The term supermini developed in the UK in the 1970s, as car manufacturers sought a new design to surpass the influential Mini, launched in 1959, and journalists attempted to categorise such a vehicle.
While manufacturers produced new designs, the term was adopted as an informal categorisation. By 1977, the term supermini was used regularly by the British newspaper The Times. That year, two modern superminis - the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Chevette - featured among Britain's top 10 best-selling cars. A new British car launch that year was the Chrysler Sunbeam supermini. Also selling well were the Fiat 127, Renault 5 and Volkswagen Polo, as well as the Japanese built Datsun Cherry and the Peugeot 205.
In October 1984, the Consumers' Association used the term in its annual Car Buying Guide. It gave an explanation at the start of a section entitled Small Hatchbacks. It said small hatchbacks were known popularly as superminis and while similar to the Mini they were more spacious inside and more versatile. This definition made clear that a "supermini" was something larger than a Mini yet smaller than a typical car of the time. In its 1984 report, it included such cars as the Austin Metro, Vauxhall Nova and Ford Fiesta. This report was also published soon after the launch of a host of other foreign-made superminis which were selling well in Britain - these included the Fiat Uno, Nissan Micra, Peugeot 205, and Volkswagen Polo, and shortly before the arrival of the updated Renault 5. The Fiat Uno, launched during the first half of 1983, was widely praised for its high roof which set new standards for interior space and practicality in this size of car, and won the European Car of the Year award soon after its launch. The Peugeot 205, also launched in 1983, won plaudits for its sharp styling and excellent ride and handling. Both the Fiat and the Peugeot were in production in Europe for more than a decade.
Smaller or more basic cars were grouped under a Bargain Basement heading and included the Mini, Citroën 2CV, Fiat 126 and Volkswagen Beetle - these accounted for a much smaller share of the market than the modern superminis. Also included were larger cars from Eastern Bloc countries which were considerably larger but priced similarly - or even lower - than the average supermini, namely the likes of Lada and Skoda which were largely making use of 1960s technology.
After the arrival of the hugely popular Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205 in 1983, the next ground-breaking new supermini to be launched in Europe was undoubtedly the Renault Clio in 1990. Launched as replacement for the best-selling, long-running Renault 5 (which remained in production until 1996). The Fiat Punto, which replaced the Uno at the beginning of 1994. Both the Clio and Punto were recipients of the European Car of the Year Award. The Peugeot 205 was gradually phased out following the launch of the smaller 106 in 1991 and the larger 306 in 1993, finally ceasing production in 1998 on the launch of the Peugeot 206. The Mk2 Nissan Micra, built by the Japanese carmaker at its production facility near Sunderland, became the first Japanese winner of the European Car of the Year award soon after its 1992 launch. This accolade was also achieved by the Toyota Yaris seven years later; the Yaris featured a new trend of a high roof on a supermini which allowed for improved interior space, as well as featuring a digital speedometer as standard equipment across the range.
Retro styling became popular on mainstream cars across Europe from the late-1990s the first successful instance of this styling on a supermini being BMW's new Rover designed and British-built Mini, launched in 2001 soon after the original Mini ended its 41-year production run. The Fiat 500, launched in 2007 on the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the original model; also proved popular across Europe.
Some superminis that have not been widely on sale in Europe include Ford Figo (based on Ford Fiesta), Suzuki Ritz, Honda Brio, Honda Logo, Perodua Myvi, Proton Satria, Tata Indica , Toyota Etios and Proton Iriz , Maruti Suzuki Swift .
Popularly known as superminis, these cars are a size larger than the original BMC Mini and are typified by the Austin Metro.
There are also said to be fears within the state-owned motor group that Ford, having displaced Leyland from their traditional market leadership, will stay top for the rest of the year and could consolidate this position further with the introduction of the super "Mini", the Ford Fiesta.
Leyland Cars announce a plan to mass produce a super Mini in an integrated operation at Longbridge.
From the fuel-saving point of view there can have been no more welcome trend in the past five years than the appearance from one European manufacturer after another of what has become known as the "supermini" - the Fiat 127, Renault 5, Peugeot 104, Volkswagen Polo and most recently, the Ford Fiesta.