Once derided, the latest small automatics don't demand any compromise in driving fun or everyday usability
Small cars with automatic gearboxes fill a requirement for a certain type of driver. If you’ve just passed your driving test, but are still not that confident behind the wheel, then ditching the clutch pedal of a manual in favour of an auto can let you concentrate on building confidence when driving. And these days, driving a small car with an auto box isn’t the hardship it once was, so you might never drive a manual again.
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The latest breed of small auto car has the power to keep pace with traffic, while the gearbox is likely to be a twin clutch-style box, which delivers fast shifts that are as smooth as a manual’s and don’t spoil the driving experience.
It wasn’t always that way. Think of a small auto car, and if you’re of a certain age you might think of the tiny cars made by Dutch maker DAF, with their whiny, high-revving engines and CVT gearboxes. These cars were noisy and slow, but were a means to an end as they got plenty of people mobile. The CVT gearbox brought more small autos to market, thanks to its low production costs and compact size – the main reason there weren’t as many small automatic cars before CVT’s introduction is that the size and cost of a torque converter gearbox made it prohibitive to fit on a small car.
So the CVT gearbox made the small auto more affordable and accessible, but it still didn’t deliver a good driving experience, it was more of a make-do solution. The twin-clutch box definitely improved the way a small auto drove, and fuel efficiency doesn’t have as big a drop of as other autos.
Whichever auto you choose, the principle is the same: simply start the car, move the gearlever from park into drive, and you’re off. Most autos offer some sort of manual control – usually by moving the gearlever across into a different part of the gate with +/- written on them for changing up and down. Some sportier models will also have paddles on the steering wheel, which usually activates switches on the back of the wheel that tell the gearbox electronics to change up and down.
Whichever auto you choose, if it’s one of our top 10, it’ll be just as good as the manual version to drive, if not better.
Best small automatics
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