Best Small Automatic Cars 2023: Cars for new and city drivers
Looking for a first car? Or a model suited to city life? There’s nothing better for a first-time driver or inner-city dwellers than an automatic small car! They’re nimble. They’re fun to drive. And there’s so many to choose from.
Their compact dimensions mean they easily fit into tight spots, which also keeps their handling tight and agile. And with your choice of automatic gearboxes (including Dual Clutch, Variable Transmission and Automatic Manual Transmission) you’ve got one less thing to worry about. Smooth acceleration and no clutch gives you the freedom to fully appreciate the driving experience whilst keeping it highly accessible.
Most cars are available as manual or automatic, with auto transmissions gaining popularity because of their ease of use and introduction of advanced tech, like driving modes. Electric models are also becoming more popular by the day, with most hybrids and all EVs offering automatic gearboxes. Electric cars are perfect for city living as there are no emissions and they're cheap to run.
Explore the list below for some of the best small automatic cars on the market!
Types of automatic gearbox
You don't just have the choice between manual and auto anymore. There are actually three main types of automatic transmissions in auto cars.
Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)
DCT gearboxes offer great comfort and efficiency. They're usually six-speed but sportier cars tend to use seven-speed transmissions. There's no break in transmission with dual clutch, which makes for a smoother and more efficient drive. DCT tends to be used in more high-end models geared to performance.
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
CVT transmissions offer the best fuel efficiency and are standard on most automatic cars. This type of transmission is suited to everyday driving and steady acceleration. CVT uses an 'infinite gear ratio' which means there's no shifting up or down gears.
Automated Manual Transmission (AMT)
AMT transmissions are closer to manual cars, offering more of a connected feel between how the engine performs and the driving experience. As the name suggests, it's a normal manual transmission but is operated automatically. AMT is typically available on older cars and affordable models.
Fully electric cars are automatic as they don’t have a gearbox. The way the electric motor works is different compared to traditional engines, so they don’t have a gear selector other than a forward, reverse and park function.
This makes getting up to speed super easy with seamless acceleration. Electric cars reach full torque from zero revs, giving you instant power as soon as you put your foot down. EVs are some of the best small automatic cars around!
Automatic Vauxhall Corsa
The Vauxhall Corsa is a fan-favourite in the UK, and it’s been updated with a fresh new design. The Corsa comes with a brand new 8-speed automatic gearbox for a smoother ride, as well as a Sport, Normal and Eco drive mode selector.
The electric Vauxhall Corsa is a great choice for a small automatic car. Not only does the Corsa-e reach 60mph in just 7.6 seconds, an astounding time for an everyday runaround, but it can reach up to 209 miles on a single charge! Wave goodbye to running costs and say hello to the future of driving.
A popular model of the Corsa is the Elite Nav, coming with a powerful Multimedia Navi infotainment system and Vauxhall Connect as standard. This gives you easy control of the various systems, with Vauxhall Connect showing you everything you need to know about your car via your phone!
Or go for the Corsa-e SE Nav for an electric car with keyless start, rear parking sensors, a trip computer, 7-inch digital instrument display and more! Everything you need for everyday life.
As the smallest model in Vauxhall’s lineup, the Corsa’s dimensions make it a dream to handle. But there’s still plenty of room inside too, and the interior is tuned towards the driver, making it one of the best automatic city cars around.
Automatic Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta is a widely loved model as it’s super easy to drive and highly economical. All the makings of a great first car! It’s the smallest model from Ford, making it easy to handle and giving new drivers more confidence, especially with an automatic gearbox.
It’s one of the most popular small hatches on the UK’s roads for a reason. It’s handling is seriously smart with responsive steering and amazing traction, powered by a refined automatic 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine.
Add some power with the 1.0-litre EcoBoost 125PS. This dual clutch transmission brings extra punch whilst offering strong efficiency.
The EcoBoost hybrid model gives greater efficiency, reduced emissions and added power. This mild-hybrid system recharges as you drive so you never need to plug it in!
The Ford Fiesta ST is the pinnacle of the brand’s lineup, offering serious power, athletic styling and a smooth CVT automatic gearbox. It’s the definition of a hot hatch and one of the best automatic models around.
Automatic Renault Zoe
The all-electric Renault Zoe is another great choice. This small automatic car only comes in automatic due to its fully electric motor. This has been a popular EV since its release in 2012, now achieving up to 245 miles of range on a single charge!
Regenerative braking helps to regain energy and the battery has 25% more capacity than the previous model, but it’s still the same size. For added reassurance, new Renault Zoe cars come with a full eight-year/100,000 mile warranty.
The Zoe Iconic comes uses the standard R111 Z.E. 50 motor, offering plenty of power and enough standard features for a safe, convenient drive. The GT Line comes with the more powerful R135 Z.E. 50 motor, with 135hp and reaching 0-60mph in just 9.5 seconds, an impressive time for a small city vehicle!
Automatic Renault Clio
The Clio is another enduring classic, seeing many iterations over the years. With each evolution, the Clio perfected the things that make it so widely adored. The new model is the pinnacle of Renault’s years of engineering, making a small automatic car that’s both exciting and easy to drive.
Tight dimensions, signature Renault styling and plenty of driving tech as standard make this city car look good and drive perfectly.
The RS Line is the range-topping model, with its sporty DNA evident in every inch of the car. And it’s available with the punchy TCe130 Auto EDC engine, offering 130hp, a top speed of 124mph and a smooth 0-62mph time of just 9 seconds thanks to the automatic gearbox.
Automatic Citroen C1
The C1 features some of the most playful designs found on the road. It’s made with Citroen’s iconic design language, bringing a modern feel to the hatch market. Choose from three or five-door models of this city car for some fun-loving driving. There’s even an open-top version called the Airscape!
Coming with chrome door handles, door mirrors, tinted rear windows and a leather steering wheel, the Flair brings even more charm to the already chic C1.
New models don’t come with an automatic transmission, but the previous models do so you’ll be able to get a used automatic C1.
Automatic Mazda Mazda2
For something made with true craftsmanship, the Mazda2 is an icon of design. Every single inch of the car is painstakingly crafted using Kodo: Soul of Motion design to create something that looks unlike any other small automatic car on the road.
There’s plenty of safety technology to make every journey safer and easier, like lane-keep assist, smart city brake and a reversing camera. And the cabin is lined with pure luxury, with your choice of soft cloth or leather upholstery.
The Sport Nav is an ever-popular choice as it’s properly specced up, with drive mode selection, keyless entry and a sporty shark fin antenna. It's one of the most striking automatic cars.
Automatic Peugeot 208
Voted the European Car of the Year 2020, the all-new Peugeot 208 is a super modern take on the compact car. Its chic modern front-end pays homage to the models before it, fusing the best of the brand’s heritage and cutting-edge advancements, including a smooth automatic gearbox.
Your choice of two auto petrol engines power this small automatic car, either the 1.2-litre PureTech 100hp or 1.2-litre PureTech 130hp.
Or go for the 208-e for a 50 kWh motor with 123hp and a range of 217 miles. Running costs are practically non-existent when compared to a traditional engine, and acceleration is much quicker too! This is one of the best automatic cars for first-time drivers thanks to its tight dimensions and agility.
Things to consider for your first car
There’s more to driving than just getting your hands on your first car. You need insurance, tax, fuel and regular servicing.
Getting insurance on your first car
When you’re on the lookout for your first car, you need to keep insurance in mind. There are loads of factors that influence the price of your insurance, including:
- How long you’ve had a licence
- How old you are
- How expensive your car is
- How powerful your engine is
- How many named drivers there are
- And much more!
So if you go for an expensive model with a powerful engine as a new driver, the insurance costs are likely to be expensive. That’s what makes small automatic cars the perfect choice! They’re typically more affordable than other models, using less powerful (but still capable) engines.
If your car is on the road, it needs to be taxed. The Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), or road tax, is calculated based on a car’s emissions. This means that road tax is higher for cars which produce more emissions.
You can pay a year or six months of tax in one go or with monthly payments, and new cars have a first tax payment based on CO2 emissions. For cars registered on or after April 1 2017, the first-year cost ranges from £0 to £2,175. Then you pay yearly at a different rate, £150 for petrol/diesel, £140 for alternative fuel engines and £0 for electric cars.
For cars registered between 1 March 2001 and 31 March 2017, the yearly rate ranges from £0 to £580 depending on the emissions.
Once you’ve got your car, it’s fully insured and you’ve got it taxed, it’s time to go! The only thing left to take care of is the running costs, but you can do so as needed.
The monthly cost of fuel will depend on whether your car is petrol or diesel, the current price of fuel, the size of your tank and your driving style. If you’re accelerating hard, harshly breaking and frequently stopping and starting, your fuel costs will rise. Automatic gearboxes help with your fuel efficiency, but you can also do the following to help with running costs:
- Drive smoothly and avoid harsh acceleration
- Keep the revs steady and pay attention to gears, even in with an automatic gearbox
- Break gently and change down gears accordingly
- Take routes with less stopping and starting, as your mileage improves with steady acceleration
- Turn the engine off when it’s not in use
You’ll be surprised at how driving more economically can cut your running costs, and you’ll still get where you’re going in a very similar time!
Most important aspects of a city car
There are loads of things to consider when looking for the perfect city car. Nimble handling, automatic gearbox and safety features aside, here’s what you should keep an eye out for in a city car.
Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and the Congestion Charge
The Low Emissions Zone covers the whole of Greater London and is in operation 24 hours a day, apart from Christmas Day. There’s a daily charge for heavy polluting diesel cars entering the LEZ zone, but this doesn’t apply to small automatic cars.
There’s also a charge if your car doesn’t meet the Ultra Low Emissions Zone standards and you enter the ULEZ London, which is £12.50. But most small automatic cars meet this standard so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about!
If you enter the Congestion Zone, you’ll have to pay the charge as this isn’t based on emissions, something to keep in mind!
City car size
Compact dimensions are what make a city car a city car. Their smaller size helps with keeping the ride nice and agile, whilst also making squeezing through tight streets and into packed car parks much easier.
Anywhere up to 4,000mm in length, 2,000mm in width and 1,400mm in height can be considered a city car or supermini. Any small car around this size is perfect for whipping through the city streets.
Low fuel costs
Fuel mileage is another massive consideration for a city car. This is due to the stop-start nature of city driving already impacting your mileage, so choosing a car with a strong fuel economy helps to recuperate your costs.
Small automatic cars really take the stress out of city driving, making them perfect for new drivers too! They’re compact, easy to manoeuvre and a dream to drive.
Start the search for a small automatic used car at Pentagon Group, all with nationwide contactless delivery or online click and collect available. Get in touch to learn more or contact your local Pentagon dealership today.