Mini Hatch £13,935-£21,260
1 Mini’s Hatch keeps getting better — and bigger. If the swollen three-door variant isn’t large enough, you can now buy a five-door for an extra £600. In the process the range has lost some cuteness and gained more cabin space and a bigger boot; but at 211 litres, the space in the three-door remains small compared with other superminis. With new, hi-tech engines and a better ride than before, the Mini Hatch is still great fun to drive, even if it has lost some agility — a small price to pay for the improvements in noise and comfort, as well as the improved build quality. Mini has not lost its touch when it comes to creating a cabin that’s distinctive, luxurious and stylish. Approach the options list with abandon and you can buy a (relatively) small car with some big-car equipment, such as a head-up display and active cruise control.
Ford Fiesta £10,145-£18,395
2 Now more than seven years old, the current generation of the Ford Fiesta is ancient by the standard of modern cars and is scheduled to be replaced at the beginning of 2017. Yet we can still say that whichever version you buy, it’s likely to be the best in its class to drive. The Fiesta remains far and away Britain’s bestselling car, thanks to a range that starts at £10,145, includes the brilliant turbocharged three-cylinder rev-happy petrol engine and is topped by the 2-litre petrol-powered Fiesta ST hot hatch, which will have you grinning as if it were the 1980s. The car’s interior may have been the result of a challenge to see how many buttons could be crammed onto the dashboard but its approaching demise should ensure that discounts are easy to negotiate.
Skoda Fabia £10,600-£17,875
3 If you skip the parts of car reviews that talk about steering feel and on-limit handling, then the Fabia is for you. Designed to make driving a doddle, the light steering and soft ride are perfect for towns. Don’t expect it to be cheap, though: you’ll need about £13,500 to buy something with a bit of zip and a decent level of standard kit. Still, you’re getting a spacious car with the build quality of a VW, a perky and efficient engine and features such as automatic braking collision avoidance as standard on all but the base model.
VW Polo £11,300-£19,915
4 The Polo has always been a sensible, some would say boring, choice but the current version is worth a look because it is truly a cracker. It still looks as conservative as a station waiting room but it packs efficient engines, is engaging to drive and has a cabin that’s as well built as that of a Passat. It’s spacious too, thanks to the power of car size inflation, which makes the Polo about the same size as the original Golf. Available with three or, for £630 more, five doors, the entry-level three-cylinder 1-litre petrol engine can be hard work. It’s rather better in TSI turbocharged form, but for owners who regularly travel long distances, we’d take the smooth 1.4 diesel, which is capable of more than 80mpg if you don’t wear lead-lined boots.
Audi A1 £14,530-£25,595
5 Audi will have you believe that its A1 stands apart from other small cars and that the supermini is assembled with the same attention to detail as Audi’s bigger models, which means you get exemplary build quality, superb ergonomics and efficient engines that provide pace with parsimony. And from behind the wheel, you can believe every word. The quality is impressive, it’s comfortable and fun to drive. The downside to all this is that you pay typically Audi prices for your A1, which means the starting price is close to £15,000 for a turbocharged three-cylinder 1-litre. All the petrol and diesel engines are perky, the automatic gearbox is slick and it’s available as a three or five-door, called Sportback. Avoid wheels larger than 16in for a smoother ride.