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
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.
If you often find yourself stuck in typical British stop-and-go traffic, you’ll appreciate the benefits of an automatic gearbox more than most. The lack of a third-pedal will give your left foot a hard-earned rest, taking the strain out of low speed driving. Even if dense congestion isn’t an issue, the elimination of the clutch can make driving easier for all, as well as providing a mobility solution for motorists who can’t operate a clutch for physical reasons.
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.
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 gear 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.
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?
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.
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.
SEAT’s first entry into the modern SUV market is an impressive one; the Ateca is as well made, practical and value-packed as you’d expect from the Spanish manufacturer. It also retains the company’s reputation for sporty handling and performance, especially when fitted with the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel and DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Fitted to models across the entire Volkswagen Group family, this gearbox offers near-seamless shifts whether in automatic or manual mode and here helps the Ateca reach 62mph in just 8.8 seconds, yet deliver average economy of around 50mpg. Its firm ride may not be entirely becoming of a family SUV, but the trade-off is one that handles competently, with a noticeable lack of body lean.
It’s a great demonstration of how highly we regard the DSG automatic gearbox that it features in our top 10 list in three very different cars. Of all the wide variety of supermini-sized car choices out there, the Volkswagen Polo is unquestionably the most plush and well appointed.
In a small car with a distinct luxury feel, the DSG gearbox feels right at home here, providing smooth, easy progress. Choosing it makes sound financial sense, too; when teamed with the 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine, it still provides fuel economy of around 50mpg and reduces emissions as well. Yet, remarkably, it allows nippy 0-62mph performance. Its efficiency, together with the big-car-feel that the Polo exudes mean we can see why plenty of people might choose the DSG over the manual.
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.
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.
The MINI 5-door is, as its name suggests, a MINI hatchback with five doors. It offers the extra practicality of easy access to the rear bench but retains the three-door model’s appealing retro styling and scope for personalisation. The entry-level One and mid-range Cooper are powered by the same 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, with power outputs ranging from 101bhp to 134bhp. The tier-topping Cooper S, meanwhile, gets a 2.0-litre engine producing 176bhp.
All can be had with MINI’s dual-clutch seven-speed automatic gearbox, which doesn’t detract from the car’s inherently sporty nature – the MINI 5-door is great fun on a twisty road no matter which gearbox is fitted. In fact, if you’re willing to put up with a harsh ride, it's one of the best-handling cars in the class.
Fans of the MINI should be aware that there’s an all-new model on the horizon, due to hit UK showrooms this year. Like the current model, it will be available with petrol or electric powertrains, with the latter arriving in spring.
If you can’t wait for the new electric MINI 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.
The price is hard to ignore too. Starting at just over £30,000, the Dolphin is cheaper than many of its European rivals while matching them for range and interior kit. There’s an even more affordable model on the way too, with a price tag closer to £26,000.
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.
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.
The Citroen C3 Aircross is a supermini-sized crossover built with comfort in mind. It features chunky styling, great practicality and a choice of petrol and diesel engines. Only the 128bhp 1.2-litre petrol can be had with an automatic gearbox, but that’s no bad thing – an average economy figure of around 45mpg and a 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds aren't bad for a car of this kind.
The addition of an automatic gearbox to the C3 Aircross serves to make what's already a very comfortable car even more relaxing; great seats and a pleasant ride add up to create a car that’s enjoyable to spend time in. It’s safe, too, with a five-star Euro NCAP rating and a host of active safety systems, including lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
The Volvo XC40 is a premium small SUV that majors in comfort, high-end technology, along with a minimalist design. The XC40’s interior is arguably one of the most stylish in its class and the portrait-oriented infotainment system is slick and easy to use. Just like other Volvos, the XC40 is packed full of the latest safety features and is composed along a twisty road, preferring to waft comfortably rather than attack corners with a sporty edge.
Though a manual was available at launch, all models of the XC40 now get an eight-speed automatic gearbox which is well suited to the model's relaxed driving style. The entire XC40 range is now at least partly-electrified; you can choose from mild-hybrid, full hybrid, plug-in hybrid or a fully-electric powertrain, so there’s a model to suit all budgets and tastes.
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.
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.
Looking for the most efficient automatic car? Why not check out our list of the 10 best hybrid cars…
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