Top 10 best motorway cars 2021
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 UK motorway was opened in 1958, cars had been developed to carry their occupants at a steady cruise in comfort across long distances. As motorway networks grew across Europe and eventually the world, cars moved with the times; today, even the smallest city car is capable of sitting at motorway speeds for hours on end, if required.
Even though the 70mph national speed limit has been in force on UK roads 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. Why not take a look at our guides to the best diesel cars and best hybrid cars too?
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 over 55mpg on average.
Stick to SE’s 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.
You might think that electric cars have no place on a list of the best motorway cars but the latest ones are more than capable of sitting in the fast lane for relatively long distances. One of the most impressive is the Tesla Model 3; it’s Tesla’s cheapest model but offers over 350 miles of range and acceleration to shame most sports cars. The minimalist interior is airy and tech-filled, so there’s plenty of gadgetry to entertain on a long motorway trip.
When you need to recharge, you’ll find fantastic Tesla Superchargers at most motorway service stations. Access to them is no longer free for Tesla owners but you won’t feel hard done by - we rated them as the best chargepoints for electric cars. Tesla says you can add up to 172 miles of range in just 15 minutes.
It may not be the most exciting choice but there really are very few better cars for regular motorway trips than the Skoda Octavia. Nowadays, the interior quality is pretty much on a par with the Volkswagen Golf on which it’s based, and the Octavia offers so much more space too. Running costs are excellent, with even the petrols capable of around 55mpg when driven carefully. Over 70mpg can be possible in the super-frugal diesels.
Our recommendation is the SE L spec, which includes heated suede seats (with support in all the right places), sat nav, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control - in other words, exactly the right bits of equipment to make long journeys effortless. VW’s Travel Assist function, which adds even more helpful features, costs a mere £260.
The Mercedes S-Class has always been at the pinnacle of automotive innovation and the tech on board the latest version makes it even better at soaking up lots of miles in one go. Every model gets air suspension and lots of sound deadening, so it’s always quiet and comfortable inside, and before too long it’ll be able to drive itself for periods of time (where allowed).
Impressively for such a large car, the entry-level diesel will manage around 40mpg, while even the plug-in hybrid is worth considering for motorway users because it’ll manage around 60 miles on battery power. Rear-seat occupants can entertain themselves for those miles with a screen each, while the back seats can also be set up like a mobile office if you need it.
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 larger, more attractive alloy wheels – its suspension is tuned for comfort regardless of wheel size.
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 V90 estate 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 V90.
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 come as no surprise, then, to learn that the Superb is a fantastic motorway cruiser, too.
Chosen with one of its 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 E 220 d guise, returns 53mpg on average thanks to a great 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. Performance is decent, too, with 0-62mph completed in 7.4 seconds. The E 300 de plug-in hybrid is also worth a look because it’s one of the few PHEVs to use a diesel engine; the result is a handy electric-only range and decent fuel economy when the battery has run out - plus a sub six-second 0-62mph time.
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.
The Citroen C3 is the smallest and cheapest car on this list but it shows you don’t need to spend a fortune to be comfortable on the motorway. In fact, the C3’s ethos is all about comfort so, while it might not be as agile as a Ford Fiesta, it’s much better at relaxing you on longer drives.
Key to that are the seats, which are designed to look and feel like a sofa. There’s also a 99bhp diesel engine that’s capable of matching a Toyota Prius’ economy figures, while the petrols return around 50mpg and are cheaper to buy in the first place. The C3 can also be stuffed full of safety features that wouldn’t be out of place on more expensive cars, such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and an alert to encourage you to take a break after two hours of driving.
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 201bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel and Jaguar’s silky smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, motorway slogs feel very relaxed indeed, while just over 56mpg 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.