Not so many years ago, it was quite unusual for a smaller car to come with an automatic gearbox, and generally speaking, they weren’t all that good. But these days, as fewer buyers choose manual gearboxes, automatics have become more popular, even in smaller cars.

With the growing trend for hybrid and automatic cars, more and more new cars will use an automatic gearbox too. So, whether it’s a smaller hatchback, a trendy compact SUV or perhaps an estate car, there are plenty of more compact vehicles available with great automatic gearboxes.

The best used automatic cars available

As we’ve already mentioned, it’s now more common than ever for a small car to be offered with an automatic gearbox, with most manufacturers now offering their smallest vehicles with this option. This includes different bodystyles, as well as hybrid and electric models, though our list still includes plenty of conventional petrol choices.

While the gearboxes in smaller cars are better than they’ve ever been, we do recommend having a test drive to make sure that they suit you and your driving style. Here are our top used small automatic cars available.

1. Toyota Yaris Hybrid (2012-2020)

Toyota has more expertise when it comes to hybrid cars than any other manufacturer, with the firm producing its game-changing Prius more than 25 years ago. Today, nearly all new Toyotas use a hybrid setup, and if you’re looking for an automatic, the good news is that all of Toyota’s moden hybrid setups use a CVT automatic gearbox.

But if you’re after something small, it has to be the Yaris, which was first launched with a hybrid setup in 2012. It’s very easy to drive, and offers superb fuel economy, particularly the more it’s driven around urban areas where it can spend more time running on electricity. If you buy a registered before April 2017, it will be free to tax too. Strong demand for used hybrids means the Yaris Hybrid might seem quite expensive to buy, but it will offer minimal depreciation and is also renowned for its reliability.

Best Features

  • Exceptional fuel economy
  • Great reliability reputation
  • Easy and comfortable to drive

Things to consider

  • The Yaris uses a CVT automatic gearbox, and doesn’t allow you to change gears manually, if you wished to
  • On faster, motorway journeys, it will likely prove no more economical than a standard petrol
  • The Yaris Hybrid will be more expensive to buy than rivals, but will hold its value better too

2. Skoda Kamiq (2019-present)

Just because you want a small car, it doesn’t necessarily mean a compact hatchback, and with plenty of choice in the compact SUV class, it’s worth a look if you want something a bit taller and more spacious inside. One of the best choices is the Skoda Kamiq, which is available with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox across both the 114bhp 1.0-litre and 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engines.

The DSG gearbox is one of the smoothest in any compact car, and doesn’t impact fuel economy like some other automatic gearboxes can do. The Kamiq wasn’t introduced until 2019, so used prices are still fairly high, but with generous equipment levels and a practical interior, you get a lot of car for the money.

Best Features

  • Remarkable interior space considering its size
  • One of the most comfortable and refined cars in its class
  • Strong engines that deliver good performance and efficiency

Things to consider

  • The Kamiq uses a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, though this was optional when new, so don’t buy a manual car by mistake
  • Higher-spec Monte Carlo models look cool, but aren’t as comfortable
  • The infotainment screen can be a bit glitchy, so check everything works as it should

3. Mini (2014-present)

If you’re looking for a smaller automatic that will be more fun to drive, we wouldn’t look much further than the brilliant Mini. Renowned for its ‘go-kart’ feel, this hatchback will leave you smiling after every drive, and there’s even the choice of sportier Cooper S and John Cooper Works models, alongside more conventional engines.

The Mini Hatch also offers a particualrly premium finish for such a small car, with plenty of technology and equipment that you’d usually expected to be fitted to much larger and more luxurious cars. Its fun styling inside and out, and plentiful personalisation available on the used cars on the market makes it a very appealing choice.

Best Features

Best features

  • Fun to drive
  • Upmarket interior
  • Great image

Things to consider

  • The Mini’s six-speed automatic gearbox was optional when new, but was fairly commonly selected
  • Minis are often used as city cars, so look out for any signs of cosmetic parking damage
  • The Mini is also available as a five-door Hatch if you want more space

4. Volkswagen Polo (2009-2017)

Another popular choice in the small car segment is the Volkswagen Polo. It’s been around for several decades, but in recent years, automatic gearboxes have come on leaps and bounds, making them a great choice if you’re looking for a compact auto. Our choice would be the fifth-generation Polo, sold between 2009 and 2017, that balances modernity and value for money.

Automatic Polos of this age use a smooth-shifting seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox available across much of the range, from small 1.2-litre units to the sporty GTI hot hatch model. The Polo continues to age well, with a nicely-finished interior still looking good to this day. It’s impressively roomy by small car standards as well.

Best Features

  • Seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox is available across most of the Polo range
  • Well-finished interior with great build quality
  • Comfortable and easy to drive

Things to consider

  • Make sure the automatic gearbox has been serviced regularly when checking the vehicle’s history
  • The Polo is fairly expensive to buy used, but will hold its value well when it comes to sell
  • The Polo can get through brakes and tyres quite quickly, so make sure there’s plenty of life left in both

5. Honda Jazz (2015-2020)

The Honda Jazz might not be the most desirable of used cars, but if you’re looking for a reliable small car, it’s almost impossible to beat. Famed for its practicality, the Jazz offers levels of interior space more in-line with far larger vehicles. Boasting a big boot and clever ‘Magic Seats’ that can both flip up like cinema chairs or fold completely flat. It’s an ideal choice for those wanting a small car with lots of space.

We’d recommend a third-generation Jazz, sold between 2015 and 2020. Though Honda did offer a manual model, most models you’ll see for sale will use an automatic gearbox – a CVT gearbox to be precise. You’ll pay a few thousand pounds more for an automatic model, such is the demand for them on the used market.

Best Features

  • Impressively spacious
  • Fantastic visibility and very easy-to-drive
  • Great reliability reputation

Things to consider

  • The CVT isn’t the best automatic gearbox of its type
  • Choice of 1.3- or quicker 1.5-litre petrol engines. No diesel offered on this generation
  • The Jazz is quite an expensive used buy due to minimal depreciation

6. Renault Clio (2013-2019)

The Renault Clio is another popular small choice, and is often a car of choice for first-time drivers. Due to the Clio’s great fuel economy, affordable pricing and relatively cheap insurance. Most used Clios you’ll see for sale will have a manual transmission, but if you require an automatic, they are available.

Our vote goes towards the fourth-generation Clio, sold between 2013 and 2019. Its stylish design still looks the part more than a decade later, while most models come with plenty of equipment. The best option is a model with what Renault calls ‘EDC’, standing for ‘efficient dual clutch gearbox, which was offered on petrol and diesel models at the time.

Best Features

  • Stylish design
  • Affordable to run
  • Plenty of standard equipment

Things to consider

  • Automatic models are much rarer than the manual
  • Plenty of used models will have diamond-cut wheels, which can be expensive to refurbish
  • The sporty Renaultsport model is offered for those wanting a hot hatch

7. Seat Mii Electric (2020-2021)

Generally speaking, automatic gearboxes don’t tend to work as well in smaller cars, and that’s why when you get down to the smallest city cars, they’re often compromised. That is unless you consider an electric city car – something like the Seat Mii Electric, for example.

Ideal for around town, the Mii Electric is the twin to the Volkswagen Up! and while on sale for a number of years with petrol engines, between 2020 and 2021 it was also sold as an EV. It’s surprisingly nippy and delivers a claimed range of around 160 miles, which is ideal for local miles. It’s roomier than you might expect, and offers fantastic value for money on the used market.

Best Features

  • Potential for ultra-low running costs
  • Decent range considering the Mii’s size
  • Roomier than you might expect

Things to consider

  • Not ideal for those with longer commutes
  • The Mii Electric is fairly rare due to only being on sale for less than a year
  • Fixed specification and no optional extras available

8. Ford Puma (2019-present)

If you’re looking for the best small crossover, the Ford Puma is very tough to beat. This compact model is based on the Fiesta, and carries over that car’s fantastic driving experience, but adds more style and more interior space into the mix – especially when it comes to luggage room. Given the Puma is one of the UK’s most popular cars, there’s plenty of used examples for sale too.

While a manual gearbox is the default on the Puma, Ford also offered a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which was later introduced to the EcoBoost hybrid engine, which offers fantastic fuel economy for a car of this type. If you’re looking for something slightly bigger and easier to access, the Puma is certainly worth a look.

Best Features

  • Enjoyable to drive
  • Roomy interior
  • Pleasing automatic gearbox

Things to consider

  • Automatic gearbox wasn’t initially available on the mild-hybrid model, which is our preference
  • Huge amount of choice available
  • The ride can be a bit firm on the popular ST-Line trim level

9. Peugeot 208 (2020-present)

Peugeot has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, with one of its strongest products now being the 208 supermini. This is now one of the most stylish and upmarket small cars you can buy, with an interior finish better than many other mainstream competitors.

There’s lots more going for the 208, though, not least its comfortable ride and strong refinement that makes this Peugeot ideal for those wanting a small to do longer journeys with. The eight-speed automatic gearbox, optional on 1.2-litre turbocharged engines, is one of the best you’ll find in any small car too. You could also look for the electric e-208, which offers fantastic value for money.

Best Features

  • Comfortable ride
  • Stylish design
  • Upmarket interior

Things to consider

  • Automatic gearbox was optional, with many used 208s being manuals
  • Electric e-208 is worth considering, as used pricing is almost the same as petrol models
  • High-spec GT cars offer much more eye-catching styling

10. Skoda Fabia Estate (2015-2022)

If you want a small car, you don’t have to just be limited to hatchbacks and small crossovers, as you could also consider an estate. Compact wagons were once fairly common, but in recent years it was only Skoda that offered a vehicle in this class with the Fabia Estate, which was finally discontinued in 2022.

It’s almost identical in terms of size to Skoda’s more modern Kamiq, yet offers a significantly larger boot at 530 litres. It also retains the standard Fabia’s strengths, including representing strong value for money and being very practical, not just in terms of luggage capacity. Automatic versions aren’t quite as common, but the seven-speed DSG gearbox is a good match for the Fabia Estate.

Best Features

  • Huge boot
  • Very practical interior
  • Great value for money

Things to consider

  • You won’t be buying the Fabia Estate for its desirability
  • Quite rare to find with the DSG automatic gearbox
  • Skip entry-level models as they don’t get all that much in terms of equipment

Why should you buy a small automatic car?

Given owners of smaller cars tend to spend to more time driving around urban areas than other types of vehicle, having an automatic gearbox is a natural fit. These making driving much easier and more relaxing, not least in stop-start driving where using a manual vehicle can get tiresome. In more recent years, automatic gearboxes have become far more commonplace across the board, not least in smaller cars. Mercedes no longer offers a manual, for example, while Mini’s next-generation models, due on sale in 2024, are expected to follow suit.

More learner drivers than ever are also choosing to take their test in an automatic vehicle, and though this does restrict you to only driving automatic cars, given the choice of models on offer – even in smaller cars – it’s no longer prohibiting like it once was.

With most manufacturers offering automatic gearboxes, even in their smallest cars these days, the choice of models on offer is particularly extensive.

Tips for finding and buying a small automatic used car

When finding a small automatic car, the first thing to think about is the type of vehicle you like – hatchbacks are the most commonplace here, but there’s a growing number of compact SUVs available, as well as some estate cars.

Next you should consider that there are several types of automatic gearbox – the torque-converter style setups used in Fords, Minis and Peugeots are among the best around for smoothness. The CVT gearboxes commonplace in hybrids can seem quite noisy and not all that smooth if you’re not used to them, which is why a test drive is important.

When shopping for a small automatic vehicle, much the same tips apply as buying any used car. Where possible, always try and have a test drive to make sure you can get comfortable behind the wheel, that you like the way car drives and listen and feel for any potential issues with the car. When it comes to the test drive, make sure gearchanges are smooth and not jerky as this could point towards issues.

Frequently asked questions