The 10 best cars with sub-1.0-litre engines

19th January 2024
Russell Campbell

'There is no substitute for cubic inches' is a phrase you'll definitely not read here as we look closer at how much fun you can have with a maximum 1.0-litre engine capacity. Along with mainstream metal that shines brighter than it ever should, you'll also find the oddball – frankly brilliant – creations from the JDM market, a bonafide German hot hatch and a British sportscar that's at home on track as it is darting through the Yorkshire moors. Read on to find out all about them.


1. Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

Asked to recommend a new hot hatch, the Ford Fiesta ST would be on the tip of the tongues of most petrol heads, but with ST's power and go-faster image come high running costs and insurance premiums.

The answer is to find an EcoBoost. Charged up to the max, Ford's 1.0-litre three-cylinder pumped out up to 140PS (103kW), giving the Fiesta the heart to match playful handling that meant it could rotate on the limit. It even sounds good with its offbeat, rorty rumble. Huge variety means finding a car that is right for you will be easy, and it pays to spend extra for a low mileage example.


2. Honda Beat

Finding a Honda Beat could prove challenging compared to the Fiesta because they were never officially imported to the UK, but plenty made it over on the grey market.

It's easy to see why it was so popular – the Beat is more than just a pretty little convertible. Its 660cc engine ignores turbocharging in favour of independent throttle bodies on each cylinder, giving it a ferocious bark as it approaches its 8,500rpm red line. So it sounds like a baby supercar, but with a mid-engine and independent suspension it handles like one, too.


3. Suzuki Cappuccino

The Suzuki Cappuccino is far more conventional than the Beat if a tiny convertible with an even tinier engine could ever be called conventional.

The Cappuccino's turbocharged three-cylinder 660cc engine produces 65PS (48kW), getting you from 0-62mph in nine seconds and on to a not-so-heady 83mph top speed. Tiny dimensions and diminutive performance mean you can wring the Cappucinno's neck on almost any road, and its 50:50 weight distribution, LSD and snickety gearbox mean you'll have lots of fun doing it.


4. Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ

The Mitsubishi Minica Dangan ZZ is kei car-ing at its finest, an object lesson in how much tech the Japanese can stuff into a machine with a wheelbase the length of a shoe box. Lots, as it turns out.

Not only is the ZZ's engine turbocharged, but it was also the first to feature a five-valve head. Combining the tech meant the Dangan ZZ's 660cc engine produced a commendable 64PS (47kW), getting it from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and onto a mercifully low top speed of 93mph. With seating for four and average fuel economy of more than 40mpg, it could be one of the most sensible performance cars to make it on these pages.


5. Autozam AZ-1

It would be easy to dismiss the Autozam AZ-1 as nothing more than a pair of gullwing doors with a kei car attached, but there's a lot more to it than just its fancy doors.

Built by Suzuki for Mazda under its Autozam sub-brand, the AZ-1 was marketed as the 'ultimate handling machine' when it went on sale in 1992. Power comes from the same engine found in the Cappuccino, getting the Autozam from 0 to 62mph in 9.2 seconds and onto an 87mph top speed. With a glass-bowl perspective, basic interior and unassisted steering, the AZ-1 feels like a shrunken Group C racer you can take on the road.


6. Fiat 500 TwinAir

Designed to return outrageously good fuel economy, the Fiat 500's two-cylinder TwinAir engine was an abject failure, rarely getting anywhere close to the plus-60mpg it was supposedly capable of.

But as a budget car to enjoy owning, it's great. Sounding like a scooter trapped in a sound-insulation booth, the 500 TwinAir is capable of spritely performance – 0-62mph in 11 seconds if you're a dab hand with its short lower gears. Relatively basic underpinnings (a Panda underneath) mean it doesn't have the Joie de vivre of a Mini, but it is a fun way to scoot around, especially if you get one with a folding fabric roof.


7. Nissan Figaro

The Nissan Figaro combined the spirit of a British classic with Japanese engineering, which meant it was way more dependable than a homegrown effort. The curvy, classically styled open-top has an engine from Suzuki and was so popular at launch in Japan that new owners were chosen by lottery demand was so strong.

That would explain why the Figaro was never officially brought to the UK, although there are a plethora of unofficial imports to choose from. Under the bonnet, the Nissan Figaro's four-cylinder turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol is conventional by the standards of this page and a three-speed automatic gearbox stunts performance.


8. Daihatsu Copen

The Daihatsu Copen is another East Asian delight that never officially reached UK shores. A small open top like the Nissan Figaro, unlike the Nissan, the Daihatsu traded on contemporary looks and added the security of a metal hardtop that folded up and down electrically.

Like all the Kei cars here, the Copen is a swimming pool of fun at entirely legal speeds, where you can enjoy the whoosh of its tiny turbo and the snick shift of its manual gearbox. Sadly, the front-wheel-drive chassis means the Copen isn't as playful as other cars on this list.


9. Volkswagen Up GTI

The Volkswagen Up GTI proves tiny performance cars aren't the preserve of the Japanese; we Europeans can have a stab at the genre, too.

And Volkswagen made a fine effort with the Up GTI. Its alloy wheels, red exterior highlights and tartan seats are just enough to summon memories of the old MK1 Golf GTI. With 115PS, the Up's one of the most potent cars here, but it's still a momentum machine that digs in and hangs on in corners. The 1.0-litre engine sounds the business and is punchy enough to be interesting. And the Up GTI has the added benefit of being easier to source than many cars on this list.


10. Caterham Seven 170

We've left the best of the 1.0-litre-or-lower cars until last, ladies and gents. We give you the Caterham Seven 170. Tipping the scales at a mere 440kg, the Caterham is powered by a 600cc Suzuki motor producing 85PS (63kW), which sounds underwhelming but translates to 182PS/tonne – more than a modern hot hatch. It gets from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds.

Sure, you'll have to compromise – the Caterham isn't a practical car – but there are some advantages. Depreciation is a word almost alien to the Caterham owner, and in 170 spec, you can revel in the low running costs that near-60mpg and tiny consumable expenses bring.

  • List

  • Best

  • Ford

  • Fiesta

  • EcoBoost

  • Honda

  • Beat

  • Suzuki

  • Cappuccino

  • Mitsubishi

  • Minica Dangan ZZ

  • Autozam

  • AZ-1

  • Fiat

  • 500

  • TwinAir

  • Nissan

  • Figaro

  • Daihatsu

  • Copen

  • Volkswagen

  • Up GTI

  • Caterham

  • Seven

  • Road

  • News

  • best-kei-cars-list-honda-beat-goodwood-12042021.jpeg


    The 10 best Kei cars

  • caterham-seven-170-main-goodwood-23092021.jpg


    The Seven 170 is the lightest Caterham ever

  • best-hot-hatches-2010s-list-ford-fiesta-st-mk8-goodwood-03092020.jpg


    The ten best hot hatches of the 2010s