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Best cars

Top 10 best automatic cars 2024

Not a fan of shifting gears yourself? You’ll want to take a look at our list of the best automatic cars

best automatic cars

There’s a good reason why the majority of UK car buyers opt for an automatic gearbox these days. With no clutch pedal to worry about, automatic cars are generally much easier and more relaxing to drive – especially around town. 

As a result, the manual gearbox has virtually disappeared from all but the most affordable of hatchbacks or driver-focused sports cars, leaving buyers with no choice but to buy an automatic model. This is no bad thing; modern automatics are just as fast and fuel-efficient as an equivalent manual car, rendering the latter pretty much obsolete. 

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But which automatic cars are best? Of course, the ideal car for you will vary depending on your needs, but thankfully, there are plenty of automatic cars to suit every budget and bodystyle. We’ve picked a selection of cars across a range of price points that impressed us with their smooth and quick automatic gearboxes. There are petrol, diesel, hybrid and even electric models to choose from, all delivering the slick driving experience that makes driving an automatic so stress-free.

The best automatic cars to buy

Whatever your reason for choosing one, here's our list of the 10 best automatic cars on sale right now. If you're after something compact, check out our guide to the best small automatic cars, or why not read our list of the best luxury cars for the ultimate in driving comfort?

BMW 3 Series review – an impressive, but expensive executive saloon

BMW 3 Series saloon
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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  • Priced from £40,220
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Following a mid-life facelift in 2022, the BMW 3 Series can no longer be ordered with a manual gearbox for the first time in its lengthy history. That’s no bad thing because the eight-speed automatic BMW uses instead is very impressive – and it still allows the 3 Series to live up to the brand’s ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ slogan. When cruising, it’s smooth and unobtrusive but select a sportier setup and the changes become lightning fast.

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The 3 Series range is extensive with super-fast versions sitting at one end and very economical diesels at the other. BMW offers two plug-in hybrid (PHEV) engines as well, with both versions available in either saloon or  3 Series Touring estate body styles. These manage over 30 miles of electric-only driving and will cost business users much less than a diesel in company-car tax. 

Skoda Kodiaq review – more practical and higher quality than before

Skoda Kodiaq SUV
Carbuyer rating

4.3 out of 5

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  • Priced from £36,645

The Skoda Kodiaq has long been a Carbuyer favourite, delivering the space and practicality that large SUV buyers want at a reasonable price. The new second-generation model is just as family-friendly, packing even more room for passengers and luggage, plus a more up-to-date cabin. While pretty much every seven-seat SUV has an automatic gearbox today, we think the Kodiaq is one to pick – its standard-fit DSG automatic is slick and well-matched to the engines on offer, all of which deliver respectable economy figures for a car of this size.

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The Kodiaq uses the same gearbox that’s found in multiple cars across the Volkswagen Group, from the Golf hatchback to the Audi A3 (see below). It shifts gears smoothly and quickly, working well to keep even the smallest 1.5-litre petrol engine in its power band. The plug-in hybrid Kodiaq is gear short compared to the rest of the range (six speeds versus seven), but it never feels like an issue. No matter which engine you pick, you’ll struggle to find a better large automatic car than the Kodiaq.

MG3 review – affordable, efficient and fun-to-drive supermini

MG3
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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  • Priced from £18,495
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The new MG3 is shaping up to be quite the disruptor in the affordable hatchback market. It’s efficient, surprisingly fast, and undercuts many of its competitors by quite some margin. All cars come equipped with a clever hybrid system, consisting of a 1.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. Unlike most hybrids, the motor is actually more powerful than the petrol engine, and does most of the heavy lifting at low speeds. As a result, the MG3 feels just like an EV around town, delivering smooth and silent acceleration that makes traditional hatchbacks feel pretty old fashioned.

The petrol engine will kick into life when needed to supplement the electric motor, driving the wheels through a three-speed automatic gearbox. That might sound rather antique, but the MG3 only needs three gears thanks to the power and torque of the electric motor. It’s an impressive system, delivering performance to rival some hot hatchbacks while returning over 60mpg. Not bad for a sub-£20k hatchback.

Honda Jazz review – an easy-to-drive hybrid supermini

honda jazz ex style
Carbuyer rating

4.1 out of 5

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  • Priced from £26,885
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If you’re looking for a supermini to get you from A to B both comfortably and efficiently, the Honda Jazz should be near the top of your list. Unlike some rival hatchbacks, it prioritises comfort over sportiness, a decision that we think works in its favour. The interior is spacious, there’s plenty of standard kit, and the infotainment system is leagues ahead of the system on the old model.

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You may find the styling a little bland, but things get interesting when you look under the skin. Rather than use a typical hybrid system whereby the engine drives the wheels through a gearbox with some electrical assistance, the Jazz does things differently. Most of the time, the combustion engine is used as a generator to provide juice to a pair of electric motors that drive the wheels.

It’s unusual, but with no gearbox to worry about, the Jazz feels closer to an EV than a combustion-engined car, benefitting from the smoothness and refinement typical of electric propulsion.

Audi A3 Sportback review – the original premium hatchback

Audi A3 Carbuyer front quarter driving
Carbuyer rating

4.2 out of 5

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  • Priced from £32,630

The Audi A3 was the upmarket hatchback pioneer nearly 30 years ago, and the latest model remains at the forefront of the segment. The sharply styled exterior – facelifted for 2024 – hides a premium and well-equipped cabin that wouldn’t feel out of place in a luxury car. Under the skin, the A3 shares its oily bits with the Volkswagen Golf, meaning you get the same engines and DSG automatic gearbox, called ‘S Tronic’ in Audi parlance.

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The A3’s driving experience matches its premium looks and interior. It’s refined, with little road and wind noise, and the suspension does well to soak up harsh bumps – although it is rather firm. The tried-and-tested DSG gearbox knows what it’s doing, much like it does in the Skoda Kodiaq above, delivering snappy shifts. The 1.5-litre petrol engine gets mild hybrid assistance, helping to boost fuel economy, while the diesel 2.0-litre diesel will suit those who cover big motorway distances. 

BYD Dolphin review - our favourite new car

carbuyer car of the year 2024
Carbuyer rating

4.3 out of 5

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  • Priced from £26,140
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If you're after an electric supermini and can’t wait for the new MINI Cooper E to arrive, then we suggest you take the BYD Dolphin for a test drive instead. While most electric cars are technically not automatics, as there are no gears to be changed at all, they offer an unrivalled smoothness to the driving experience that makes them impossible to overlook on this list.

Out of the many electric cars on sale, we felt that the BYD Dolphin deserved the spot on this list, not only because it’s one of our favourite EVs but because it was the outright winner of our Carbuyer Car of the Year 2024. Don’t be dissuaded by the unfamiliar name; the Dolphin is the latest EV from China to give the more established brands something to worry about. It’s spacious, well-equipped and can manage up to 265 miles of range, with a comfortable and quiet cabin typical of an EV.

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The price is hard to ignore too. Starting at just over £26,000, the Dolphin is cheaper than many of its European rivals while matching them for range and interior kit.

Porsche 911 review - the best all-round sports car

Porsche 911 review
Carbuyer rating

4.5 out of 5

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  • Priced from £97,000

A Porsche 911 with a manual gearbox is certainly a very special car but the PDK automatic is so good that the vast majority of buyers choose it. The gear shifts are seamless when you leave the car to its own devices and whip-crack-quick when you’re pinging through the gears yourself using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

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You might believe a sports car needs a manual gearbox but the 911 shows that’s not always the case – with the automatic, it’s still our favourite sports car. As an added bonus, the automatic is quicker than the manual too.

Honda Civic hatchback review

Best Hybrid: Honda Civic
Carbuyer rating

4.3 out of 5

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  • Priced from £35,005

Much like the Honda Jazz above, the Honda Civic is a full hybrid, but it uses a more traditional system to combine combustion and electric power. There’s only one engine option: a 1.5-litre petrol engine that works alongside two electric motors. The latter can drive the wheels at low speeds around town, delivering the smooth acceleration typical of a pure EV. At higher speeds, the petrol engine takes over seamlessly, thanks to a clever e-CVT gearbox. 

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CVT gearboxes have never been particularly refined historically, but the system in the Civic does an excellent job of blending electric and petrol power, without the hesitancy of the system used in the Renault Clio E-Tech or Dacia Jogger E-Tech. It’s a fitting setup for the Civic, with ample power to match its well-tuned chassis. All of that tech is wrapped in a handsome and spacious hatchback body, with an interior that surpasses the Volkswagen Golf in terms of quality and usability.

Mercedes GLC SUV review

Mercedes GLC SUV
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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  • Priced from £52,895
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Mercedes is a brand famed for its smooth and refined executive cars, and the GLC SUV is no exception. It’s essentially a high-riding version of the C-Class saloon, featuring the same cutting-edge cabin and range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines. Buyers can choose between the regular SUV or the Coupe variant, although the latter sacrifices some practicality for style. Importantly, the GLC has been set up with a focus on comfort over sportiness, a decision that will appeal to many buyers.

The nine-speed automatic gearbox is fitted as standard to all cars, along with four-wheel drive, and swaps cogs with the smoothness we’ve come to expect from the three-pointed star. It feels well-matched to all the available engines – particularly the plug-in hybrid models as their electric motors take some of the strain off the engine at low speeds. The PHEVs are also some of the most efficient cars on the road, with a WLTP-tested economy figure of over 700mpg.

Toyota C-HR review - stylish and efficient, but lacks rear space

Toyota C-HR UK front dynamic
Carbuyer rating

3.8 out of 5

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  • Priced from £31,300
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In the past two decades, Toyota has become well known for making very dependable, yet relatively ordinary cars. However, the Toyota C-HR breaks this trend as one of the most visually striking small SUVs you can buy today. Its sharp, angular lines make the Renault Captur and Ford Puma look rather generic, and a two-tone roof disguises its high roofline. This means that two adults can just about squeeze in the back while those in the front enjoy the well-built interior and two 12.3-inch displays that come fitted to most models.

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Like all hybrids, the C-HR is only available with an automatic gearbox. Although the CVT automatic gearbox prioritises smoothness over performance, the C-HR handles with confidence and the engine settles to a comfortable noise level on the motorway. Around town is where the C-HR excels though, with the CVT gearbox perfectly matched to its hybrid powertrain, returning fuel economy of around 58mpg – making it one of the most efficient small SUVs on sale.

Automatic car buying guide

Once reserved for the most expensive luxury cars, automatic gearboxes are available in practically every new car today, selling in greater numbers than ever before. Without the need to worry about changing gears, drivers of the best automatic cars can relax and enjoy the simplicity of clutch-free motoring.

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There’s an automatic car to suit every budget, too, from the smallest city cars up to six-figure luxury cars. You’ll most likely need to pay extra for the automatic gearbox option in more affordable cars, but this can be a worthwhile upgrade for the added comfort and usability. Manual gearboxes are virtually extinct at the premium end of the scale – you can’t choose one in most upmarket models these days and the new wave of electric cars means manuals are definitely dying out from mainstream brand model ranges as well. Of course, neither Bentley nor Rolls-Royce have offered one since the 1950s.

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The automatic gearbox is no longer the preserve of slow, relaxing cars, either. The majority of today’s most respected sports cars use sophisticated systems involving dual-clutches and fast-acting hydraulics to change gears automatically at a rate far quicker than you could using a manual gearbox. Many of these can handle more power than a manual box, as well, and many cars even have electronic paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. These allow you to change gears manually, all while keeping both hands firmly on the wheel at all times – just like an F1 racing driver.

In many cases, the automatic gearbox option is actually more responsive and, importantly, more efficient than its manual counterpart. This can mean lower fuel consumption and cleaner exhaust emissions. Some of the latest examples have nine or even 10 speeds and will always choose the right gear at the right time. This means that, no matter what road conditions you encounter, the engine will always be turning at the most efficient speed.

It’s worth noting that there are different types of automatic gearbox, with different technologies sometimes serving up different characteristics from behind the wheel. The most common type of automatic is a ‘torque converter’ gearbox, used in everything from city cars up to luxury SUVs. DSG gearboxes, also known as dual-clutch gearboxes, have become mainstream over the past two decades, while CVTs (continuously-variable transmissions) are used in certain applications by a small number of manufacturers. All of these gearbox technologies feature in this list, each delivering a smooth driving experience that’s well-matched to the engine.

Looking for the most efficient automatic car? Why not check out our list of the 10 best hybrid cars…

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