squeezing through gaps in traffic. And finding a parking space is so much easier when your vehicle is pint-sized. But a good city car will also happily transport a driver and passengers from London to Leeds in comfort.
With low running costs, including insurance, fuel bills and servicing, as well as the chance to switch to electrically powered models, they also go easy on a driver’s wallet.
This is Driving’s shortcut to the top five best city cars in 2018.
Five of the best new city cars to buy in 2018
Best for style: Fiat 500
Ciao bella! The bambino-sized Fiat 500 is one of the most chic cars on the road, proving that drivers needn’t pay a small fortune to stand out of the crowd and – more importantly – feel good about themselves.
Its retro looks cloak a thoroughly modern engine, as the 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir unit is a technical tour de force – although owners are often disappointed that it rarely gets close to its advertised fuel economy figure. However, the Ducati-like engine note and surge of energetic performance once the turbocharger starts spinning is quite amusing.
The interior is as cool as the exterior, and it’s fun to personalise to your taste. It will seat four in comfort but don’t expect to pack much luggage. The bijou boot holds only 185-litres of luggage.
- Driving’s pick of the range: 500 0.9 TwinAir Lounge
- Model price: £14,740
- Range price: from £11,740
- CO2 emissions: 90g/km
- Road tax: £105 first year; £140 a year to year six
- Fuel economy: 74.3mpg
- Boot space: 185 litres
- Warranty: 3-years, unlimited mileage
Best for a long warranty: Kia Picanto
There are plenty of reasons to pick the Kia Picanto, but arguably the most compelling for all those looking to keep their motoring costs under tight control is that the city car comes with a seven-year warranty. You won’t get that level of peace of mind with any other car maker – although it’s worth checking the terms and conditions because as ever the small print can be revealing.
Buyers enjoy a good level of technology, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. And because it comes in a five-door bodystyle, the Picanto is one of the more practical small cars, with space for four and a boot that can put a Fiat 500’s to shame, with 255-litres of space for shopping.
The basic 66bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is perfectly acceptable, but drivers that intend to undertake longer journeys should consider the 1.25-litre motor, as it has more oomph and makes the car more comfortable at main road cruising speeds. It may not have the girl- or guy-about-town appeal of something like the Fiat 500, but it’s a seriously competent city car.
- Driving’s pick of the range: Picanto 3 1.25
- Model price: £12,955
- Range price: from £9,700
- CO2 emissions: 106g/km
- Road tax: £145 first year; £140 a year to year six
- Fuel economy: 61.4mpg
- Boot space: 255 litres
- Warranty: 7 years, 100,000 miles
Best for zero-emissions: Renault Zoe
The Zoe isn’t just one of the best electric cars for city dwellers, it’s one of the best electric cars full stop. However, there’s a price to pay for switching to an electrically-powered model – it’s expensive to buy and you may choose to lease the battery, which is a monthly cost that needs to be factored in.
It’s smaller than most other electric offerings, which suits packed urban roads, but it’s still a proper car and can handle long journeys – our own Will Dron proved as much by completing a lap of the M25 in a Zoe RE40, on a single charge of the battery.
It’s smooth, comfortable and easy to drive, pleasant inside, and since upgrades it also happens to have one of the longest driving ranges of any affordable electric car, managing 250 miles, according to the official figures.
- Driving’s pick of the range: Zoe ZE40 Dynamique Nav
- Model price: £22,670
- Range price: from £18,745
- CO2 emissions: 0g/km
- Road tax: exempt
- Range: 250 miles
- Boot space: 338 litres
- Warranty: 4 years, 100,000 miles
Best for travelling light: Smart Fortwo cabriolet
Recognising that not everyone wants four seats or needs to carry more than one passenger, Smart has taken the city car to extreme, er, lengths, fitting just two seats and offering enough space for a handbag and manbag or two.
However, the Fortwo’s dinky proportions mean you can park in places other drivers wouldn’t even consider to be a space, and the tight turning circle – claimed to be better than a London taxi’s – comes in very handy on when you’ve had enough of waiting in traffic or spot a parking space outside your favourite coffee shop.
Granted, this convertible version is something of an indulgence, but there aren’t many cars so suited to city streets that will let you go topless, especially in this price range.
- Driving’s pick of the range: Fortwo 90 Prime cabrio
- Model price: £14,845
- Range price: from £9,995
- CO2 emissions: 99g/km
- Road tax: £125 first year; £140 a year to year six
- Economy: 65.7 mpg
- Boot space: 260 litres
- Warranty: 3 years, unlimited mileage
Best all-rounder: VW Up
There are two cars closely related to the Volkswagen Up – the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo – but if we’re being honest they don’t look as good as the groovy Up.
It’s much the same story inside this city car. It manages to feel just that bit more classy than its siblings, and the level of equipment and connectivity improved following a facelift, in 2016.
As every small car should be, the Up is fun to drive. Its three-cylinder engine responds well to being taken by the scruff of the neck, and the roadholding is entertaining. And once up to speed, the 75PS version of the engine can hold a steady 70mph without having to labour at the gears.
However, it’s worth pointing out that the Volkswagen has the least impressive warranty of all our best five city cars.
- Driving’s pick of the range: 1.0 TSI 75 High Up
- Model price: from £11,925
- Range price: from £9,325
- CO2 emissions: 101g/km
- Road tax: £145 first year; £140 a year to year six
- Economy: 64.2 mpg
- Boot space: 251 litres
- Warranty: 3 years, 60,000 miles