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Best cars for short journeys

We’re driving more and more short journeys, so many people are looking for a nice little runabout

a white vw up gti driving through a town

The most recent government figures* show that cars in the UK travel an average of 13.6 miles per trip, with more than half of trips under five miles.

So, if you’re looking for an efficient car that’s ideal for short journeys, we’ve done the thinking for you, so put your feet up and read on. 

What to look for in a runabout

The benefits of a small car are obvious. It’s cheaper to run, easier to park and it’s kinder to the environment because it has a smaller engine. 

Traditionally, the kind of cars that have been regarded as runabouts are those in the city car category.

These tend to be small, practical and cheap to buy. In recent years, however, they’ve got better, with perky engines, funky designs, and can be fun to drive. 

Other runabout options

There’s no sign of our love for SUVs dying down, so car manufacturers have started to build compact versions, which still have a slightly raised ride height, so drivers have better visibility of the road, making them safer and just a teeny bit sexier to look at.

It's also worth considering electric vehicles (EVs). You might be worried about range (how many miles they can be driven before the next charge), but that doesn’t matter if most of your journeys are short. 

And if you have a carport, drive or garage at home, you can fit a charger, so it will run off your domestic electricity supply. Your bills will be slightly higher, but it’s still a fraction of what you’ll spend on petrol. 

Hyundai i10

a blue Hyundai i10 driving on a road

A nippy little city car that also feels comfortable on motorways and country roads, the Hyundai i10 is very well-equipped for a city car.

Many versions of this small Hyundai come with including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, if you don't fancy using the car's in-built system.

There are also lots of safety features that many of its rival don’t include – which is always welcome.

Volkswagen Up!

a white Volkswagen up! GTI driving on a road

The Volkswagen Up! is probably the best city car on sale – although it shares a platform with the Seat Mii and Škoda Citigo, which are as good, but cheaper.

It brings a lot of the same quality that you’ll find in more expensive VWs, so it's great to drive and comfortable. Plus, you can find a used Volkswagen at a discounted price.

The line-up also includes a really fun GTI version and an all-electric version called the e-Up.

Renault Zoe

a light blue Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe was one of the first EVs on sale in 2012 and it has improved constantly since then.

This Renault now has an official 186-mile range, although 120 miles is probably more accurate in the real world – which is long enough for quite a few short journeys.

There’s lots of high-tech equipment, plus a smartphone app means you can control the charging remotely.

BMW i3

a dark-coloured bmw i3 parked at sunset

BMW’s small EV really looks the part. Its futuristic design looks fresh and the i3's interior is filled with high-quality (and sustainable) materials and all the tech mod cons.

The range is now 193 miles, which should be plenty for the majority of urban drivers, but older cars also have small range-extender petrol engines.

You can find different variations of the i3 by opting for a used BMW - and they'll usually be cheaper as well.

SEAT Arona

a white seat arona driving in a city

A compact SUV, the Arona has a very appealing and youthful design.

Based on the same engineering as a number of models from Volkswagen and Škoda, it's safe to say this SEAT is tried and tested.

Go for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and you should be able to get fuel consumption of around 50mpg. That’s pretty good.

Fiat 500

a cream fiat 500 parked on a quiet, narrow london street

We’ve included the Fiat 500 because, well, it's still really cool, isn’t it?

It might not be the most practical car in its category, but it’s still a nifty little runabout and fun to drive – plus you can get a version with a fabric roof that folds back to make it a cabriolet.

The Fiat's 0.9-litre TwinAir engine is the most efficient on paper, but you’re probably better off with one using the 1.2 litre engine, as its real-world fuel economy tends to be better.

* Sources: Provisional Road Traffic Estimates Great Britain: October 2017 – September 2018 and National Travel Survey

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