Despite the growing popularity of automatic transmission in the UK’s upper-medium and larger car sectors, the option is a rare sight in smaller cars because the cost is “disproportionately high”, the price monitor Glass’s Guide said.

The list price of an automatic gearbox varies little from the smallest cars to the largest - typically ranging from around £850 to £1,100.

“This makes it appear very expensive on a supermini car costing around £10,000, but much more affordable on a larger vehicle costing £20,000 or more. The percentage of superminis with automatics fell to 5.6% in 2001, contrasting with steady rises in the upper-medium and large car sectors over the same period, to 12% and 71.6% respectively,” Glass’s said.

Glass's car editor Johnathan Brown added: “Over the past five years the number of automatic cars purchased in the market as a whole has virtually stood still; 14.1% of the total market in 2001.

“It appears that this is in large part due to falling levels of uptake in the supermini sector which is increasing its overall market share.

"An automatic gearbox would clearly be a sensible option for supermini drivers looking to alleviate the discomfort of their daily commute. True proportional pricing would inevitably improve take-up in the burgeoning small car sector, and in the process help to reduce production costs for manufacturers," Brown added.

One of the sectors where the proportion of automatic gearboxes is growing at the fastest rate is larger 4x4s, where many drivers are switching from large prestige cars and bringing with them the expectation of comfort and convenience that they associate with an automatic transmission.