Best small cars for motorway driving

They may be on the small side - making them easy to park and drive around town - but these compact cars are equally at home on faster roads

James Allen
May 13, 2022

While small cars are in their element in built-up areas where there are lots of tighter turns and more stop/start traffic to contend with, you may think they’re out of the depth on bigger and faster roads. However, quite a few compact cars are comfortable cruisers on motorways, too.

New technology has led to them becoming quieter, more efficient and more refined at higher speeds than their predecessors, so these smaller vehicles are impressively capable when tackling lengthy commutes or long family road trips. As a result, they can make good choices for higher mileage drivers who can’t afford a larger and more expensive car, or are looking to downsize to something more compact.

Since lots of different types of small car are available, compact cars come in a variety of shapes and formats. There are superminis and smaller hatchbacks to consider, as well as higher-riding small crossovers and SUVs. It’s even possible to find a few ultra-compact city cars that can hold their own on dual carriageways and motorways.

As smaller cars often sell in much larger numbers than bigger and more expensive vehicles, it's likely you'll have a broad selection of cars in a varied array of specifications to pick from. To help you whittle down your search to find the ideal small car for you, here are our suggestions of the best small cars for motorway driving.

Best small cars for motorways

1. Audi A1

Our pick Audi A1 35 TFSI Sport S tronic
Used deals from £16,395

Modern superminis are becoming very capable as long-distance cars, and one such small hatchback is the Audi A1 Sportback. As well as providing a comfortable ride and excellent refinement in comparison with other cars of this size, the Audi A1 also has a well-made and upmarket cabin that’s a very nice place to spend longer journeys.

The latest Audi A1 has only ever been offered with petrol engines, though the options available are smooth, refined and impressively frugal, meaning that they should cost little to fuel. If comfort is an especially big priority for you, we’d recommend that you avoid A1 Sportbacks fitted with the optional sports suspension and larger alloy wheels, as these can be a little bit jittery over rougher road surfaces.

AUDI A1 BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Citroen C3

Our pick Citroen C3 1.2 PureTech 110 Saint James
Used deals from £8,270

Citroen has historically been a company that’s known more for making comfortable rather than sporty cars, and that reputation continues with the latest Citroen C3 supermini. That’s especially the case with the latest version that went on sale in 2017, which is one of the most cossetting superminis you’ll find on the market. This makes it a perfect small car for tackling lots of motorway journeys.

Complementing the Citroen C3’s cushy ride quality is the decent refinement and comfy seats, which contribute towards the car’s more relaxing character. All of the Citroen C3’s engines are smooth at cruising speeds, too, though drivers who regularly do longer drives may want to consider the diesel versions due to their superior fuel economy over the petrol engines.

CITROEN C3 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost MHEV Titanium Powershift
Used deals from £8,931

The Ford Fiesta is a car that’s praised for its responsive handling around corners and for being great fun to drive, though that hasn’t come at the expense of comfort and usability. On the contrary, the Ford Fiesta is just as impressive away from twisty roads on congested motorways, so it should definitely be on your radar if you’re looking for a supermini in which to do lots of long journeys.

If you’re downsizing from a larger and more expensive car, you may notice a bit of wind noise and tyre rumble at motorway speeds in the Ford Fiesta, but otherwise it is quiet and comfy enough to be relaxing on longer drives. Most of the engines are fine for motorway drives, too - the 1.5-litre diesels return great fuel economy, and the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrols are pleasantly smooth and punchy - though it's worth avoiding the 1.1-litre petrol versions, as they’re down on power and need to be worked hard when overtaking.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Hyundai i10

Our pick Hyundai i10 1.0 T-GDi Premium
Used deals Limited stock

City cars are in their element when they’re zipping around town, but don’t conflate that with a lock of ability beyond the urban jungle. On the contrary, today’s crop of city cars are surprisingly adept outside of their comfort zone, and one particularly good example is the latest version of the Hyundai i10. It may be small, but it drives like a much larger car on faster roads.

Thanks to its good ride quality and impressive refinement levels, the Hyundai i10 is surprisingly adept on high-speed roads such as dual carriageways and motorways. To maximise the car’s long-distance driving credentials, we’d recommend you avoid the entry-level 1.0-litre models, as they don’t have much power and are a bit noisy at higher engine speeds. In contrast, the 1.2-litre and turbocharged 1.0-litre petrols are smoother and don’t need to be worked as hard under acceleration, making them a much better bet.

HYUNDAI I10 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Mini Countryman

Our pick Mini Countryman Cooper Exclusive automatic
Used deals from £10,680

The Mini Hatchback is a very likeable little supermini, but it is lacking in a few areas. For instance, while it’s great to drive around town, it’s not the best long-distance car due to its limited practicality and firm ride. This is where the larger Mini Countryman small SUV enters the fray, as it takes a lot of the appealing attributes of the Mini Hatchback and packages them into a more practical and more mature family car.

That maturity is borne out in a more comfortable and relaxing driving experience, too. Noise insulation is pretty good, so the Mini Countryman is quiet at motorway speeds, and the ride while on the firm side isn’t uncomfortable. If you’d prefer a more supple setup, an adaptive suspension system was available on the Mini Countryman and included a more softly-sprung ‘Comfort’ setting, so keep an eye out for models with this fitted.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Peugeot 2008

Our pick Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure automatic
Used deals from £17,750

Another mature motorway-cruising small SUV option that’s worth considering is the Peugeot 2008. All of the engines available with the car are nicely hushed and, while the ride is a bit firm at slower speeds, it becomes much more compliant when you’re driving on faster roads. Because the Peugeot 2008 doesn’t have the strongest resale values out there, it can be pretty affordable as a second-hand small SUV.

When you’re browsing used car listings for Peugeot 2008s, you’ll come across two versions of the car: the original model that went off sale in 2019, and the second-generation version that’s currently on sale. Both variants feature a quiet cabin and comfy ride, and are also available with diesel engines that impress when it comes to refinement and fuel economy on faster roads.

PEUGEOT 2008 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Skoda Citigo

Our pick Skoda Citigo 1.0 MPI 75 Monte Carlo
Used deals from £6,000

Thanks to its name, you may think that the Skoda Citigo is only of any use in towns and cities. However, you shouldn’t judge this car’s qualities purely on the nameplate it wears, as the Skoda is surprisingly handy when you take it out on the open road.

While the wind noise generated by the car’s boxy shape means that this Skoda isn’t whisper-quiet at motorway speeds, it’s still decently refined for a city car. Far more impressive is the Citigo’s ride quality, as the Skoda feels like a car from the class above with regards to the way it soaks up lumps and bumps in the road surface. As with the Hyundai i10 above, the more powerful engine is worth going for if you're expecting to spend lots of time on faster roads - the 75hp engine is a better fit than the 60hp version for motorway driving.

SKODA CITIGO BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Volkswagen T-Cross

Our pick Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SEL DSG
Used deals from £16,499

The Volkswagen T-Cross is closely related to the Volkswagen Polo, so it unsurprisingly shares a lot of features and attributes with the smaller supermini. For example, it’s comfortable and very easy to drive, and has decent all-round visibility, which means placing the T-Cross accurately on the road is pretty straightforward, too.

In addition, the Volkswagen T-Cross fares quite well as a motorway cruiser, as the ride quality is good and there isn’t much noise to contend with bar a bit of wind whistle and tyre noise. The available engines on the T-Cross are smooth, too, though we recommend you avoid models with the five-speed manual gearboxes if you do lots of motorway driving - the extra gears in the six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic versions mean the engines run at lower speeds on the motorway and are therefore quieter at cruising speeds.

VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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