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Best small cars of 2021

The all-new Skoda Fabia makes a splash to end the year, but the Ford Fiesta remains top dog in the small car class.

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Despite the growing popularity of SUVs and crossovers, UK car buyers still choose more small hatchbacks than any other type of car.

Small cars can be divided into two categories, known as city cars and superminis. City cars are smaller and (usually) cheaper, and will often be three-door hatchbacks. Superminis are larger and are usually five-door hatchbacks.

This year saw some key new arrivals, such as the Dacia Sandero, Fiat 500e and Skoda Fabia, plus facelifts and updates for several other models.

Electrification is starting to really take off in this sector, with several EV choices now available. However, you will only find a few hybrid models and no plug-in hybrids at all. The majority are still powered by familiar petrol engines, although some have mild hybrid assistance. Diesels have almost completely vanished and only make up a fraction of sales.

Our awards recognise both the best new models to have been launched over the last 12 months, but also the best overall cars in each category – because newest doesn’t always mean best, as you can see below.

The best small cars of 2021

Best small cars 2021 – Skoda Fabia

Best new model: 
Skoda Fabia

Best small cars 2021 – Ford Fiesta

Class champion, overall:
Ford Fiesta

Best small cars 2021 – Peugeot e-208

Class champion, electric:
Peugeot e-208

The Skoda Fabia made a splash when it arrived in late 2021, and is the top-ranked new model to join the small car ranks this year with an Expert Rating of 76%. It wasn’t, however, enough to topple the best in class. The Ford Fiesta may have been around since 2017, but it still ended the year as top dog in the small car class. It has an Expert Rating of just over 78% based on 46 reviews in our database.

If you are looking to make the switch to electric power, the leading light is the Peugeot e-208, which critics rate as better than its petrol equivalent. It’s into its third year on sale now, and has an Expert Rating of 86% from 20 reviews.

Best new model: Skoda Fabia (76%)

Skoda Fabia (2021 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 76%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The all-new Skoda Fabia arrived in the UK in late 2021 and has already been warmly received by critics. It’s a more sophisticated, more spacious, more technologically advanced Fabia than previous models but still retains traditional Skoda traits of clever practical touches and strong value for money. It also has an outstanding safety score for a small car.

There’s currently no hybrid or electric option, but if you’re looking for a conventional petrol-powered supermini, the new Fabia ticks a lot of boxes.

Class champion, overall: Ford Fiesta (78%)

Ford Fiesta – Britain's best-selling car 2020

TCE Expert Rating: 78%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

As good as the new Fabia is, it’s not quite the best small car on sale. That honour falls to the Ford Fiesta, which just edged out the Volkswagen Up (by a margin of just 0.2%) to take top spot in our Expert Rating Index for 2021.

The Fiesta has been on sale since 2017 and has been highly regarded by critics since day one. There’s no better supermini to drive, which is the key characteristic that separates it from the rest of the small car herd. It also performs all the regular family runabout tasks faultlessly, although maybe not with the same flourish as newer rivals.

A facelifted model is set to arrive in the UK in early 2022, which should only enhance the Fiesta’s reputation. It may have lost the 2021 sales race to the Vauxhall Corsa, but it’s still the top-rated small car on sale today.

Class champion, electric: Peugeot e-208 (76%)

Peugeot e-208 (2020 onwards) - Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 76%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 4 stars

The Peugeot 208 range was designed from the start to include petrol, diesel and electric power. Although all versions have received praise – as well as winning the 2020 European Car of the Year award – it’s the EV version that UK critics regard more highly.

The e-208 offers a combination of sleek styling (both inside and out), zippy performance around town and a decent battery range. While other small EVs may be better in individual areas, none can match the Peugeot e-208 as a great all-round choice. If you’re looking to make the switch to an electric car, this is the place to start.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

Neither of these conditions affected the results for small cars, although it was a close-run thing. The Volkswagen Up finished the year rated only 0.2% less than the Ford Fiesta but would not have been eligible as it only has a three-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

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