If you feel like you need to downsize your car or just don’t want to have to squeeze into every parking space, you’re not alone.

    Last year, more than 47,000 cars across the micro and light segments were sold, and with 15 models on offer there’s still plenty of choice for new car buyers.

    These range from runabouts like the Kia Picanto to modified pocket rockets such as the Hyundai i20 N, all of which try to cram as many features into a small platform for as little money as possible.

    It can be hard to narrow down a list of models to be considered, which is where the CarExpert team comes in, with our individual picks across the budget-friendly and premium categories below.

    Scott Collie: Skoda Fabia or Mini Cooper

    Skoda Fabia 

    The Fabia punches well above its weight when it comes to boot and cabin space, and all that space won’t cost you the earth. 

    It’s polished to drive, and pretty handsome to look at as well. Skoda’s seven-year warranty is also welcome if you’re looking to live with your small car for a long time. 

    Mini Cooper

    I know it’s tiny inside, expensive, and kitschy, but I’ve always had a thing for the three-door Mini. 

    I’d have mine in Cooper S JCW Sport guise, with a bit more punch and a lot more style. 

    MORE: Buy a Skoda Fabia
    MORE: Buy a Mini Cooper

    Josh Nevett: Abarth 695

    You buy an Abarth with the heart, not the head.

    I know Scott definitely wouldn’t purchase one, but I’ve lusted after one of these scorpion-badged nuggets for a while now.

    The note emitted from the Monza exhaust is an example of engineering wizardry which gives the 695 a quintessentially Italian feel. It’s backed up by styling that screams fun.

    Once you’re done driving around with a childish grin, you’ll also slide into any city parking space with ease.
    Is it practical? Nah. Is it cheap? Hell nah.

    I don’t care, I want one anyway.

    MORE: Buy an Abarth 695

    Jack Quick: Mazda 2 or Mini Cooper

    Mazda 2

    If I had to buy an affordable city car I don’t think I’d go past the venerable Mazda 2.

    I know it’s quite dated now in 2024 and has been given countless facelifts now to remain current, but the Mazda 2 is one of the few small cars that still evokes a big-car feel on the road.

    Last year I took a Mazda 2 G15 Evolve on a road trip back home to my family’s farm and it didn’t feel out of its depth whatsoever, even on the freeway at 110km/h.

    I’d personally opt for a hatchback variant, but the Mazda 2 is also the only vehicle in its segment to offer a sedan body style if that interests you.

    Mini Cooper

    I recently spent some time overseas driving the new-generation Mini Countryman and was fascinated with how good the interior looks and functions.

    I’m yet to properly experience the new Mini Cooper yet but it receives a very similar interior layout featuring a 9.4-inch circular OLED touchscreen infotainment system as the centrepiece, along with a textile dashboard finish.

    On paper the flagship electric Cooper SE looks like an absolute hoot with 160kW and 330Nm. It would personally be my pick of the range.

    The Cooper SE also has a sizable 54kWh battery pack with 403km of WLTP claimed range, meaning range anxiety shouldn’t be a pinch-point like the outgoing model.

    MORE: Buy a Mazda 2
    MORE: Buy a Mini Cooper

    Jordan Mulach

    Kia Picanto

    A cheap car, with plenty of features and a seven-year warranty – what’s not to like?

    The Picanto seemingly goes against my ethos of getting a car that’s slightly bigger than what I need, but it doesn’t feel like you’re really missing out on anything either.

    Though I’ve yet to drive one, I’ve heard good things about its chassis and engine, plus it comes as a manual which is almost rare enough to make it even more interesting.

    Toyota GR Yaris

    It’s hard to deny the GR Yaris is perhaps one of the best hot hatches on the market.

    Think of it as the modern Pulsar GTI-R (yes, we’re going niche here). It’s a small car with a small engine that’s been turned up to 11, providing one of the best set-and-forget driving experiences this side of a supercar.

    I, like most, have only driven the pre-update model, with its awkwardly tall seating position and questionably cheap interior materials. In Rallye trim it was a pocket rocket that forced me to recalibrate my brain, as the amount of grip it had was borderline terrifying but thrilling.

    It truly reminded me more than anything of my Bugeye WRX STI which was suitably modified. From what we’ve seen of the facelift, all of the concerns are to be fixed and the GR Yaris will be better for it.

    MORE: Buy a Kia Picanto
    MORE: Buy a Toyota Yaris

    William Stopford: Mazda 2 or Hyundai i20 N

    Mazda 2

    It may be old, but the Mazda 2 is still my pick among the more affordable light cars.

    The powertrain is punchy, even with the six-speed auto, and it’s an enjoyable drive overall. The level of standard safety equipment across the range is excellent, with even LED headlights and blind-spot monitoring available from the base model up.

    That makes the base G15 Pure all you really need, and the one I’d recommend to someone looking for an affordable city car.

    The interior is a bit dated though, particularly the tech, and this most recent facelift is nowhere near as classy-looking as the last one. 

    Hyundai i20 N

    Among the more expensive light cars, there are a lot of genuinely fun options including the Mini Cooper and Toyota GR Yaris.

    I’ll give the edge to the Hyundai i20 N. Having had a punt with this at the track, I found it genuinely enjoyable to drive but it’s also easy to live with, while also costing thousands less than a similarly desirable Volkswagen Polo GTI.

    MORE: Buy a Mazda 2
    MORE: Buy a Hyundai i20

    James Wong: Volkswagen Polo

    While a lot of these are pitched as ‘city cars’, the reality in Australia is that buyers of smaller vehicles still need them to do just about everything.

    Thinking from a first or last car buyer perspective, it’s inevitable that the bulk of owners will still need the odd freeway jaunt or even roadtrip.

    My sister owns a pre-facelift current-generation Polo 70TSI Trendline, and having spent plenty of time as a driver and passenger I think it would still be my pick of this bunch.

    You can get the facelifted model with a lot of the high-end tech available in larger VW models, and the 1.0 TSI turbo petrol engine is a terrific little motor that offers plenty of performance and great real-world fuel economy.

    Sure, the servicing is a little pricey and it has a thirst for 95 RON premium fuel, but no other light car is as comfortable in town and on the open road as the Polo.

    MORE: Buy a Volkswagen Polo

    Jordan Mulach

    Born and raised in Canberra, Jordan has worked as a full-time automotive journalist since 2021, being one of the most-published automotive news writers in Australia before joining CarExpert in 2024.

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