Best motorway cars
Need a car that can tackle serious motorway miles with ease? Look no further than our list of the best cars for the job.
Even before the first section of motorway opened in the UK in 1958, cars had been developed to carry their occupants at a steady cruise in comfort. As motorway networks grew across Europe and eventually the world, cars moved with the times; today, even the smallest city car can happily trundle along at 100mph for hours on end if required. Not that that's legal in the UK, of course.
Even though our 70mph national speed limit has been around since the late 1960s, not all modern cars feel as comfortable, quiet or safe at that speed for long periods of time. For that reason, some of our choices listed below are not what you might expect – in fact, some aren’t exactly class-leading in many other areas, but come into their own when settled into a cruise.
We've tried to take a rough cross-section of the market, selecting cars whose motorway finesse is better than others in their respective classes. That’s why you’ll find city cars and hatchbacks in a list that you might have expected to be full of large, luxurious premium cars (which inevitably make an appearance, too).
Whatever your budget, if you mostly cover motorway miles there’s no shortage of choice. Here are our picks for the best motorway cars on the market today.
Put simply, the BMW 5 Series saloon is one of the most complete cars on sale. Space, comfort, driving pleasure and great fuel economy can all be had in one package, especially if you spec yours well; our pick – especially for motorway work – would be the 520d, which despite its entry-level 2.0-litre diesel engine, still produces a healthy 187bhp and cruises with ease, all the while returning around 68mpg on average, or around 72mpg in EfficientDynamics guise. Stick to smaller wheels for the very best in long-distance comfort and specify Variable Damper Control (around £1,000) for complete control over how your 5 Series copes with rougher surfaces.
The Hyundai i30 competes in a class full of talented rivals, including the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. While the i30 can’t quite match those cars for sheer all-round ability, it does have a trick up its sleeve – its masterful motorway manners. At cruising speed, it’s every bit as quiet and refined as a Golf, while comfort is excellent and its engines are strong yet economical. It’s not as polished in most other areas, but then the i30 is also considerably cheaper than many of its more mainstream rivals. The Hyundai certainly shouldn’t be discounted if most of your driving takes place on the motorway.
Handsome, fast, economical and spacious – the Arteon seemingly has it all. Volkswagen’s rival to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, Audi A5 Sportback and Mercedes CLS is just as pleasant and cosseting to travel in as its premium rivals, if perhaps not quite as luxuriously appointed. Motorway cruising is an Arteon speciality – it rides very smoothly and all engines offer a good balance between performance and economy, while remaining hushed under most circumstances. And unlike some cars of this type, the Arteon doesn’t suffer if you go for the the larger, more attractive alloy wheels – its suspension is tuned for comfort regardless of wheel size.
Yes, that is a sub-£10k city car on the same list as a £250,000 Rolls-Royce. But the Citigo stands head-and-shoulders above its city-car rivals by offering the quality, ride and cruising ability of a car from the class above. The Citigo was designed to be a nippy town car – which it is – but somehow manages to offer a remarkably refined and competent driving experience at higher speed. Unlike many cars in its class, the Citigo feels planted at speed and is a very comfortable place to spend time – quite the feat for such a small car. It’s safe, reliable and – once you leave the motorway – fun to drive on twisty roads, too.
Volvo has always had a reputation for producing comfortable cars, but with its latest generation of models the Swedish firm has made a concerted move upmarket. The result is a line-up that prioritises luxury and comfort like never before – just the ticket for motorway driving. The Volvo S90 saloon is one of the largest cars on this list, but also one of the most comfortable, with acres of space in its light, airy, minimalist interior, smooth diesel and hybrid powertrains and adjustable driving modes to tailor the car’s character and ride to even the worst British roads. If you want to get out of your car after a long motorway slog feeling relaxed and unruffled, few cars quite match the S90.
A list of great long-distance cars wouldn’t be complete without a Mercedes, and if you can afford it, there are few better suited to munching motorway miles than the S-Class Coupe. With a choice of V8s and even a V12 engine, outright range is not likely to be a strong point, but speed and refinement most certainly are. Even as standard, few car interiors offer quite as much luxury and Mercedes’ considerable options list lets you add such features as a 20-speaker Burmester stereo and a panoramic sunroof to enhance the ambiance. Massage-function seats and an optional driving assistance package help make the S-Class Coupe a comfortable and safe car to travel long distances in.
A long-standing Carbuyer favourite, the Superb is seemingly the car that can do no wrong. It’s hugely practical, very well built, powered by a range of eager, economical engines, good to drive and one of the best-value cars on sale. It will 'll come as no surprise, then, to learn that the Superb is a fantastic motorway cruiser, too. Chosen with one of is diesel engines – preferably a 2.0-litre TDI – the large Skoda sips fuel and offers sublime levels of comfort and quietness, with enough power in reserve to make overtaking a breeze. If you’re on the hunt for the ultimate do-it-all family car, the Superb is the obvious choice – especially if you have big distances to cover.
A major rival for the 5 Series, the Mercedes E Class runs its fellow German close in most areas. It’s a hugely comfortable and capable executive saloon that, when specified in entry-level E200d trim, returns 72.4mpg on average thanks to a great 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. Performance is decent, too, with 0-62mph completed in 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 139mph. As you’d expect from a Mercedes, the E-Class is built with a focus on comfort; its suspension is particularly pliant, its automatic gearbox unobtrusive and its interior very comfortable, even in the lower-priced models. It’s not quite as involving to drive as its BMW rival, but motorway driving is something of an E-Class speciality.
It's the sportiest car in the Rolls-Royce line-up, but that barely detracts from the Wraith’s core appeal – total, uncompromised luxury. If you have a large six-figure sum to spend, few cars offer the sheer refinement and effortlessness of this deeply impressive – and rather large – luxury coupe. It's powered by a colossal twin-turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 petrol engine, so fuel economy is probably best not thought about; the performance, however, is rather difficult to ignore. If you happen to spend time on derestricted stretches of the German motorway network, you’ll be to enjoy the most relaxed three-figure cruise of any luxury car on sale; wind and tyre noise are remarkably hushed, the Wraith feels utterly impervious thanks to its considerable weight and its interior is one of the very best in the business.
If you’re in the market for an executive saloon and plan on covering serious distances on the motorway, the Jaguar XF is worthy of your attention. Known for its great all-round driving experience, the XF comes into its own on a high-speed cruise. When it's fitted with the frugal-yet-punchy 178bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel and Jaguar’s silky smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, motorway slogs feel very relaxed indeed, while just over 65mpg on average means fuel stops should be few and far between. Throw in a supple, controlled ride and a very comfortable interior and the XF starts to look like the perfect motorway machine.
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