What Car? Awards 2021: The best cars you can buy

Join us for a close look at all the winners of the What Car? Awards for 2021 - including our new Car of the Year...

Every year since 1978, What Car? has chosen the cars it thinks are the finest currently on sale.

What Car? Car of the Year 2021 Long List compilation image

For many years we have celebrated the event at a glitzy event at London’s Grosvenor House hotel, confirming the event as the Oscar night of the British motor industry. Unfortunately for reasons we all know that didn’t happen this year. Instead we’ve been announcing the winners in every class over the past few days.

And these are the winners - including our overall Car of the Year for 2021. If you’re thinking about buying that car you put off buying in 2020, this is the only guide you need:

BEST SMALL CAR: Dacia Sandero - 1.0 TCe 90 Comfort

Small Car of the Year 2021 - Dacia Sandero

The Sandero has been a perennial nominee at our Car of the Year Awards since it first arrived in Britain in 2013. But while it’s always been massively cheaper than anything else, it used to feel like a car from a bygone era, so it never came close to winning its class. But this all-new version is different. Based on the latest Renault Clio, it now feels thoroughly modern. Indeed, the latest Sandero is surprisingly decent to drive, with its soft suspension making it a relaxing companion at all speeds. It also matches the class best for rear head room and has a bigger boot than any of its rivals.

BEST SMALL CAR: Dacia Sandero - 1.0 TCe 90 Comfort

Dacia Sandero 2021 Dashboard

You can spend as little as £7995 and still get modern safety aids, including automatic emergency braking, as well as niceties such as LED headlights. But we’d go for the punchier 0.9 TCe turbocharged petrol engine and top-spec Comfort trim, which gets you an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone mirroring, cruise control, keyless entry, parking sensors and even a reversing camera. When a similarly well-equipped Volkswagen Polo costs almost £20k, it isn’t hard to see why the Sandero is our Small Car of the Year.

List price: £11,595
Target Price: £11,595
Target PCP: na
Performance:  0-62mph: 11.7sec, Top speed: 111mph
Official economy: 53.3mpg, CO2 120g/km
Company car tax band: 27%
Insurance group: na
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR THE CITY: HYUNDAI I10
BEST FOR PRACTICALITY: HONDA JAZZ
BEST TO DRIVE: FORD FIESTA
BEST INTERIOR: MINI 3DR COOPER

FAMILY CAR: Seat Leon 1.5 TSI 130 Evo FR

Family Car of the Year 2021 - Seat Leon

Against such talented family hatchback rivals as the BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus and Skoda Scala, a car has to be really quite special to come out on top. And the latest Seat Leon is just that. For starters, it gets the basics right by offering a big boot and even more room for rear seat passengers than the Skoda Octavia. In addition, it’s very well priced, while the punchy turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that we recommend won’t pinch too much of your cash at the pumps.

Don’t go thinking that the Leon feels even remotely hairshirt, though. It’s every bit as smart as the more expensive Volkswagen Golf inside, while its infotainment system is more user-friendly and it comes laden with standard equipment.

FAMILY CAR: Seat Leon 1.5 TSI 130 Evo FR

2020 Seat Leon dashboard

The Leon is terrific to drive, too, with lively handling that makes every journey enjoyable, yet without the uncomfortable ride that you might reasonably expect as a trade-off. All of this adds up to an incredible all-rounder – one that excels as a family car and serves up a very welcome slice of fun at the same time, all while costing less than you’d think. No wonder it’s our winner.

List price: £23,515
Target Price: £21,176
Target PCP: £226 per month
Performance - 0-62mph: 9.4sec Top speed: 130mph
Official economy: 50.4mpg, CO2 127g/km
Company car tax band: 28%
Insurance group: 19
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: SKODA SCALA
BEST TO DRIVE: FORD FOCUS
BEST INTERIOR: BMW 1 SERIES

BEST HOT HATCH: Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Circuit Pack

Hot Hatch of the Year 2021 - Toyota GR Yaris

Don’t let the fact that it shares a name with Toyota’s regular five-door Yaris hatchback fool you; the GR Yaris is a truly special machine. Built by Toyota’s racing arm, Gazoo Racing (hence the GR nomenclature), the GR Yaris was designed to satisfy World Rally Championship (WRC) regulations stipulating that any competition car must share a certain number of components with a car that you can buy in a showroom.

BEST HOT HATCH: Toyota GR Yaris 1.6 Circuit Pack

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 RHD dashboard

The result feels tailor-made for tackling a modern B-road. With its small proportions, four-wheel drive traction and firecracker of an engine, the GR’s performance is just as accessible as a Ford Fiesta ST’s, yet it has a turn of pace to frighten thoroughbred sports cars. And while a Honda Civic Type R might be a couple of tenths quicker around a race track, the GR’s cornering repertoire is more three-dimensional; its clever ‘GR-Four’ four-wheel drive system allows you to readily explore the limits at normal road speeds. For pure driving thrills, hot hatches don’t get any better. And the best bit is that the GR isn’t just cheaper than the Type R to buy; in the real world, it should also prove cheaper to run.

List price: £33,495
Target Price: £33,495
Target PCP: £355 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 5.5sec Top speed: 142mph
Official economy: 34.4mpg, CO2 186g/km
Company car tax band: 37%
Insurance group: 36
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: FORD FIESTA ST
BEST FOR PRACTICALITY: HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: MERCEDES-AMG A45 S 4 MATIC+

BEST SMALL SUV: Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid 155 Titanium

Small SUV of the Year 2021 - Ford Puma ST

You could easily accuse the entire small SUV class of trying too hard to be everything to everyone. Compact yet practical, sporty yet efficient, stylish yet affordable… it’s rare that a car can genuinely combine all these virtues, but the Ford Puma does. That’s why it won our overall 2020 Car of the Year award, and why it remains our pick of the small SUV class despite an influx of new arrivals, including the latest Renault Captur.

Not only does the Puma excel on the handling front, but it’s also fairly comfortable and has some of the finest engines, courtesy of mild hybrid technology that delivers impressive efficiency as well as performance.

BEST SMALL SUV: Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid 155 Titanium

Ford Puma 2021 dashboard

Those swoopy looks don’t compromise interior space, either, and there’s a huge, handy underfloor compartment that makes the Puma surprisingly practical. Our rundown of winning small SUVs shows that certain alternatives excel in specific disciplines; there’s the remarkably roomy Skoda Kamiq and the dinky yet tough Suzuki Ignis, to name just two. But nothing ticks all the boxes quite like the Puma.

List price: £22,790
Target Price: £21,203
Target: PCP £250 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 8.9sec Top speed: 124mph
Official economy: 50.4mpg, CO2 127g/km
Company car tax band: 28%
Insurance group: 14
Euro NCAP rating (2019): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: SUZUKI IGNIS
BEST FOR PRACTICALITY: SKODA KAMIQ
BEST FOR COMFORT: VOLKSWAGEN T-ROC
BEST INTERIOR: AUDI Q2

BEST FAMILY SUV: Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design auto

Family SUV of the Year 2021 - Volvo XC40

Volvo’s family SUV is just as classy inside as the Range Rover Evoque, yet it’s more reliable. It’s as spacious as the Skoda Karoq, yet it’s better to drive. And while it’s not as bargain orientated as the Dacia Duster, it’s competitively priced next to its key rivals, whether you buy outright or on a PCP finance deal. Were we to leave our deliberations there, the XC40 might sneak the class win by bringing together the best attributes of our other contenders into one package. But when you also factor in its exceptional standard safety kit, which includes traffic sign recognition and a system that can intervene if you turn into the path of oncoming traffic, it pulls out a clear lead.

BEST FAMILY SUV: Volvo XC40 T3 R-Design auto

Volvo XC40 2020 RHD dashboard

Our favourite 1.5-litre petrol engine has plenty of poke for most buyers’ needs, while sporty R-Design trim, with leather trim, privacy glass and even ambient interior lighting, won’t leave you wanting for kit. The biggest boon, however, is that R-Design cars get sports suspension that makes for a supremely comfortable ride and more composed handling than other XC40s. As a family SUV, it has a level of versatility that would make the Swiss Army proud.

List price: £33,545
Target Price: £31,450
Target PCP: £309 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.6sec Top speed: 112mph
Official economy: 38.2mpg, CO2 166g/km
Company car tax band: 36%
Insurance group: 23
Euro NCAP rating (2018): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: DACIA DUSTER
BEST INTERIOR: RANGE ROVER EVOQUE
BEST FOR PRACTICALITY: SKODA KAROQ

BEST LARGE SUV: Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Hybrid 2

Large SUV of the Year 2021 - Kia Sorento

The previous Kia Sorento was a hugely practical SUV with enough room for seven adults, and the  latest model matches it in that respect. Indeed, its third row is far more accommodating than those of rivals that include the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq. However, unlike the old Sorento, the new car is available as a hybrid, so it combines good real-world fuel economy with comparatively low CO2 emissions. And this setup doesn’t just aid efficiency; the petrol engine, electric motor and automatic gearbox work very well together, delivering smooth progress and punchy performance.

BEST LARGE SUV: Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Hybrid 2

2021 Kia Sorento dashboard

Comfort is another Sorento strength, particularly if you stick with entry-level 2 trim, because this gets smaller wheels and chunkier, more forgiving tyres than pricier versions. Meanwhile, the steering allows you to place the car confidently on a country road but is still easy to twirl at town speeds. Throw in a nicely made and well equipped interior, a driving position that’s lofty enough to make HGV drivers jealous and Kia’s unmatched seven-year warranty, and the Sorento is an outstanding all-rounder.

List price: £38,845
Target Price: £37,903
Target PCP: £388 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 8.7sec Top speed: 119mph
Official economy: 40.9mpg, CO2 158g/km
Company car tax band: 34%
Insurance group: 30
Euro NCAP rating (2020): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: CITROEN C5 AIRCROSS
BEST INTERIOR: AUDI Q5
BEST FOR OFF-ROADING: LAND ROVER DEFENDER

READER'S CHOICE WINNER: Alfa Romeo Tonale

Car of the Year 2021 - Alfa Romeo Tonale

This award goes to the car What Car? readers are most looking forward to in 2021, as voted online. If you want to get a sense of the scale of Alfa Romeo’s victory here, consider this: the Tonale garnered more than twice as many votes as the second-placed car. Clearly, readers are excited about the idea of a new family SUV bearing the Alfa Romeo badge.

And so they should be, because the plug-in hybrid Tonale is the most advanced car the Italian brand has ever made. It’s expected to combine a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine with an electric motor to produce at least 240bhp and offer an official electric range of more than 30 miles, making it potentially very cheap to run if you can charge it regularly and do mostly short trips. The exterior isn’t expected to change much compared with the 2019 concept car (pictured), while the interior features a 12.3in digital instrument cluster, a 10.3in touchscreen infotainment system and high-end materials that will help the Tonale to compete with premium rivals such as the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque, as well as the Volvo XC40, our current favourite family SUV.

2nd: Ioniq 5
3rd: BMW i4

BEST EXECUTIVE CAR: BMW 3 Series 330e M Sport

Executive Car of the Year 2021 - BMW 3 Series

The 3 Series has been collecting awards for generations now, and this latest iteration has polished what has proved to be a successful formula to an irresistible sheen. Driver involvement has always been key to the 3 Series’ appeal, and the latest model remains beautifully balanced, responsive and, above all, fun. And, if you add the optional adaptive suspension (part of the M Sport Pro Package), you get a smooth ride, with the option to firm things up on a country road at the touch of a button.

BEST EXECUTIVE CAR: BMW 3 Series 330e M Sport

BMW 3 Series Saloon 2019 dashboard RHD

As ever, there’s a broad range of petrol engines, with the rapid M340i crowning the range until the new M3 super-saloon arrives. Diesel devotees have plenty of choice, too; the 320d managed an impressive 47.2mpg in our True MPG test, and there’s a grunty M340d for those with speedier tastes. It’s the plug-in hybrid 330e that lifts the executive car trophy, though. It’s more efficient than its Volvo S60 T8 rival – promising tax savings for company car drivers – and is a better car to drive than both the S60 and the Mercedes-Benz C300de.

List price: £44,635
Target Price: £41,683
Target PCP: £459 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 5.8sec Top speed: 142mph
Official economy: 188.3mpg, CO2 34g/km
Company car tax band: 10%
Insurance group: 33
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: SKODA SUPERB
BEST FOR COMFORT: AUDI A4

BEST PLUG-IN HYBRID: Skoda Octavia Estate 1.4 TSI iV SE Technology

Plug-in Hybrid of the Year - Skoda Octavia iV Estate

Like a leading brand of washing up liquid, the Skoda Octavia Estate proves that a little goes a long way. It’s money and petrol that we’re talking about here, though. The iV model is one of the more expensive Octavias, but it’s still one of the cheaper plug-in hybrids out there, and for many the investment will pay back dividends. Its official 282.5mpg fuel economy shows what’s possible if you do lots of short journeys, while a combination of an official electric range of 41 miles and CO2 emissions of 31g/km allows the Octavia to drop into the exceptionally low 6% benefit-in-kind bracket.

BEST PLUG-IN HYBRID: Skoda Octavia Estate 1.4 TSI iV SE Technology

Skoda Octavia hatchback 2020 RHD dashboard

This pares company car tax payments to the bone, yet the car can still dash from 0-62mph in a nippy 7.8sec – a consequence of its innards being related to those of the sporty Volkswagen Golf GTE. You also get the usual Octavia fringe benefits, including loads of standard equipment (among its  highlights, SE Technology trim gives you a digital instrument panel, parking sensors all round and a 10.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav) and masses of interior space. On top of that, the estate version gives you a boot in which you could build a barn.

List price: £31,745
Target Price: £31,745
Target PCP: na
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.8sec Top speed: 136mph
Official economy: 282.5mpg, CO2 23g/km
Company car tax band: 6%
Insurance group: 21
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST TO DRIVE: BMW 3 SERIES 330E M SPORT
BEST FOR LONG DISTANCES: FORD KUGA 2.5 PHEV VIGNALE
BEST INTERIOR: BMW X5

BEST SMALL ELECTRIC CAR: Volkswagen ID.3 Pro Performance Life

Small Electric Car of the Year - Volkswagen ID.3

Having taken victory in our group test against the Citroën e-C4 and Kia e-Niro, Volkswagen’s new family hatchback has emerged as the most well-rounded small electric car you can currently buy. The ID.3’s official 263-mile range is among the best in the class (only the pricier Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro Long Range are better), while the e-Niro Medium Range can’t go anywhere near as far on a charge.

BEST SMALL ELECTRIC CAR: Volkswagen ID.3 Pro Performance Life

Volkswagen ID.3 2020 dashboard

And what of the ID.3’s other key strengths? For a start, there’s its handling; featuring rear-wheel drive, nicely weighted and accurate steering and fine body control, it’s genuinely fun to drive. It’s right at the sharp end for performance, too, matching the acceleration of the e-Niro Long Range and pummelling the rest of its key rivals, including the e-C4 and Peugeot e-208.

Meanwhile, it’s practical enough to stand comparison with the roomiest cars in the class, and it’ll be cheap to run for both company car drivers and private buyers, thanks to minimal benefit-in-kind tax, slow predicted depreciation and competitive PCP finance rates, with even cheaper versions on the way.

List price: £32,990 (before gov’t grant)
Target Price: £32,829
Target PCP: £417
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.3sec Top speed: 99mph
Official range: 263 miles
CO2: 0g/km
Company car tax band: 0%
Insurance group: 27
Euro NCAP rating (2020): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: RENAULT ZOE
BEST FOR THE CITY: FIAT 500
BEST FOR LONG JOURNEYS: Kia e-Niro

BEST LARGE ELECTRIC CAR: Tesla Model 3

Large Electric Car of the Year - Tesla Model 3

Put simply, no large electric car balances range, performance, price and technology as well as the Model 3. It was already hugely compelling, both as a private buy and a company car, but a recent refresh has ensured that it remains at the top of its class. With an official range of 267 miles even for the entry-level model, it outstrips the smaller Volkswagen ID.3, even though it’s barely any more expensive than top-spec versions of the German car. And like the Model X, the Model 3 benefits from Tesla’s unbeatable charging network, so longer trips shouldn’t prove too much of a faff.

BEST LARGE ELECTRIC CAR: Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 dashboard

Naturally, it comes with plenty of driver assistance features, but you’ll also enjoy twirling the steering wheel yourself, thanks to the precision it offers. And while the four-wheel-drive Long Range version offers more traction, you’ll have to be driving rather briskly before that matters. Besides, you’ll pay an extra £6500 for the Long Range’s additional motor and bigger battery, and you can buy a whole lot of kilowatts for that. With plenty of space inside, plus the luxury of two boots, it’s a thoroughly sensible yet desirable choice.

List price: £40,490 (before £3000 gov’t grant)
Target Price: £40,490
Target PCP: na
Performance: 0-60mph: 5.3sec Top speed: 140mph
Official range: 267 miles
CO2: 0g/km
Company car tax band: 0%
Insurance group: 48
Euro NCAP rating (2019): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR COMFORT: AUDI E-TRON
BEST SUV: BMW IX3
BEST FOR BIG FAMILIES: TESLA MODEL X

TRUE MPG AWARD WINNER: Toyota Yaris 1.5 VVT-i Hybrid

True MPG Award winner - Toyota Yaris

While other brands have only recently begun to introduce hybrid technology, Toyota has been offering models with this fuel-saving capability for 20 years, and a hybrid Yaris has been on sale for nearly a decade. However, none of those earlier models was as frugal as this latest Yaris, which is the most fuel-efficient car we’ve ever put through our real-world True MPG test.

Toyota’s hybrid small hatchback is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that’s supplemented by not one but two electric motors and a battery that’s smaller, lighter and yet larger in capacity than those fitted to previous incarnations. The result is that the Yaris has a remarkable ability to sip fuel gently. In town, it achieved 80.0mpg – almost double the economy of  conventionally powered small cars such as the Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen Polo. Although the Yaris isn’t quite as efficient at motorway speeds, its True MPG average of 59.93mpg just pips that of the mild hybrid Suzuki Ignis to set a new benchmark in overall terms.

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR MOTORWAY DRIVING: SUZUKI IGNIS 1.2 DUALJET HYBRID
BEST FOR TOWN DRIVING: TOYOTA RAV4 2.5 VVT-I HYBRID

BEST LUXURY CAR: BMW 5 Series - 530e M Sport

Luxury Car of the Year - BMW 5 Series

The 5 Series was our overall Car of the Year back in 2017 and, helped by a recent refresh, remains the best luxury saloon you can buy. There may be faster and more opulent choices, but the 530e that we recommend can still crack 0-62mph in less than six seconds, while its beautifully finished interior makes you question the need to spend more. As a plug-in hybrid with an official electric range of 36 miles, the 530e can complete many journeys without needing to wake its engine at all. And even when this smooth 2.0-litre petrol unit does fire up, the car is quiet enough to put some full-on limousines to shame.

BEST LUXURY CAR: BMW 5 Series - 530e M Sport

BMW 5 Series 2021 RHD dashboard

The other advantage of the 530e being a plug-in hybrid is that it’s much cheaper than petrol and diesel alternatives if you’re running it as a company car. And yet it’s also more fun to drive than direct rivals such as the Audi A6 50 TFSIe and Mercedes-Benz E300e. Specify it with adaptive suspension (part of the optional M Sport Pro Package) for the best ride and the 530 becomes the supreme luxury package, without the price tag to match.

List price: £54,820
Target Price: £46,872
Target PCP: £506 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 5.9sec Top speed: 146mph
Official economy: 188.3mpg, CO2 34g/km
Company car tax band: 10%
Insurance group: 42
Euro NCAP: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR PERFORMANCE: AUDI S8
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST

BEST LUXURY SUV: BMW X5 xDrive45e M Sport

Luxury SUV of the Year - BMW X5

BMW is making a habit of producing outstanding plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and this X5 is no exception. A smooth six-cylinder petrol engine, paired with an electric motor that gets its energy from a 24kWh battery, helps to deliver a driving experience befitting a luxury SUV. It offers near silent electric power for a staggering 54 miles, according to the official WLTP test, along with far better fuel economy than you’ll get with the other contenders in this class – as long as you keep the battery topped up and mainly do short journeys.

BEST LUXURY SUV: BMW X5 xDrive45e M Sport

LUXURY SUV: BMW X5 xDrive45e M Sport dashboard

This also means that the X5 is in a particularly low (6%) benefit-in-kind tax bracket for company car drivers, making it dramatically cheaper to run than any luxury SUV rivals powered only by petrol or diesel. Its closest plug-in rival is the Audi Q7 55 TFSIe, but that can officially cover only a measly 27 miles solely on electric power. Along with the PHEV benefits, add in this X5’s sublime ride and handling balance, luxurious interior and outstanding infotainment system and it’s clear that this is not just a special plug-in hybrid, but a special luxury SUV in its own right.

List price: £69,915
Target Price: £65,947
Target PCP: £681 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 5.6sec Top speed: 146mph
Official economy: 217.3mpg, CO2 29g/km
Company car tax band: 6%
Insurance group: 49
Euro NCAP rating (2018): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR COMFORT: AUDI Q7
BEST FOR BIG FAMILIES: BMW X7
BEST INTERIOR: ROLLS-ROYCE CULLINAN

WHAT CAR? SAFETY AWARD WINNER: Volkswagen ID.3

Car of the Year Safety Award winner - Volkswagen ID.3

The ID.3 is the first of a whole range of pure electric vehicles being introduced by Volkswagen, so the fact that it’s been designed with a very safe structure that protects its occupants well and keeps the batteries secure in crash tests is a positive sign for future road safety. As well as gaining the highest overall score of all the cars tested under 2020’s new, stricter test regime, the ID.3 was the year’s top scorer in the area of safety assist. That’s an umbrella term for the suite of active safety systems that help to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.

They include automatic emergency braking (AEB), which is standard on the ID.3 and is capable of averting accidents in a range of situations, including when the ID.3 is approaching other cars or turning across the path of an oncoming vehicle. AEB also helps drivers avoid cyclists and pedestrians to the side and in front of the car. The ID.3 performed well in the new mobile progressive deformable barrier crash test, too, providing good protection to its occupants and being fairly benign in the damage it caused to the oncoming vehicle. A centre front airbag is standard on the ID.3, preventing the two front seat passengers from hitting each other during a side-on collision and helping the model to gain a high score in this crash test.

2nd: Toyota Yaris
3rd: Seat Leon

BEST ESTATE: Skoda Superb Estate - 2.0 TDI 150 SE L

Estate Car of the Year 2021 - Skoda Superb Estate

The Superb does everything you’d expect of an estate car, and then a bit extra. The 660-litre boot is enormous but, more than that, useful touches such as bag hooks, a 12V charging port and even a rechargeable torch make all the difference in everyday use. The ‘useful and roomy’ theme continues through the rest of the Superb. Rear passengers get the sort of leg room you expect in something chauffeur-driven, and even the tallest of drivers will be comfortable, thanks to the heated,  electrically adjustable driver’s seat. On top of that, there’s an easy-to-use touchscreen (with sat-nav, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay) which finishes off an interior that looks and feels smart and solid.

BEST ESTATE: Skoda Superb Estate - 2.0 TDI 150 SE L

ESTATE CAR: Skoda Superb Estate iV SE Technology  dashboard

As you’d expect, the Superb is smooth and reassuring to drive, whichever of the many engines you choose. There’s a version for everyone, from plug-in hybrid to high-powered four-wheel drive, but the happiest medium is this punchy yet refined and economical 2.0-litre diesel. Essentially, the Superb Estate is the most complete wagon you’ll find, even before you consider how much it costs. But for this price? There’s no better choice.

List price: £30,600
Target Price: £28,445
Target PCP: £295 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.2sec Top speed: 133mph
Official economy: 56.0mpg, CO2 132g/km
Company car tax band: 29%
Insurance group: 20
Euro NCAP rating (2015): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: SKODA FABIA ESTATE
BEST TO DRIVE: BMW 3 SERIES TOURING
BEST INTERIOR: BMW 5 SERIES TOURING

BEST PICK-UP: Ford Ranger - Double Cab 2.0 Ecoblue 213 Wildtrak auto

Pick-up of the Year 2021 - Ford Ranger

Understandably, there are plenty of pick-up drivers who want a vehicle that has all the comforts and luxuries of a high-class, modern car. After all, pick-ups are often mobile offices as well as transport, and if you’re after maximum convenience in your truck, the Ford Ranger is the one to go for. The full-size rear doors and spacious three-seat rear bench of the doublecab version make it great for family or co-workers, and the Ranger is also the best of the pick-ups to drive. Ride comfort is good, and the high-powered 2.0-litre diesel and 10-speed automatic gearbox offer great performance and efficiency.

BEST PICK-UP: Ford Ranger - Double Cab 2.0 Ecoblue 213 Wildtrak auto

Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3.2 TDCi 200PS - interior

The Ranger doesn’t disappoint when it comes to load capacity, either. It can carry 1024kg in the load bed, and it’ll tow up to 3500kg – albeit not at the same time. Only the rival Ssangyong Musso will do that, but the Ranger is still better to drive and live with. It’s got all the functionality and hard-working nature that defines a great pick-up, but it’s finished for real comfort and ease of use. Our winner is a pick-up to enjoy in life, as well as work.

List price: £39,324 (inc VAT)
Target Price: £39,324
Target PCP: na
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.0sec Top speed: 112mph
Official economy: 30.7mpg, CO2 242g/km
Company car tax band: £3490 flat rate
Insurance group: 39
Euro NCAP rating (2015): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: MITSUBISHI L200
BEST FOR PAYLOAD: SSANGYONG MUSSO

BEST MPV: Volkswagen Touran

MPV of the Year 2021 - Volkswagen Touran

Two years ago, the Berlingo dethroned the Touran to become our favourite MPV, before retaining its title last year. However, the latter is now back on top – and for good reason. The Berlingo’s main advantage was a financial one, but while it remains the cheaper cash buy, it’s actually the Touran that now costs less on a PCP deal, despite offering seven seats to its rival’s five.

The Touran also matches the flexibility of bigger alternatives such as the Galaxy, with its three middlerow seats sliding independently. And despite being a far more compact car, you can still fit adults in all three rows.

BEST MPV: Volkswagen Touran

Volkswagen Touran - interior

Unusually, you also get Isofix fittings on all five rear seats, so the Touran is particularly good for large families with young kids. What’s more, the Touran feels much like a normal hatchback from behind the wheel, thanks to tidy handling and a supple ride. So yes, it exists to offer an abundance of functionality and space, but that doesn’t define the way it drives at all.

Add in a smart interior and a user-friendly infotainment system and the Touran is one of the best family cars out there in any class.

List price: £28,580
Target Price: £23,043
Target PCP: £246 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 8.9sec Top speed: 130mph
Official economy: 42.8mpg, CO2 150g/km
Company car tax band: 33%
Insurance group: 18
Euro NCAP rating (2015): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: CITROËN BERLINGO
BEST FOR BIG FAMILIES: FORD GALAXY

RELIABILITY AWARD WINNER: Lexus

Reliability Award winner - Lexus

Reliability rating: 97% (all cars up to 20 years old)

Lexus has dominated our reliability charts for the past four years, winning outright in three out of four of them. In 2020, when people relied on their cars more than ever, the Japanese luxury brand posted an exemplary reliability rating of 98.7% for cars up to five years old. Even more impressive was the fact that it scored 96.0% for cars between six and 20 years old, most of which were out of the manufacturer’s warranty period. Hybrid technology is at the heart of all Lexus models, and it’s reassuring for car buyers to know that these complex systems, which use a petrol engine and an electric motor, are proving so durable.

One stand-out model is the RX luxury SUV. The current model scored 99.1% in the newer car category, while the previous version, dating back to 2009, wasn’t far behind with 96.8% in the older car chart. Less than 10% of the RXs we were told about had suffered a fault, and 86% of the older generation models that did were fixed at no cost to the owners.

The highest-scoring Lexus of all was the NX large SUV, which posted a creditable 99.3% in the newer car tables. Again, its siblings in the older car chart were trustworthy too; the CT hatchback had a 98.0% rating and the IS saloon 97.6%. Only 4% of CTs went wrong; bodywork was the only problem area, and all repairs were done in a day or less. Although 14% of IS saloons suffered electrical issues, all cars could still be driven and they were all out of the garage in less than a week at no cost to their owners.

It’s a testament to the strong performance of Lexus models that the hybrid class was the most dependable for cars up to five years old, with an overall score of 96.5%.

2nd: Toyota - Reliability rating 94.95%
3rd: Mitsubishi - Reliability rating 94.55%

BEST CONVERTIBLE: Fiat 500 Cabrio Icon

Convertible of the Year 2021 - Fiat 500 Cabrio

The new Fiat 500 Cabrio is all-electric, and that makes it the first battery-powered winner of our Convertible of the Year award – a sign of the times, no doubt. However, don’t think it wins just because its electric power taps into the zeitgeist. Granted, the way you can whizz around seamlessly and near-silently gives it a trump card no other convertible can match, but just as appealing is the beautifully finished interior and the fact that the 500 Cabrio is every bit as good to drive as the hatchback on which it’s based – a rare quality, that.

BEST CONVERTIBLE: Fiat 500 Cabrio Icon

Fiat 500 electric dashboard

It can also travel much farther on a charge than electric rivals such as the Honda E and Mini Electric, neither of which has the added appeal of a convertible roof. In fact, our favoured Icon trim is very well equipped in general, with climate control, cruise control and a big touchscreen infotainment system all standard.

The 500 Cabrio doesn’t shudder or shake along bumpy roads in the way that the Mini Convertible can, and in its own way it’s every bit as refined as the Lexus LC Convertible. Plus, of course, it’s a lot more environmentally friendly than both.

List price: £30,645 (before £3000 gov’t grant)
Target Price: £30,645
Target PCP: na
Performance: 0-62mph: 9.0sec Top speed: 93mph
Official range: 188 miles
CO2: 0g/km
Company car tax band: 0%
Insurance group: na
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: Mini Convertible
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: Lexus LC Convertible

BEST COUPÉ: BMW 4 Series - 420i M Sport

Coupé of the Year 2021 - BMW 4 Series

The BMW 4 Series used to be a swoopier, less practical and yet more expensive version of the 3 Series. Good as it was, it could leave you with a sense that you were paying more for a lesser derivative. Not so with the new 4 Series. Yes, the looks are divisive. But if you like the aggressive styling, you’ll love what’s underneath.

Compared with the 3 Series, the 4 Series gets a wider rear end, stiffer chassis and lower centre of gravity, helping to make this one of the most rewarding driver’s cars in the class, and significantly better than direct rivals such as the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé. With the M Sport Pro Package’s adaptive suspension, it’s also comfortable enough to ease through a weary commute, while remaining alert and fun to drive.

BEST COUPÉ: BMW 4 Series - 420i M Sport

BMW 4 Series Coupé 2021 dashboard

And while the entry-level 420i model needs to be revved, that’s in keeping with the character of a sporty coupé. The interior, too, is ideal for any mood, with supportive seats that give a great view of the user-friendly infotainment screen. It’s a perfectly balanced take on the dual nature that makes for a world-class sports coupé.

List price: £43,285
Target Price: £40,461
Target PCP: £437 per month
0-62mph: 7.5sec Top speed: 149mph
Official economy: 42.2mpg, CO2 151g/km
Company car tax band: 33%
Insurance group: 30
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: AUDI TT
BEST FOR PRACTICALITY: VOLKSWAGEN ARTEON
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: ASTON MARTIN DB11

BEST SPORTS CAR: Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0

Sports Car of the Year - Porsche 718 Cayman GTS

It’d be easy to write off the Cayman as a poor man’s 911. It can be bought for as little as half the money, so it must be half the car, right? Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth; in the ways that matter most, we reckon Porsche’s cheapest model is the best sports car on the planet. Indeed, its balletic cornering skills make its bigger brother – and the Jaguar F-Type, for that matter – feel positively porky.

BEST SPORTS CAR: Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0

Porsche 718 Cayman T 2021 dashboard

There is a caveat, though: you need to go for the newly launched GTS version to experience the Cayman at its brilliant best. Cheaper versions are just as good at going around bends, but they’re blighted by an uncouth four-cylinder engine that’s as appealing to the ears as fingernails on a chalkboard. The GTS, however, gets a glorious 4.0-litre flat six engine, so it sounds as good as it looks. The competition wasn’t exactly weak, either. The Alpine A110, which has won this award for the past two years, put up a strong fight – not least because of its lower price. However, that’s more than offset by the Cayman’s slower depreciation.

List price: £66,385
Target Price: £66,385
Target PCP: £639 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 4.5sec Top speed: 182mph
Official economy: 25.9mpg, CO2 247g/km
Company car tax band: 37%
Insurance group: 46
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: MAZDA MX-5
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: AUDI R8

TECHNOLOGY AWARD WINNER: Tesla - Over-the-air updates

Tesla Model 3 front

If your phone or laptop can download updates wirelessly, why can’t your car? Well, if it’s a Tesla, it can. Tesla has been offering over-the-air updates since 2017, allowing new upgrades and features to be delivered to models wirelessly without owners having to visit a dealer. No fewer than 15 safety upgrades have been made to the Model 3 executive car in 2020, while numerous comfort, convenience and entertainment features have been improved. These upgrades range from notifications that can tell you when you’ve left your car door unlocked, to the ability to set a PIN to keep the contents of your glovebox secure, but it’s the safety improvements that really caught the eyes of our judges.

These allow Tesla’s Autopilot system to slow the car down when you reach a roundabout, for example, or bring the car to a halt if it senses you’re about to go through a red light. Elsewhere, the Model 3 can now show you more road markings, so you’re more aware of your surroundings, and it provides more options to set a cruise control speed by simply tapping an icon on its giant infotainment screen. You can even allow Tesla to view footage from inside your car in the event of an accident. Its experts can analyse this and put their learnings back into developing new safety technology. If you want some idea of how these incremental improvements add up, Thatcham Research, which conducts crash testing in the UK on behalf of Euro NCAP, tested the Model S luxury car’s safety assistance features back in 2014 and it failed to surpass those of rivals by some margin. Today, both the Model S and Model 3 are the benchmarks for those same tests.

Indeed, the Model 3 scored 94% in the driver assistance category in 2019 – a full 14% more than the next best car.

2nd: Polestar 2 - Android Automotive OS voice control
3rd: Volvo - Advanced Interior Air Cleaner

BEST COUPÉ SUV: BMW X6

Coupé SUV of the Year - BMW X6

Finding a car that’s truly ‘unique’ is rare, but when it was launched in 2008, the original BMW X6 was exactly that; the world had never before seen a car that combined chunky SUV proportions with the sloping roofline of a sporty coupé. Without the X6, it’s doubtful this class would even exist. However, the latest version isn’t our 2021 Coupé SUV of the Year for its history but because it moves the game on again. It’s one of the more entertaining cars in the class to drive, making the electric Audi E-tron and conventionally powered rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé and Range Rover Velar feel sloppy by comparison.

BEST COUPÉ SUV: BMW X6

BMW X6 2021 RHD dashboard

Yet you don’t pay for this composure with a punishing ride. The X6 also offers stunning performance, no matter which engine you choose, but we’re particularly keen on the smooth and impressively frugal 30d diesel. Meanwhile, the interior is as easy to use as it is beautifully built, with the X6’s infotainment putting the systems in all other rivals to shame. You even get generous rear space, as long as you avoid the optional Sky Lounge panoramic sunroof.

List price: £66,910
Target Price: £62,838
Target PCP: £595 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 6.1sec Top speed: 146mph
Official economy: 40.4mpg, CO2 184g/km
Company car tax band: 37%
Insurance group: 50
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested yet

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: CITROËN C4
BEST FOR COMFORT: AUDI E-TRON SPORTBACK

SPORTS SUV: Ford Puma ST 1.5 Ecoboost 200 Performance Pack

Sports SUV of the Year 2021 - Ford Puma ST

Until now, buying a sports SUV has required a sizeable outlay. After all, even a Volkswagen T-Roc R costs nearly £40,000, and that’s before you’ve considered the options list. You could get fairly punchy SUVs for less, but nothing that really prioritised driving fun. The Ford Puma ST changes that; even our recommended Performance Pack version comes in at less than £400 a month on a PCP. Economy and CO2 emissions are decent, too, but the numbers are only half the story.

SPORTS SUV: Ford Puma ST 1.5 Ecoboost 200 Performance Pack

Ford Puma ST 2021 dashboard

You see, this Puma shares its turbocharged three-cylinder engine and six-speed gearbox with the fabulous Fiesta ST. Yes, that means the Puma only drives its front wheels, but are you really going off road with it? Besides, this helps make it a real featherweight that pays dividends in corners. Even the mighty Porsche Cayenne has to bow to the Puma’s incredible agility, while its greater driver engagement and less extreme acceleration mean there’s far more chance to enjoy yourself on the road. If you want an SUV to have fun in, you can’t buy better.

List price: £29,445
Target Price: £29,445
Target PCP: £352 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 6.7sec Top speed: 137mph
Official economy: 41.5mpg, CO2 155g/km
Company car tax band: 34%
Insurance group: 22
Euro NCAP rating (2019): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR FAMILIES: BMW X3
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: PORSCHE CAYENNE COUPÉ

BEST PERFORMANCE CAR: Porsche Taycan 4S

Performance Car of the Year 2021 - Porsche Taycan

Some might view it as heresy to give this award to an electric car, but the Taycan is proof that such cars can be just as rewarding and usable as the best petrol rivals, and then some. Even the entry-level 4S can sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.0sec, with the more powerful Turbo and Turbo S being quicker still. Granted, some versions of the Tesla Model S can accelerate even more forcefully, but they’re no match dynamically for the Taycan, which has exceptionally precise, tactile steering and incredible poise and grip in corners.  Its brakes are monstrous, too. With a smooth ride, a gorgeous interior and a respectable 252-mile official range, the Taycan is comfortable for four adults and remarkably easy to use every day.

BEST PERFORMANCE CAR: Porsche Taycan 4S

Porsche Taycan 2020 RHD dashboard

For those who want to do longer distances, there’s also the option of a larger battery that boosts the range to 287 miles. Some might bemoan the absence of a rowdy soundtrack like you’d get in a BMW M5 or a Mercedes-AMG E63, but most people will be so blown away by the way the Taycan drives that they won’t miss it. If this is what performance cars are going to be like in the future, we’re not complaining.

List price: £83,635
Target Price: £83,635
Target PCP: £843 per month
Performance: 0-62mph: 4.0sec Top speed: 155mph
Official range: 254 miles
CO2: 0g/km
Company car tax band: 0%
Insurance group: 50
Euro NCAP rating (2019): 5 stars

RUNNERS-UP:

BEST FOR VALUE: BMW 4 SERIES
BEST FOR THRILLS: MERCEDES-AMG C63

OVERALL WINNER: Dacia Sandero 1.0 TCe 90 Comfort

Car of the Year 2021 - Dacia Sandero

The What Car? Car of the Year for 2021 is the Dacia Sandero. The BMW 4 Series Coupé, Kia Sorento and Seat Leon have all set new standards in the past 12 months, as have the Skoda Octavia iV and Volkswagen ID.3. In a different year, any one of them would have made a deserving overall winner, but in 2021 they’ve had the misfortune of coming up against the new Dacia Sandero.

While we repeatedly praised the old Sandero for being a great budget buy, you could see where Dacia had cut corners to make it so affordable. That’s not the case with the new one, though; it’s comfortable, good to drive, well equipped and very spacious, so it would be worth considering even if it cost the same as most of its rivals. Except it doesn’t, of course. Even an entry-level Ford Fiesta – with only three doors, a weaker engine and a lot less kit – will set you back more than £15,000 after discounts, and our pick of the Fiesta range comes in at almost £19,000. Our favourite Sandero, however, costs just £11,595. It’s an absolute bargain and an outstanding achievement.

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