Few cars are better suited to an auto gearbox than superminis. The combination of a self-shifting transmission and compact dimensions makes these models perfect for the cut and thrust of stop-start city driving.

Yet they’ve never proven particularly popular. Ford aims to change this with its PowerShift box in the Fiesta. It’s a six-speed dual-clutch transmission that promises unrivalled smoothness, performance and efficiency. But it’s not the only automatic transmission option.

• Ford Fiesta review

• Toyota Yaris review

• Peugeot 208 review

Peugeot has persisted with its EGC single-clutch automated manual in the 208, which is now available in eco-friendly e-VTi trim, complete with stop-start. Another option for buyers is CVT – this compact, efficient set-up was designed for small cars, but hasn’t been as popular as twin-clutch systems.

Toyota has kept faith with it, though, combining it with hybrid power to give the Yaris supermini a real Unique Selling Point. So which of our small cars is the automatic choice for victory and which will find itself washed up in defeat?

Click the links above to read each review, and then read on for our verdict.

Head-to-Head

On the move

None of these boxes is as smooth or responsive as Volkswagen's seven-speed DSG. But the PowerShift comes close, plus it works well with the punchy EcoBoost engine. What makes the Fiesta stand out is the sparkling handling and cushioned ride. In comparison, the Peugeot is hobbled by its transmission, which spoils an otherwise good driving experience. The thrashy, lifeless Toyota is effective, but unengaging

Running costs

If you’re keeping an eye on the bottom line, it’s not hard to be swayed by the Toyota. It has the lowest emissions, the best economy and the strongest residuals. Plus, while it isn’t available with pre-paid servicing, a standard five-year warranty takes the sting out of repairs.

Equipment

The range-topping Yaris Trend gets a touchscreen and keyless start, while the Peugeot has automatic lhts and wipers plus a DAB radio. The Fiesta Titanium X features a reversing camera, while Zetec and above have heated windscreens.

Verdict

1st place: Ford Fiesta PowerShift

It's another victory for the Ford Fiesta, but it’s not a dominant win. While the PowerShift is the best box of this bunch, it lags behind the Volkswagen DSG. Elsewhere, the Ford is a class act, delivering a great driving experience, eager engine and decent practicality

2nd place: Toyota Yaris Hybrid

You'd struggle to call the Toyota Yaris exciting, but it’s well suited to the smooth CVT box and penny-pinching hybrid powertrain. And if you’re looking for a simple runabout, it takes some beating. We just wish Toyota included more standard kit.

3rd place: Peugeot 208 e-VTi

The otherwise impressive Peugeot 208 is undermined by its hopeless EGC box. The automated manual delivers clunky, ponderous shifts, making the Peugeot far from relaxing to drive. Still, an attractive price tag and generous kit make it appealing.

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