While automatic transmission has ruled the roost in the US for at least twenty years, we Brits have remained true to our manual gear boxes until very recently. Most small cars on the roads could be heard dropping revs at roundabouts and seen lurching forward onto dual carriageways. But charming as the stick shift is, the benefits of automatics are so indisputable that virtually all small cars are now manufactured without clutch pedals.
The Yaris’s MultiMode gearbox not only gives you the option of using sequential gear changes, it’s also a much more eco-friendly option than a manual. The electrically-operated transmission and clutch effectively makes it an automatic, and a second motor allows for full automatic control should you wish. It also offers excellent fuel economy, especially the 1.4 litre D-4D 90, but even the 1.3 litre had been roundly praised for being an affordable, low-emissions vehicle.
Stylish and sporty, the Mazda 1.5 TS2 exudes class of the kind Fiestas and Corsas can only dream of. Highly responsive, it’s also incredibly fun to zip around in. With 44 miles per gallon, it has got great legs, and won’t bore your socks off on long drives. It comes with some handsome extras, boasts low carbon emissions and was awarded the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP safety ratings for adult occupancy. It also scooped World Car of the Year in 2008. Safe, fast, green, efficient and still loads of fun to drive, the Mazda 2 is virtually unbeatable in the world of small automatics.
Ford Fiesta Durashift EST
Thanks to customer loyalty dating back more than 20 years, Ford’s iconic Fiesta continues to sell in large numbers. The current generation has improved on past efforts, providing the sort of efficient, unfussy service you’d expect from a hatchback that’s such a regular fixture on the roads. The clutchless manual system retains the level of control of a stickshift, but is as smooth and reliable as an automatic, thanks to some very clever onboard electronics.
Synonymous with reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness, the Micra is a crude-but-never-rude automatic. The four-speed transmission is smooth and fuel-economic, and is available as both a 1.2 and a 1.4 litre. The Spirita 1.2 loses a couple of eco-point for an emission rate of 161g/km, and it’s not exactly the nippiest vehicle out there, but for the older driver who values safety and economy over speed and flash, the Micra still takes the cigar.
This is the real outlier, hardly likely to set the pulse racing, but cheap to run, reliable and immensely practical. However, it doesn’t have a great safety record, so is only suitable for people on the tightest of budgets and when you factor in the low insurance cost for such a cheap car, it’s probably the easiest on your wallet if you still want to drive an automatic.