Britain's best cars
With so many excellent new cars on sale, it can be difficult to choose between them. Here, we round up the very best cars on sale in Britain today.
Today’s car buyers are very lucky indeed. Cars you can buy now are the best they’ve ever been: more efficient, safe and user-friendly than ever before. Amazingly, in many cases, they’re also more affordable than at any time in the past.
New technology quickly becomes less expensive as it becomes more popular, so even the cheapest cars are now full of clever features, while carmakers have never been more eager to entice customers with attractive finance packages and substantial discounts.
Running a car is also cheaper today than it used to be. Reduced CO2 emissions mean motorists pay less annual road tax. Cars also need far less maintenance than they once did – many motorists find that a yearly service is all that’s required, as cars can drive further between workshop visits and reliability is ever-improving.
Our annual Driver Power satisfaction survey tells us that car owners are generally happier than ever, too, which is fantastic news. Right now, there really isn’t a bad car on the market. Every car on sale today has at least something to recommend it and it doesn’t necessarily follow that a more expensive car is a better car. However, some stand out as genuinely exceptional.
Some cars are just so all-round competent that it’s hard to find anything to truly criticise. They’ve been developed with a keen attention to detail that makes living with them every day a real pleasure. Our list of Britain's Best Cars shows our choice picks from many different areas of the market. You’ll find hatchbacks, saloons, MPVs and more, at many different price points.
Of course, the perfect car hasn’t yet been built, and not all of our choices necessarily excel in any specific area, but all offer so much all-round ability, they’re impossible to overlook.
It’s Britain’s favourite car year in, year out, and the latest Ford Fiesta is the best yet. It looks great inside and out and packs plenty of big-car features into its compact dimensions. Buyers can choose from tremendous audio upgrades, autonomous driving features and levels of luxury in top-spec Vignale trim unthinkable until a few years ago. The new Fiesta boasts more interior space and safety kit than ever before, plus it’s a fantastically fun car to drive. With attributes like this, it’s no wonder we’ve named the new Ford Fiesta as Best Small Car and Carbuyer Car of the Year 2019.
Following an update in 2017, the Citigo (which is closely related to the Volkswagen up! and SEAT Mii) has fresh appeal. Skoda sharpened up the style of its smallest car with redesigned bumpers and a more prominent grille, while most trim levels were also given revised headlights that incorporate LED daytime running lights. At the same time, the Citigo received a far more sophisticated and eye-catching interior, with a broader range of colour options, including two-tone finishes. SE cars and above have a colour ‘Swing’ touchscreen infotainment system, a more informative instrument panel and a multifunction steering wheel. Being almost cube-like, the Citigo offers a remarkable amount of room for four adult occupants, as well as a boot that is bigger than that of many city-car rivals, too. This is all despite taking up very little space on the road, which makes the car very manoeuvrable and agile, ideal for threading its way through tight urban streets. Driving enjoyment is also high on the Citigo’s list of features. Despite what its name suggests, it isn’t out of its depth out of town, and even on the motorways. This is particularly true of the stronger 74bhp version, which is also surprisingly fun across country. There’s no shortage of trims to tempt you, but entry-level S cars are a little starkly equipped. Instead, we recommend the top SE L trim, which is also the only version available with the 74bhp engine. Although the Citigo didn’t feature in our 2017 Driver Power survey, Skoda has an impressive reputation for owner satisfaction. A five-star crash safety rating is another string to the Citigo’s bow, and spec-for-spec, it costs a little less than its VW up! sister.
The original Octavia was one of the first new Skodas to emerge after VW took over, and it was an immediate success. Since then, each generation has remained a real challenger to the best in the class. The latest car is a fair bit larger than its Volkswagen Group cousins (the VW Golf, SEAT Leon and Audi A3), and Octavia buyers are spoiled for choice, with a variety of bodies, engines and trims. We review the versatile estate and speedy vRS individually, but even the entry-level S trim features air-conditioning and a touchscreen entertainment system with DAB radio and Bluetooth. However, we think stepping up to SE gives the best value for money. Low-mileage drivers will enjoy the 1.0 and 1.5-litre TSI petrol engines, but those who cover more than 12,000 miles a year may still be happier with one of the popular diesel engines. The most recent update saw considerable change. Skoda’s split-headlamp front-end styling was introduced and some models have all-LED headlamps. LEDs are used in the rear lights, too, so the Octavia now looks more similar to the Karoq and Kodiaq SUVs. Take to the road in any Octavia and it’s clear that comfort is the priority, with steering that’s neither too heavy nor too light, as well as a smooth ride. Skoda also has an impressive reputation for reliability and its cars are rewarding to own. The Octavia finished 21st out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. It’s a safe car, too, with a five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP.
Not only is the Mercedes S-Class saloon the brand’s most luxurious model, it also features some amazing technology that could appear on many more cars in the future. As in any S-Class, comfort, space, prestige and heritage are the watchwords; and, whether you’re driving the S-Class, or being driven in it, it’s an experience to savour. An update in 2017 introduced new LED headlamps, but the restrained look of the car was left largely alone. Instead, the big changes were under the surface: the latest autonomous driving technology is now available, while a straight-six 3.0-litre diesel engine has replaced the previous V6, creating one of the most economical luxury cars you can buy. You can specify your S-Class in a choice of trim levels and one of two different wheelbase lengths. There are two ‘normal’ versions and two high-performance Mercedes-AMG models available. While Euro NCAP hasn’t crash-tested the S-Class, you shouldn’t have any worries. This model has long been known for pushing the boundaries in safety tech and the latest version is no exception. Naturally, you also get all the trappings you would expect of a luxury saloon – leather upholstery, wood trim, space in abundance and a supremely comfortable ride – on any model, including the high-performance versions. For most, however, the S350d diesel will be easily quick enough; and, as it returns around 50mpg and is the cheapest version to buy, it’s the most sensible option, too.
It's not often a car as exceptional as the Hyundai i30 N comes along. In producing a complete newcomer to rival established hot hatchbacks, Hyundai set itself a very challenging task – not least because it’s the first car from its new N performance division. With 247bhp, the i30 N is less powerful than many hot hatches. Instead, it’s testament to the idea that driving pleasure is about involvement, not just sheer force. What’s more, it’s great value. The i30 N’s remarkable nature isn’t revealed by raw data – instead it’s detectable in more subjective ways. The i30 N communicates huge amounts of information to you through its perfectly judged and sophisticated adjustable suspension, for example, while its feedback-rich steering, slick six-speed manual gearbox and emotive engine note all add to the fun. The net result is a deeply impressive and genuinely rewarding hot hatch. The i30 N’s looks are more subtle than extreme, but there’s more than enough to indicate that this isn’t an ordinary i30. And, we think the mature approach Hyundai has taken to the car’s styling is also likely to grow on you the more time you spend with it. Performance aside, the Hyundai i30 N is a practical car, too. With five doors and a reasonable 381-litre boot, it more than fulfils the hatchback side of the hot-hatchback brief. Interior quality is also impressive, while sat nav, a reversing camera, LED headlights and an eight-inch infotainment system are fitted as standard. You also get the same safety kit as the standard i30, which scored a full five-star safety rating. Equally reassuring is Hyundai’s five-year warranty, which comfortably exceeds most rivals’ cover.
There are two ways to design an electric car. You can either create something new from the ground up, like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, or you can convert a proven model. The e-Golf is an example of the latter approach, and the uninitiated will find it tricky to tell apart from its petrol and diesel counterparts. For many, this is central to the appeal of cars like this, as you can enjoy zero-emissions motoring in familiar surroundings. The dashboard is the same high-quality setup as in any Golf and the accommodation follows a similarly tried-and-trusted layout. Improvements during 2017 include a more ‘energy-dense’ lithium-ion battery. It has a greater electrical capacity than the previous battery and VW claims that the range is extended to 186 miles, although we reckon 130 miles is more realistic in everyday driving. A full charge via a three-pin domestic socket takes 13 hours, but this drop to four hours with a home fast charger. It means the e-Golf has a surprising turn of speed, but it’s a rather heavy car. As a result, it loses some of the regular Golf’s cosseting feel and can’t match the cornering sharpness of the Golf GTI. The other vital consideration is price. Even with the plug-in car grant taken into account, the e-Golf costs much the same as a Golf GTD diesel. However, business users benefit from a far lower rate of Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax than the diesel alternative. It’s exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge, too.
The Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport has gone after the best large family hatchbacks on the market – and overtaken them. Around 175kg lighter and £1,500 cheaper than comparable versions of the old Insignia, the list of attractions starts with its very striking design. Prices are keen, too, and the car benefits from Vauxhall’s latest petrol and diesel engines, a full complement of safety technology and all the connectivity most owners will need. At first glance, you can tell that the Insignia is a big car, and that translates into excellent space inside. It has huge amounts of legroom – front and back – and a well shaped boot, although the low profile slightly restricts the rear headroom, so tall adults will be more comfortable in the back of a Skoda Superb. As the car sits pretty low to the ground, it has a pleasing sense of connection with the road. It’s more engaging to drive than the Ford Mondeo, with communicative, well weighted steering, well judged suspension and a strong sense that the lessons learned from the latest, sharp-handling Vauxhall Astra have been passed on. While diesel engines are always popular in large cars, and most company-car buyers are likely to opt for one of the 1.6-litre diesels, the new 1.5-litre petrol could convert buyers – especially if they have a lower annual mileage. For us, the stronger 163bhp version is the best bet, as the basic version can feel a little underpowered. There’s plenty of other reassurance for buyers, in the shape of a full five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s tests, while all Insignias also come with Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge service, which automatically alerts the emergency services in the event of a collision.
The Mazda MX-5 RF is essentially a cross between the standard convertible and a fixed-roof coupe version of the car. RF stands for ‘Retractable Fastback’, and the model’s appeal lies in the extra style and refinement the power-folding hard-top brings. The roof can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 6mph at the press of a button, unlike the standard MX-5’s fabric version, which is manually operated. It makes the interior of the car much quieter and more relaxing on a long motorway journey. Ironically, the RF’s rear buttresses make it noticeably noisier when the roof is down. The hard-top roof doesn’t affect the car’s practicality and both trim levels include plenty of equipment. There’s also an optional leather finish for the dash, giving the interior a really upmarket feel. The hard-top roof adds around 45kg to the car’s weight, but the RF feels every bit as responsive and fun as the standard soft-top. Mazda has tweaked the steering and stiffened the suspension, but the RF remains relatively soft and comfortable for a sports car. On a winding B-road, the car is agile and engaging. Whether you decide to buy the RF over the standard MX-5 is likely to depend on which body shape you prefer and how often you drive with the roof up. If you do buy the RF, we recommend the 2.0-litre engine, as its extra power helps compensate for the added weight. Whichever you decide, the MX-5 should be a painless car to own. Mazda has a reputation for excellent reliability and the previous MX-5 managed an excellent 17th out of 150 cars in our 2016 Driver Power survey. Last, but not least, the standard MX-5 achieved a four-star rating from Euro NCAP when it was crash-tested.
If you want a car that’s more than a conventional petrol or diesel-engined model, the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid should be on your shortlist. With a larger battery than the standard Ioniq Hybrid and a petrol engine to eliminate the range anxiety associated with the all-electric model, it’s capable of stellar economy figures without any hassle. Instead of the 43bhp electric motor in the regular Hybrid, the Plug-In has a 60bhp unit. It certainly makes the Ioniq quick enough, although it’s not quite as responsive as the Toyota Prius Plug-In. The Ioniq’s petrol engine is fairly hushed when it cuts in, too, making for a relaxing drive that really suits driving around-town. We wish we could say the relationship between the regenerative braking and standard disc brakes was as harmonious, as the different resistance between the two can lead to some jerky stops. You probably wouldn’t expect the Ioniq to be a supreme driver’s car, and you’d be right. However, the dual-clutch gearbox allows for some snappy gear changes and the car is generally comfortable. Happily, the car’s practicality hasn’t been compromised by the hybrid powertrain and there’s room for five inside. There’s also lots to keep fans of the latest technology happy, although some of the materials aren’t quite as pleasing, with a fair few scratchy plastics. At least reliability is unlikely to be an issue, because the Ioniq comes with Hyundai’s reassuringly long five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty, as well as a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating.
The choice of small SUVs in the UK is extensive, with the Citroen C3 Aircross facing a host of rivals, like the Kia Stonic and SEAT Arona. Citroen is late to this party, but it has a longer history of building small and practical cars than almost anyone else. The Aircross effectively replaces the C3 Picasso, so it’ll be good news for many that the Aircross retains some of its predecessor’s eccentric design. Mind you, it’s thoroughly conventional under the metal. Design aside, the biggest difference is the raised suspension. However, that helps the car to keep its composure, and only the occasional pothole grabs your attention. In corners, the Citroen resists any stomach-churning body lean, despite having lots of grip. Three trim levels are available, but the basic Touch is unlikely to be popular with fashion-conscious crossover buyers, despite giving the Aircross its arresting starting price. Alloy wheels and faux front and rear skid plates help give the Feel trim its SUV status, while the interior benefits from Citroen’s seven-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Flair version is more distinctive still, thanks to a bi-tone roof with up to 85 colour combinations. As in the Renault Captur, the Aircross’ back seats are on runners, so you can slide them either to expand the boot or to give maximum kneeroom. There’s enough room for four adults, but rear headroom is a bit tight for adults, particularly with the sunroof fitted. Safety is guaranteed, thanks to a five-star rating, and all told, the Aircross is a thoroughly conceived package. It’s not the best to drive, but it more than makes up for that with a flexible, well equipped and comfortable interior. And that, after all, is what many buyers want.
By any other name, the Audi A3 Sportback is a five-door hatchback. It faces rivals like the Volvo V40, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class and Lexus CT. Even the cheaper and slightly less prestigious VW Golf, with which it shares much, could be considered a competitor. Including the high-performance S3 model, there are four petrol engines, our pick being the 148bhp 1.5-litre TFSI. However, for high-mileage drivers, the more expensive, but efficient, diesels are a better choice. We recommend the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI, which can do 0-62mph in a spirited 8.5 seconds, but still returns 68.9mpg and attracts a 23% BIK rate thanks to its 108g/km CO2 emissions. In addition, there’s a hybrid A3 e-tron version that emits 38g/km CO2 and does 166mpg, but it’s very expensive and not as rounded a choice as one of the diesels in the real world. Every A3 is great to drive: sure-footed and stable. Versions with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system are even grippier and more secure, although there’s a small penalty to pay in fuel economy. The interior of the A3 is beautifully made and well appointed, a fact that helps take the sting out of the model’s high prices. There are four trim levels, but even basic SE wants for little, with 16-inch alloys, xenon headlights, air-conditioning, automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control and a DAB digital radio all standard. However, if you want sat nav and rear parking sensors, you need SE Technik. Although it appears to be very well made, the Audi A3 range finished in a rather average 35th position out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. It does have a five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, though.
Kia's first Picanto made much longer-established carmakers sit up and take notice, and this generation is a world-class city car. Keenly priced, well built and reliable, it offers much to attract buyers. That includes its styling, which is far more individual than its predecessor’s and bound to appeal to a wide audience. Whichever of the two engines you choose, you’ll find the Picanto easy to drive around town thanks to its compact size and accurate steering. These virtues are equally relevant out of town, too, where drivers will enjoy the impressive grip and well controlled body. Inside, Kia has ensured that the latest Picanto can compete with European rivals for quality. Its dashboard and doors are nicely finished, and the materials are pleasant to touch. The Picanto is one of the more accommodating city cars, with five doors and five seats. It’s not especially wide, so three adults may be a little cramped in the rear, but three children of varying ages will be content back there. Its boot is almost as big as a supermini’s, too. The entry-level model is attractively priced, but the higher trim levels are so much more enjoyable to live with that they offer better value. Buyers will love the seven-inch infotainment screen that’s standard in 3 cars and above; and, while the 2, the next model down, has fewer niceties, it’s easy to recommend over the basic 1. Rounding the package off is a seven-year warranty, while Kia also scored strongly in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
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