Britain’s best cars 2019: mid-year update
We reveal our top picks from each car class In January, we named the best cars in every class at our annual awards. But what do we recommend now?...
Every January, What Car? announces its award winners – the best cars you can buy in every class in the UK.
But plenty of new models have been launched since the 2019 event – and some of them have usurped the award winners already.
So, let’s take a look at the current crop of cars that can legitimately be called the best you can buy. Prices indicated are our current Target Prices – the most you'll pay if you buy through our New Car Buying service.
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The overall City Car winner remains… the Kia Picanto 1.25 3 (£13,172)
No pretenders to the city car throne have been launched recently, so the Picanto retains its title with its great recipe of space, performance, comfort and equipment. The lengthy spec list and high-quality interior help to seal the deal.
The 3 trim comes with all the kit you’re likely to want, including rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and a responsive infotainment system that includes smartphone mirroring.
The seats are comfortable and the Picanto is good to drive, with agile handling and a fairly composed ride. Meanwhile, Kia’s reliability record is enviable; it came fourth out of 31 brands in our latest survey. It beats every other marque on the market with its impressive seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, too.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £9000: Suzuki Celerio 1.0 SZ2 (£8999)
BEST BUY - £9000-£11,000: Skoda Citigo MPI 60 Greentech SE 5dr (£10,515)
The overall small car winner remains… the Volkswagen Polo TSI 95 SE (£15,411)
The Polo sets the standard for comfort and refinement, while its frugal 1.0-litre petrol engine and strong resale values make it a good long-term buy, and Volkswagen has kept the pricing sensible.
The Polo’s standard spec is far from stingy if you go for our favoured SE model, plus it has a classier dashboard and a more comfortable ride, and it holds its value better.
As for which Polo you should go for, it’s hard to look past the turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, because it’s punchy from low revs, eager to spin up to its redline and remarkably efficient in the real world.
Add in a spacious interior, intuitive infotainment and great refinement and it’s easy to see why the Polo sees off not just the Ibiza but all its rivals in this price bracket.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £12,000: Dacia Sandero 0.9 TCe 90 Essential (£8,720)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £15,000: Audi A1 Sportback 30 TFSI Sport (£19,374)
The overall family car winner remains… the Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI 150 SE L (£21,093)
Despite undercutting the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, it has more rear leg room than many executive saloons. The Octavia’s boot is also huge; indeed, we managed to fit 11 carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf, one more than the enormous Audi Q7 SUV swallowed.
The Octavia also has a comfortable ride, a substantial equipment list and, if you go for our recommended 1.5-litre petrol engine, punchy performance. The Octavia is beginning to fall behind some of its rivals in terms of standard safety kit, but it ranked ninth in class in the 2018 What Car? Reliability Survey, while Skoda came an impressive seventh out of 31 brands, well ahead of Ford and Volkswagen.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £20,000: Kia Ceed 1.0 T-GDi 118 2 (£17,400)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £28,000: Mercedes-Benz A-Class A250 AMG Line (£28,005)
The small SUV class has a new champion – out goes the Seat Arona, and in comes the new Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSi 95 SE (£18,441)
Sister car to the Arona it may be, but the T-Cross has more space inside and comes with a sliding rear bench as standard. It may not be as agile as the Arona, but still handles tidily. While a more comfortable ride and quiet cruising manners make it a fine companion for covering big miles.
With a generous level of standard equipment, there’s no better small SUV for the money.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £15,000: Suzuki Ignis 1.2 Dualjet SHVS 2WD SZ5 (£13,646)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £20,000: Volkswagen T-Roc 1.5 TSI Evo Design (£23,098)
The overall family SUV winner remains… the Volvo XC40 D3 R-Design FWD Geartronic (£30,726)
The XC40 has a plush and high-quality interior, with a big boot and comfortable ride. In our favourite R-Design trim, it gets plenty of luxuries, such as cruise control, a digital instrument display and leather seats. Plus (it is a Volvo, after all) it recorded an outstanding Euro NCAP crash test result and comes with an impressive list of active safety aids.
It’s not been without its challengers in the past year or so, either – most notably the new Audi Q3. But the XC40’s superior ride and smoother engines ensure that it maintains its position at the very top of its price point.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £18,000: Dacia Duster Blue dCi 115 4x2 Essential (£13,572)
BEST BUY - £18,000-£30,000: Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150 SE L (£24,261)
The overall large SUV winner remains… the Peugeot 5008 Puretech 130 Allure (£27,133)
The Peugeot 5008 still stands out, being stylish and among the most practical. Seven seats are standard, with those in the middle row individually sliding and reclining and the third row usable. A 1.2-litre petrol engine might seem weedy for a car of this size, but you’d be surprised.
Peugeot’s smooth turbocharged unit is gutsy enough for quiet, relaxed motorway cruising, plus it’s capable of excellent economy, so you needn’t pay for one of the bigger options. Second-tier Allure trim remains our pick, because it’s loaded with kit, including parking sensors at each end and a rear-view camera.
The 5008’s interior features plush materials and a quirky but effective driving environment. This is an incredibly versatile car for what is still a reasonable price.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £28,000: Mazda CX-5 2.0 Skyactiv-G 165 2WD SE-L Nav+ (£24,143)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £35,000: Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro Sport (£37,804)
The overall sports SUV winner remains… the Cupra Ateca 300 (£35,385)
No other sports SUV offers anywhere near as much pace for less than £40,000. The reason it’s so fast, reaching 62mph from rest in just 5.2sec, is a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which it shares with Volkswagen’s Golf R flagship hot hatch.
Indeed, the Cupra Ateca will out-accelerate anything from the Honda Civic Type R to the Porsche Macan, which costs £10,000 more. The Cupra car’s body is propped up excellently through fast corners. Accurate and well-weighted steering adds to the fun. And yet when the suspension is in the softer of its two settings, the ride doesn’t feel any firmer than the Seat Ateca’s. The only thing that really disappoints is the exhaust note, but then again only compared with bigger-engined SUVs that cost a lot more.
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £60,000: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo 510 Q4 (£62,001)
BEST BUY - £40,000-£60,000: BMW X3 M40i (£50,757)
The overall luxury SUV winner remains… the Audi Q7 45 TDI quattro S line (£51,869)
The Audi Q7 is so much more than just a big SUV with a posh badge. Not only does it ride like a limousine, accelerate like a hot hatch and accommodate people and luggage better than most MPVs, but it also delivers a level of cruising refinement that some cars costing twice as much can’t match.
The 3.0-litre V6 engine is so smooth and muted on the move that you’re barely aware it’s running at all, and it’s better at shutting out wind and road noise than rivals. This good news continues inside. Its conservative design is logical, and the precise action with which the buttons and dials scattered across it operate puts a few Swiss watch makers to shame. To top all that off, the Q7’s rotary dial-operated infotainment is one of the most intuitive systems around.
BEST BUY - £60,000-£100,000: Land Rover Discovery SDV6 HSE Luxury (£66,971)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £100,000: Bentley Bentayga V8 (£139,090)
The overall MPV winner remains… the Citroën Berlingo Puretech 110 Feel M (£17,497)
The smallest version of the Citroën Berlingo has a larger boot than the massive (and much more expensive) Audi Q7. High-mounted seats and a seriously lofty roofline mean you get a great view out of the tall windows and you won’t wreck your back when you’re lifting children in and out.
Handily, all versions get sliding rear doors to make dealing with tight spaces easier, too. Although a range of frugal diesel engines is available, we’d recommend plumping for the 1.2-litre petrol engine.
A turbo means it’s muscular enough to deal with a full load, while its diminutive size helped it return more than 40mpg in our True MPG testing. There’s also a longer XL version with a third row that’s genuinely big enough for two tall adults.
BEST BUY - £20,000-£30,000: Volkswagen Touran 1.6 TDI 115 SE (£23,971)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £30,000: Ford Galaxy 2.0 Ecoblue 150 Zetec (£30,148)
The overall estate car winner remains… the Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology (£25,810)
This car’s boot is so big that you could probably earn some extra cash by offering it up as a part-time live music venue. Rear seats up or down, it absolutely wipes the floor with any estate car rival you could choose to name. In the back seats, you’ll be able to stretch out and relax in the kind of comfort you’d expect in a limo on the way to an A-list red carpet event.
But it isn’t just space where the Superb excels. It rides smoothly, too, and the 2.0-litre diesel engine easily manages motorway trips or B-road overtakes, with plenty of low-end pulling power to ensure it’ll manage even if you’re carrying your family and a small sofa.
Opt for company-car-driver-focused SE Technology trim and you’ll get an 8.0in touchscreen system with sat-nav, a comfortable electrically adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, and roof rails. The Superb Estate strikes the sweet spot of practicality, comfort, low running costs and value.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £18,000: Skoda Fabia Estate 1.0 TSI 95 SE (£15,384)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £30,000: BMW 5 Series Touring 520d SE (£34,232)
The overall pick-up winner remains…the Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI BMT 204 4Motion Trendline auto (£32,739)
The Amarok is a truck you can use every day, and with a growing number of people buying these loadluggers as ‘lifestyle vehicles’. The Amarok is by far the best-riding pick-up on sale. Better yet, you can’t go wrong on engine choice, with even the 161bhp version of the 3.0-litre V6 pulling stoically regardless of payload.
Indeed, our only criticism is of that unit is the woolly six-speed manual gearbox to which it’s linked, so we recommend the 201bhp version with the flawless eight-speed automatic. As a bonus, it boosts maximum payload to a very impressive 1146kg.
The Amarok’s bombproof interior manages to look both upmarket and reassuringly robust. Plus, it’s vast in size, offering the widest interior of any pick-up currently on sale. As a result, fitting three people across that rear bench a breeze.
If you want a pick-up that can put in a hard shift during the week and then be family transport at the weekend, look no further than the Amarok.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £25,000: Ssangyong Musso 2.2 EX auto (£20,480)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £30,000: Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI BMT 204 4Motion Trendline auto (£32,739)
The overall executive car winner remains...the BMW 3 Series 320d Sport auto (£35,575)
The new 3 Series offers chassis dynamism that will plaster a big smile across your face. It’s the best-steering BMW of recent times and matches this with stellar body control and plenty of grip. Despite all that, it still manages to serve up a comfortable ride and relaxing refinement when you’re on the motorway.
In addition to making a strong 187bhp, our recommended 320d model’s diesel engine is impressively efficient, while Sport trim gets you a great contingent of standard kit. Add to all that a class-leading infotainment system, plenty of space front and rear and a comfortable driving position and you can see why the new 3 Series is so deeply impressive.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £25,000: Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology (£24,965)
BEST BUY - £25,000-£30,000: Audi A3 Saloon 35 TFSI Sport (£26,025)
The overall luxury car winner remains…the BMW 5 Series 520d SE (£34,232)
Powered by a punchy yet frugal 2.0-litre diesel engine, the 520d will swoosh along pretty much any road more calmly and quietly than its rivals, and if you factor in its impeccable driving position, piloting a 5 Series is as relaxing as a Swedish massage.
Speaking of which, massaging seats are on the options list, but you get plenty of other equipment as standard, including what is easily the best infotainment system in the class; it’s so simple to use, despite being loaded with features.
Heck, you can even impress your friends by turning up the volume or switching things on and off by waving your hands around, using the optional gesture control. The BMW 5 Series really does have something for everyone.
BEST BUY - £40,000-£60,000: BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo 630d SE (£46,068)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £60,000: Audi A8 50 TDI quattro Long Wheelbase (£61,057)
There’s a new hybrid champion in the shape of the new Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-I Hybrid Icon Tech (£24,097)
The new Corolla has usurped the crown previously held by the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Premium. Why? It’s a big step on from the Auris it replaced, and it’s not just a great hybrid but a great family hatchback full stop. On our Test MPG cycle the car returned an impressive 60.6mpg, a figure that will actually improve around town.
Racking up the miles shouldn’t be a hardship, thanks to a good driving position and comfortable ride, while Toyota’s reliability record is excellent.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £20,000: Toyota Yaris Hybrid Icon (£17,131)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £30,000: Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD SR (£35,233)
The overall electric car winner remains…the Kia e-Niro First Edition (£36,495)
The e-Niro offers a worldclass 253-mile real-world range at a keen price point. But it’s also a fine car because it has loads of luxuries as standard, including keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control, a sunroof, leather seats (heated in the front) and a heated steering wheel.
It rides bumps more comfortably, is more composed through the corners, has more space and feels more premium inside. It’s definitely the best sub-£60,000 electric car you can buy, and we liked it so much it captured the overall crown of What Car? Car of the Year 2019. We think Kia’s success in making a long-range electric car that’s within the reach of many deserves enormous credit.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £30,000: Renault Zoe R110 Dynamique Nav (£19,177)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £60,000: Jaguar I-Pace EV400 S (£64,495)
The overall convertible winner remains…the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet S560 AMG Line (£101,393)
From its exceptional ride comfort to its luxurious and spacious interior, the S-Class Cabriolet is an utterly fantastic drop-top. Contrary to the Mini Convertible, it shows practically no sign of its reduced rigidity, and unlike smaller drop-tops, it has enough space inside to allow three passengers to lounge and bring all their things.
Add in performance that rivals sports cars, one of the smoothest engines there is and exceptional refinement and you can easily see why the S-Class Cabriolet is our favourite convertible.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £25,000: Mini Convertible (£18,780)
BEST BUY - £25,000-£50,000: Audi A3 Cabriolet 35 TFSI Sport (£28,297)
The overall hot hatch winner remains…the Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT (£32,750)
No other current hot hatch comes close to matching the accessible thrills of the Civic Type R. Put it on a race track with some supercars and it’s capable of producing even higher cornering speeds, yet it’s not so hardcore that it makes for a compromised road car; far from it.
When you’re done having your fun, you can simply soften off the suspension and the Type R becomes a regular, perfectly civilised Civic again, delivering 35mpg. It’s going to take a truly exceptional car to topple it.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £22,000: Ford Fiesta ST ST-2 Performance Pack 3dr (£20,452)
BEST BUY - £22,000-£27,000: Hyundai i30 N 2.0 T-GDi 250 (£24,978)
There’s a new sheriff in the coupe town, and its name is the Audi TT 45TFSI Quattro Sport S tronic (£34,473)
Yes, the new facelifted TT has kicked off its sibling the A5 coupé from the coupe crown. Why? This improved version has once again confirmed its status as the best of its breed. As well as having a gorgeous, high-tech interior, the TT is quick and great to drive.
It’s even relatively practical, thanks to an easy-to-access boot, even if rear seats are cramped. When you consider how well priced it is and how well it’ll hold its value, the TT is actually something of a bargain.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £30,000: BMW 2 Series 218i Sport (£24,649)
BEST BUY - £30,000-£50,000: Audi A5 Coupé 40 TFSI Sport (£31,390)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £50,000: Aston Martin DB11 V8 (£149,770)
The overall sports car winner remains…the Alpine A110 Pure (£46,905)
Alpine may have lain dormant since 1995, but its reborn A110 is a real triumph. By focusing on engagement over outright ability, it’s a car that entertains its driver at sensible speeds. Sure, the MX-5 does that rather well too, but where that car can lose composure when you’re pushing on, the A110 just gets better the harder you try.
Yes, the McLaren 570S is more at home on a racing track thanks to its stiffer suspension and grippier tyres, but ask yourself this: how often can you use all that performance on the road? With that in mind, the most intoxicatingly brilliant B-road assassin, the A110, has to win.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £30,000: Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav+ (£22,312)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £60,000: McLaren 570S Coupé (£150,870)
The overall performance car winner remains…the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo 510 (£62,001)
It’s often said that getting to the top is easier than staying there. So by that reckoning, the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s continued category win is arguably a greater success than its first. But it should be no surprise. We’re talking about a comfortable, spacious, well-equipped saloon that’s more fun to drive than the cheaper but less involving Kia Stinger GT S and almost as fast as the nearly £40,000 more expensive Mercedes E63 S Estate.
That it can’t quite match our other contenders for quality hardly matters; you’ll be having too much fun to care.
BEST BUY - LESS THAN £50,000: Kia Stinger 3.3 T-GDi GT S (£40,575)
BEST BUY - MORE THAN £80,000: Mercedes-AMG E-Class Estate E63 S 4Matic+ (£88,932)