Tips and advice

Top 3 used automatic petrol SUVs for £20,000

“Dear Carbuyer, I want a high-spec petrol or hybrid SUV with an automatic gearbox and less than 50,000 miles on the clock. What can I get for £20,000?”

In the past decade, car buyers wanting an upmarket car with an automatic gearbox have generally shunned luxury saloons in favour of SUVs. 

It’s not difficult to see why, with popular SUV models like the Ford Kuga and Toyota RAV4 offering a relaxing drive thanks to smooth-shifting automatic gearboxes and an extensive list of standard equipment.

Nearly every high-spec premium SUV comes with climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, sat nav, a premium stereo system, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can expect a decent amount of safety tech as well, with front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and automatic emergency braking (AEB)

Many SUV models share platforms and engines with conventional saloons or hatchbacks. This means they should be relatively affordable to run, with similar maintenance costs and fuel economy, while offering the higher ride height and more commanding view of the road that buyers want. 

Our reader is looking to buy a high-spec SUV with a petrol or hybrid engine and an automatic gearbox. All of our picks are well-equipped, with luxury features offering a relaxing driving experience. 

The practical choice: Peugeot 3008 

  • For: Economical, rave owner reports, eye-catching cabin 
  • Against: Steering wheel obscures dials for some people 

Peugeot’s second-generation 3008 marked a huge improvement over its predecessor when it was launched four years ago. It was the overall winner of our Driver Power 2018 new car survey, and came second this year. 

For around £19,500, you’ll be able to get your hands on an 18-plate Allure model with 15,000 miles on the clock, and a powerful 179bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine. Allure brings sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and upgraded interior trim. 

A slick cabin is a big attraction with the 3008, but ensure you can see the dials clearly over the steering wheel, because some drivers find it obscures them. Space is great front and rear, and the Peugeot has the biggest boot here, at 591 litres. 

The 3008 is comfortable and refined on the motorway, and handles well on tighter roads, yet as well as obscuring the dials, some people find its small steering wheel can make it feel skittish. The 1.2-litre petrol officially returns 47.2mpg, while the 1.6-litre unit still manages a respectable 39.6mpg. 

The dynamic choice: Mazda CX-5 

  • For: Best handling of the three, sharp looks, classy cabin 
  • Against: Small infotainment screen, middling economy 

One of the sharpest exterior designs in its segment, combined with strong driving dynamics, gives the latest Mazda CX-5 an edge over its rivals in these areas. 

Just over £19,000 bags a 17,000-mile 68-plate SE-L Nav+ model with the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine. SE-L Nav+ trim includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, climate control, front and rear parking sensors and cruise control. Keep an eye out for Sport Nav and Sport Nav+ trims, because these come with leather upholstery. 

While the CX-5’s cabin may lack the wow factor of the 3008’s, it’s better made and more intuitive. The same goes for the infotainment, which has a small screen, but is the easiest to use here. Passenger space is decent, as is the 506-litre boot 

Mazda’s 2.0-litre petrol engine produces a decent 163bhp, but it’s less economical than the 3008’s unit, returning 36.7mpg as an automatic. The CX-5 is the best model of this trio to drive, thanks to its direct steering and well judged suspension that minimises body roll, without adding a harsh ride. 

The premium choice: Lexus NX 

  • For: Superb quality and reliability, premium image 
  • Against: CVT gearbox is poor, fiddly infotainment set-up 

Lexus has long been a byword for quality, and the Lexus NX is no exception. It’s impeccably well built and this is evident throughout the whole car, not least the high-quality cabin. 

When new, the NX was more expensive to buy than the Peugeot and Mazda, so you’ll be looking at older models if you go for one. Your budget secures a 16-plate NX 300h S with 26,000 miles, and while this may be the entry-level trim, it still offers sat-nav, cruise control, Bluetooth, DAB radio, dual-zone climate control and a reversing camera. 

A higher price brings with it an impressive interior, with excellent build quality and a truly premium feel. Infotainment is poor, though, with a trackpad control that is frustrating to use. The NX also has the smallest boot here, at 475 litres. 

The NX 300h’s hybrid powertrain offers a strong 194bhp, but official economy is 37.7mpg, so the 3008 is likely to be cheaper to run. Another problem is the CVT gearbox, which causes the engine to rev high under hard acceleration, although the NX is an impressively smooth car if you take things gently. 

Carbuyer’s choice, as picked by deputy editor Ben Hodges

Every one of our top three picks makes a great used buy but given what our reader really wants, I have to recommend the Lexus NX. Of the three cars, it boasts impeccable build quality and a smooth, relaxing driving experience.

Lexus owners are generally very happy with their cars, with the brand finishing top of our 2020 Driver Power ownership satisfaction survey, so you can expect the NX to be very reliable. It also offers a luxurious interior, decent safety tech and, thanks to its petrol-electric drivetrain, it’s also capable of silent running at low speeds, which only enhances refinement. Add all of these elements together and it’s my clear winner.

For more used car buying advice, why not check out our picks for best used SUVs you can buy today.

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