Buying A Car - Help me find a car

13 August 2012
How to buy a car

Car buyers have never had it so good in terms of choice and quality. Manufacturers are building ever-safer and ever more fuel-efficient cars.

This level of excellence presents a challenge, though. If every car has something to recommend it, how do you choose one above all others?

Our car reviews can help. The experience and objectivity of What Car?'s team of road testers has been distilled into reviews of more than 4000 cars. Complementing our findings are the real-world experiences of real-world owners, in's reader reviews section.

We put cars into categories to help you see cars similar to any that you are interested in. Our categories are

The best superminis are small cars with big appeal and low buying and running costs. Easy to park too, cars included in this group include Audi A1, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i10 and VW Polo.

Small family cars
The typical family hatchbabck, these cars are roomy and safe that are also affordable to own. Cars in this category include: Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus, Hyuindai i30 and Volkswagen Golf.

Family cars
These have the space and practicality to cope with family life. Popular company car buys too. We class the following as family cars: Ford Mondeo, Mazda 6, Toyota Avensis, Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat.

Executive cars and compact executives
These are the must-haves of the company car park. Cars inlcuded here include the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, as well as the bigger Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF.

Estate cars
A big boot comes as standard, but the best estate cars have sensible running costs, too. The best include: Ford Mondeo Estate, BMW 5 Series Touring review and Skoda Octavia Estate

Luxury cars
Whether you driving or being driven, these are sumptuous crusiers to waft along in, cars such as Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S-Class, Rolls-Royce Phantom

Perfect for transporting your family and their stuff. The best ones have a flexible seating layout, too, such as the Citroen C3 Picasso, Peugeot 5008 and Seat Alhambra

Crossovers have muscular looks and the high-riding driving position of a 4x4, but the best versions come in two-wheel-drive and subsequently lower running costs. Crossover cars inlcude the Audi Q3, Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5.

Go-anywhere capability, rugged looks and the best 4x4s don't have punishing running costs either. The best examples of 4x4s include the BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Evoque.

The best coupes are great looking sports cars that combine fantastic performance with decent practicality and include the Audi TT, Toyota GT86 and VW Scirocco.

These cars and ideal for sunny days and winter blasts. The best drop tops include the Mazda MX-5, Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet and Porsche Boxster

Performance cars
Cars that you can depend on to give you a thrill, think Audi R8, McLaren MP4-12C and Porsche 911.

Next, it's time to start refining your search. If you're at the very start of the car-buying process, with no preferred make or model,'s Reviews section gets you started with a simple set of first-search choices. You can choose by price (from £4000 to £100,000+), new or used, bodystyle, fuel consumption, or by features (such as cars with automatic gearboxes, parking sensors, leather seats etc).

How to buy a car

Once you've decided on a make and model of car, you can go straight to its specific What Car? Review.

The first page of every Review gives you a 'for' and 'against' summary, an overall verdict and star rating. The Volkswagen Up, for example, is described as 'a funky-looking city car, which is economical, spacious and good to drive'. On the negative side, it's 'a bit pricey compared with some rivals and the lower-powered engine can struggle on the motorway'. This is followed by the five-star rating and verdict of the Up as 'the best city car on the market'.

For more detail, clicking on the Full Review tab reveals a comprehensive nine-point review covering the topics that are most pertinent to car buyers: Performance, Ride & Handling, Refinement, Buying & Owning, Quality & Reliability, Safety & Security, Behind The Wheel, Space & Practicality, and Equipment.

Each topic is written from a car buyer's perspective. That means straightforward descriptions in plain, jargon-free English. The Performance section won't tell you how the car behaves while being hurled around a race circuit, instead you'll get real-world view about how the car's engine variants cope with driving in town, rural and motorway environments.

Ride & Handling will let you know how a car feels on Britain's less than perfect roads, rather than on a millpond-smooth test track in Italy. We'll tell you if the suspension makes the car feel comfortable or firm and what the car's steering is like.

Cabin noise and smoothness are covered in Refinement.

In Buying & Owning, the cost of buying and running the car are explored. This looks at all fiscal elements, such as purchase price, resale value, servicing costs, along with the financial implications of fuel economy and emissions.

Quality & Reliability are important elements of the overall ownership proposition, so this section tells you about the standard of the car's materials and how well they're put together. We'll also reveal how the car fares in reliability and customer satisfaction surveys.

Safety & Security are crucial, so here you'll learn about the car's crash-test rating, along with its safety provisions both passive (airbags) and active (eg traction control, anti-lock braking, and stability control).

Behind The Wheel looks at the car's controls and how easy (or not) they are to use and the driving position.

Space & Practicality broadens the picture to tell you how well a car works for every passenger, not just the driver.

Finally, Equipment gives an overview of what's in the car, and what could be in it with some of the options boxes ticked.

Prices and specs
Separate tabs will also push users to the Prices & Specs of every version of a car offered by a manufacturer, a gallery of Photos, and more often than not a Video review.

You can also get the benefit of more than 20,000 car buyers who have uploaded reviews of their cars to Just hit the User review tab to read their insight.

Users can also contrast a car's Equipment, Running Costs and Performance & Measurements with up to two separate cars by clicking the Compare tab. That will call up a wealth of easily compared information for all three cars; including the availability of options, running costs over three years, and interior dimensions. Thanks to this Compare function, battling your way through a succession of manufacturer's websites becomes a thing of the past.

Still not enough detail for you? We aim to review every car on sale in the UK today and if you go to the prices and specs tab you will see a list of the variants available in a car's range. Click on any of these links and you'll see a review of that particular version, pricing information and comprehensive data on the car, including exact equipment specification, insurance and fuel economy figures, dimensions, weights and performance stats.

Next step: Motability Scheme explained >>

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