What Car? Car of the Year awards 2020: the UK’s best cars
Join us as we reveal the best cars in the UK right now...
The biggest single event in the UK car calendar was held at a glamorous ceremony at Grosvenor House in central London on Tuesday night.
For each class of car, awards were made across three different price-points – and then one of those was awarded the overall title for that class.
And then, chosen from those overall winners, there’s one final ‘best of the best’ award, which wins the title of What Car? Car of the Year 2020. Join us for a tour of Britain’s best new cars, and the ones we think you should be buying this year:
Slideshow story - please click right-hand arrow above to continue
In this category we look for:
- Outstanding value for money
- Good warranty
- Low running costs
- Generous standard equipment
- Easy to drive
Best buy Less than £10,000: Dacia Sandero TCe 90 Essential
It’s no great surprise that the Dacia Sandero is the best cheap car for less than £10,000. That’s because it already has seven previous What Car? awards to its name, and no alternative has been able to get close to the amount of car you’re getting for your money with the Sandero in the past 12 months.
Skip the spartan entry-level trim and go for Essential; it has, ahem, essential creature comforts such as a DAB radio and air conditioning to keep you and your passengers happy. Inside, the Sandero is genuinely roomy for four adults and the boot is easily big enough for the weekly shop. This level of practicality is something rivals such as the Ford Ka+ can only dream of.
Yes, the Sandero is far from the best-handling hatchback on sale, but you do get a more comfortable ride than in an MG 3 or Suzuki Ignis and, with our preferred 0.9-litre turbo engine fitted, the Sandero easily has enough vim to zip around city streets and get you up to motorway speeds. It may feel a little sparse inside, but the fact remains that you’re getting a capable, highly practical car for an astonishingly low price.
Best buy £10,000-£12,000: Toyota Aygo 1.0 VVT-i X-Play
Dramatic styling is always a good way of standing out from the crowd, but the Toyota Aygo has much more going for it than just that. In our recommended X-Play trim, the Aygo is cheaper to buy than the equivalent Citroën C1 and Peugeot 108 (with which it shares its underpinnings), while it gives you a lot of equipment for your money. This includes a touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone screen mirroring, a reversing camera to help with tight parking spots, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver’s seat to make sure you get a driving position that suits you.
There’s just one engine option, but it’s a gutsy and frugal 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol unit that will prove cheap to run. The Aygo is agile when nipping in and out of traffic and its tiny turning circle makes it ideal for Britain’s often tight car parks.
Combine these attributes with the fact that it sits in a lower insurance group than the 108, plus the promise of legendary Toyota reliability, and the Aygo is a smart buy, especially if you live in a big city.
Best buy £12,000-£14,000: Kia Picanto 1.25 3
Since the Kia Picanto dethroned the Hyundai i10 as the best small car, no new alternative has been able to beat it. Few rivals can better the Picanto’s well-built interior, while its agility in a set of corners and the composed ride over craggy roads remain unmatched.
The 1.25-litre engine is the pick of the range, feeling gutsy enough not only around town but also at motorway speeds, too. True, the 1.0-litre turbo that’s also available has stronger performance, but you can’t get it with our preferred 3 trim.
We like it because it comes as standard with automatic emergency braking – something you have to pay extra for on most of its rivals. You also get a touchscreen infotainment system that can mirror your smartphone’s screen, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Inside, there’s space for four 6ft-tall adults and the boot is one of the biggest in class. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Picanto has a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty that no alternative can beat.
Overall Value Car Winner: Kia Picanto 1.25 3
If you remember 2019’s awards, you might be thinking: “Wait a minute, didn’t this win last year, too?”. And you’d be right, because the Picanto’s winning recipe of space, equipment, performance and comfort has yet to be beaten.
The Picanto is ahead of the Toyota Aygo for interior space, being surprisingly spacious for its overall size. Furthermore, it has a better-built interior and a better warranty to counter Toyota’s impressive reliability record. And compared with the Dacia Sandero, the Picanto not only feels more upmarket but also drives with much more competence and is the more refined car overall.
The Picanto may have won last year, but 12 months later we’re still happy to recommend it as the best choice for an affordable new car.
In this category we look for:
- Spacious enough for four adults to sit comfortably
- User friendly interior which looks smart
- Big car driving manners
- Decent sized boot
- Competitive purchase price and running costs
Best buy £14,000-£16,000: Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 95 SE
The Skoda Fabia is a frequent sight on lists of the best small cars, even winning this award outright for three years running. That’s largely because it’s an absolute bargain; despite sharing plenty of its oily bits and technology with the pricier Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo, the Fabia costs substantially less than either of those cars to buy.
The Fabia is also deceptively spacious, allowing two six-footers to sit comfortably in the back behind adults of similar height. Meanwhile, you can get more into the boot than you can with the rival Hyundai i20 or Ford Fiesta.
Choose our recommended 1.0-litre petrol engine and you’ll have enough low-rev pull to make motorway overtakes a breeze while also keeping running costs sensible, while SE trim gets you alloy wheels, air conditioning and a leather steering wheel. Okay, so some of the Fabia’s interior plastics are a bit hard, and its ride comfort around town could be better, but when you’re paying so little to begin with, and getting so much space in return, it’s hard to fault.
Best buy £16,000-£18,000: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE
Last year’s Small Car of the Year remains the best option at this price point, because it brings a touch of class to a market where traits such as interior quality and technology can sometimes take a back seat to keeping costs low.
Its interior features materials that wouldn’t look out of place in the pricier Golf or Passat, and even though its infotainment screen is touch-sensitive rather than controlled with buttons and dials, it’s one of the best systems of its kind, with classy graphics and intuitive menus. In fact, the Polo’s interior puts small car rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa to shame.
Our recommended 94bhp 1.0-litre engine can sit comfortably on the motorway all day long, but the Polo is equally at home in the city, where its precise steering and nimble handling help you thread the car through tight streets.
And the Polo is quieter than the closely related Seat Ibiza, yet costs just a coffee a month more if you take out PCP finance.
Best buy More than £18,000: Peugeot 208 Puretech 100 Allure
The old Peugeot 208 was an also-ran in this class, but this new model is the exact opposite. For one thing, it backs up its jaw-dropping looks with real substance, offering a ride that’s better than that of the rival Audi A1 and a raft of standard safety tech which includes lane-keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition and automatic emergency braking. Little wonder, then, that the 208 gets the highest score here for safety assistance tech from Euro NCAP.
Then there’s the 208’s interior, which looks smart and futuristic. Don’t think that it’s all show and no glow, though, because everything feels built to last. Sure, its infotainment system could be a little less fiddly to operate, but you do at least get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring as standard.
Of the three 1.2-litre petrol engines on offer, we reckon the mid-range 99bhp version will suit most buyers the best, while the standard equipment included with Allure trim brings you 17in alloy wheels, electric rear windows and a 3D-effect driver display that looks suitably 22nd century and can make the most relevant information – such as your speed – appear closer to you.
Overall Small Car winner: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE
Despite facing stiff competition from the all-new Peugeot 208, the Volkswagen Polo triumphs for the second year running. That’s because while the 208 has more of a space-age interior, the Polo’s tech is actually easier to get along with.
In addition, while the Polo fundamentally uses the same engine as the Fabia, you’ll hear far less from it in the Volkswagen, while also benefiting from less wind and road noise. And when it comes to comfort, the Polo is the car you’ll feel freshest in if you’ve got big miles to cover, and it’s got enough space to carry your family, too.
That generous discounts also mean the Polo need not be an expensive choice seals the deal; it really is a complete package.
In this category we look for:
- Plenty of practical space
- Low running costs
- Comfortable ride
- Quality materials and thoughtful touches inside
- Rock solid reliability
Best buy Less than £20,000: Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115 SE
The Volkswagen group is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to producing family cars that make a whole lot of sense, and the Skoda Scala is the latest in a long line of hugely impressive machines from the Czech branch of the business. Complementing its bigger Octavia sibling at a temptingly lower price, the Scala is good enough to dethrone last year’s family car winner, the Seat Leon, with which it shares DNA.
Its main strengths lie in its comfort – the Scala is more cosseting over bumps than the Ford Focus and Kia Ceed – and interior space. Indeed, it comes close to upstaging the Octavia in this regard and beats much bigger cars for rear head room. The boot is vast, too, and very conveniently designed.
Even the Scala’s price is right; the entry-level SE trim level is far from meanly equipped and handsomely undercuts the equivalent Focus. You’ll be happy with the running costs of our favourite 1.0 TSI 115 engine, too, and it has more than enough power for the daily grind.
Best buy £20,000-£26,000: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid Icon Tech
A familiar name for generations, the Toyota Corolla was reborn in 2018 as a very individual family car proposition, not only for its distinctive looks, but also for embracing the zeitgeist with hybrid power. Achieving 60.8mpg in our own tests, the Corolla’s 1.8-litre engine comfortably beats non-hybrid rivals and treads on the toes of a fair few diesels.
It manages this without feeling terribly slow, too, particularly on urban roads, where you’ll also enjoy the near-silence that descends when you use electric power alone in stop-start traffic. Speed up, though, and it’s the Corolla’s comfortable ride that shines brightest; not even the Volkswagen Golf can beat it for smoothness.
Inside, the Corolla beats the Ford Focus for tactile appeal and runs the costlier, premium Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series remarkably close. Gadget fans will appreciate its bulging standard kit list, too; all models have automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and a rear-view camera, with Icon Tech adding sat-nav and parking sensors. Few family cars can challenge the Corolla’s blend of economy and equipment.
Best buy More than £26,000: BMW 1 Series 118i M Sport auto
‘Front wheel drive.’ Those three words summed up the most controversial feature of the third-generation BMW 1 Series, which had previously used a sports car-like rear-wheel drive layout that was unique in this class. Humble pie was gulped down by naysayers, though, when the reimagined model leapt straight to the top of the class for driver appeal. Put simply, no family car is more fun to drive than the 1 Series.
Yes, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a little more supple over bumps, but the BMW is far from punishing, and it’s noticeably quieter inside than its key rival. It also trumps the A-Class for rear seat space, and BMW’s proven iDrive rotary controller makes its infotainment system far more intuitive to use. Plentiful adjustment makes it easy for the driver to find a spot-on driving position, and quality is superlative; it’s a virtual tie here between the 1 Series and the hitherto-unmatched Audi A3.
Far from becoming humdrum, then, the latest 1 Series has evolved to become arguably the best all-round premium family car you can buy.
Overall Family Car winner: Skoda Scala
The term ‘Oscar bait’ describes a movie that seems purpose-made to win awards, and the Skoda Scala could be summed up in a similar way. From the moment it was launched, it was a shoo-in to lift our family car trophy; it excels in areas where many rivals are complacent, particularly when it comes to interior space and comfort.
No, it can’t challenge the BMW 1 Series for driver appeal, nor can it hold a candle to the hybrid Toyota Corolla’s exceptional fuel economy. It has both well and truly trumped when it comes to price, though, and is definitely ‘value for money’ rather than ‘cheap and cheerful’. Add the intrinsic common sense of Skoda’s famous ‘simply clever’ features, and the Scala’s win is richly deserved. You won’t find red-carpet glamour here, but it’s sure to go down as a box-office hit.
In this category we look for:
- Running costs that won’t break the bank
- Generous levels of kit
- Pokey engines and tidy handling
- A spacious interior given the size of the car
- A boot big enough for family life
Best buy Less than £20,000: Skoda Kamiq 1.0 TSI 95 SE
It’s been a bumper year for small SUVs, with almost all of the major players bringing out all-new or heavily revised metal. The Skoda Kamiq sits in the former category, although it shares its undersides with the Volkswagen T-Cross which is in turn based on the German brand’s Polo.
So, what makes the Kamiq the stand-out SUV for those with less than £20,000 to spend? Well, the first thing you’ll notice is space and lots of it. Because it has its front and rear wheels spaced farther apart than the T-Cross, there’s a surprising amount of rear legroom and the boot is huge by the standards of the class, too. Quality also impresses, with loads of squishy plastics and an overall feeling of solidity.
And while other dinky SUVs such as the Renault Captur and Kia Stonic suffer from rather lumpy rides, the Kamiq does a great job of smoothing out road imperfections, making it a comfy cruiser. A punchy 1.0-litre engine means that trips out of the city needn’t be stressful and it handles very nicely in the twisties, too. With our favoured SE trim also getting all the kit you really need, we find it easy to recommend this bargain Kamiq.
Best buy £20,000-£25,000: Ford Puma 1.0l mHEV 155 ST-Line X
Whether you’re a keen wheelman or not, the Puma is one of the best cars in this class to drive. From the moment you feel first gear snick pleasingly into place and turn the well-weighted steering wheel, it’s a delight whether you’re pottering around town or having a bit of fun on a winding road.
The ride is firmer than the supple Volkswagen T-Roc’s, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable. Besides, the pay-off is minimal body lean and a hunger for corners that even the sharp-handling Kia Stonic can’t match. A strong turbocharged petrol engine backs up the handling with brisk performance, but a clever mild hybrid system means it’s one of the most economical small SUVs we’ve tested.
Inside you’ll find an attractive interior with a greater spread of plush plastics than the T-Roc and a decent amount of space. The boot is particularly clever, with a deep box in the boot floor than means there’s enough space for eight carry-on suitcases or two full golf bags standing up. The best bit? Not only is the list price pretty affordable given the generous standard equipment and punchy engine, but it’s a real steal on PCP finance.
Best buy More than £25,000: Audi Q2 35 TFSI S Line
If you fancy a bit more luxury in your small SUV, we’d point you straight towards the Audi Q2. The interior really does feel a cut above the vast majority of small SUVs, with squishy plastics slathered over the dashboard and doors. Tactile knobs and switches turn and click pleasingly while everything feels solidly bolted together. The icing on the cake is one of the best infotainment systems in the class, with a rotary dial between the seats making it far safer to use on the move than a touchscreen.
Our favourite 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine provides plenty of power without proving too thirsty in the real world, while the six-speed gearbox has a light, precise action. The Q2 has a more supple ride than the rather stiff Mini Countryman yet still handles bends with aplomb. There’s little pitching and leaning, helping it feel agile and planted on the road.
It may not be the biggest little SUV inside, but there’s still a perfectly decent boot with a variable height floor to make loading easier, and similar space in the rear to the Volkswagen T-Roc. All in all, it makes for a very compelling package.
Overall Small SUV winner: Ford Puma 1.0l mHEV 155 ST-Line X
Despite strong competition from the Skoda Kamiq and Audi Q2, it’s the Puma that comes out on top in this tussle. It almost matches the latter for straight-line pace whilst drinking less fuel and emitting fewer grams of CO2 than the former. It’s also more fun to drive than either without being vastly less comfy than the cushioning Kamiq.
It gives the other two a right kicking for boot space, having both greater capacity and flexibility to make the Puma a properly practical thing. Sure the Kamiq has a bit more rear seat space, but unless you’re regularly carrying a couple of six-footers in the back, we suspect it’ll be plenty for the majority of folk. With affordable monthly payments and plenty of kit also on its side, it’s easily the most recommendable of our trio.
In this category we look for:
- Comfortable ride
- Spacious and practical interior
- Sensible running costs
- Topnotch infotainment system
- Goodsized boot
Best buy Less than £20,000: Dacia Duster TCe 130 Comfort
Buyers who need a mid-sized SUV rather than a small one to transport their family around, and whose budget is tight, will love the rugged-looking Dacia Duster. As you would expect of the cut-price Romanian firm, you get a huge amount of car for the money, and the Duster range starts at a far lower price than cars like the MG GS and all other comparable rivals. Hop in and you’ll find plenty of passenger space inside, too, as well as a large and commodious boot that can easily cope with a family holiday or a fold-up buggy or, with the rear seats folded, awkwardly shaped items of flatpack furniture.
Choose the 1.3-litre petrol engine that we favour and you’ll also have a car that’s pleasingly brisk and reasonably economical. It even rides well around town, thanks to its soft suspension. In fact, although it may be cheap and cheerful on paper, we think the Duster offers much of what a family could want from an SUV, especially when you move up the range to the trim levels that add a few further gadgets. That’s what we’d do, and opt for the Comfort trim, which adds alloy wheels and a plusher interior trim to the standard air-con and DAB radio but is still impressively affordable.
Best buy £20,000-£30,000: Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI SE L
In a class and at a price point brimming with top-quality competition, including such venerable masters as the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008, the hugely impressive Skoda Karoq still manages to stand out.
It’s a truly comfortable car, and no rival offers a more cosseting ride, whether you’re eating up the motorway miles or cruising over give-and-take town roads. Added to which, its steering is accurate and its handling agile, making it great to drive, especially when equipped with the peppy and surprisingly economical 1.5-litre petrol engine.
Then there’s its outstanding practicality. You get plenty of space both front and rear in its high-quality interior, and the boot is easily big enough to take on a family holiday. On top of that, you can also slide the rear seats back and forth, fold them flat or remove them entirely, that last option being something that neither the Seat Ateca nor Kia Sportage can emulate.
Those seats are standard in our favourite SE L trim, which is extremely well priced and competitively equipped and also gets parking sensors, a reversing camera and one of the best touchscreen infotainment systems in its class. It’s a great all-round package.
Best buy More than £30,000: Range Rover Evoque D180 S
Move up to this top price point and a family SUV still needs to be spacious and practical, but it must also offer up top-notch refinement and an air of quality and style. Enter the Range Rover Evoque, the original of which was such a huge fashion icon that it redefined the company’s image. This all-new, second-generation version brings everything up to date and is so good that it even socks it to the Volvo XC40, last year’s winner in this sector and a former What Car? Car of the Year, thanks to its superior refinement and better projected resale values.
There’s a punchy and efficient 2.0-litre diesel engine with mild hybrid technology, for one. It’s smooth and comfortable on road, and if you take it off road it’ll uphold Land Rover traditions and leave all its rivals floundering in its wake.
Inside, it’s really rather posh, and in our chosen S trim laden with goodies, including climate control and leather seats. The driving position is spot on, and the interior solidity easily matches rivals such as the Lexus UX and Volkswagen Tiguan, with plush materials that add to the Evoque’s upmarket look and feel. It’s also one of the roomiest family SUVs in terms of rear seat space, and its capacious boot certainly makes family life much easier.
Overall Family SUV winner: Range Rover Evoque D180 S
If we always had a few reservations about the first Evoque, we have nothing but praise for this new one. Now, it goes as good as it looks, and it’s a worthy winner of one of the most hotly contested of all the sectors in our awards.
Those subtle exterior updates hide a much-improved car underneath. Add to that the improvements in its interior quality and those generous kit levels and you begin to see why we rank this desirable car so highly.
Make no mistake, the Duster and the Karoq are great options, but in the end it’s the premium Evoque that takes overall victory in this category. It bests the Karoq on comfort, quality and refinement, and even the superb value for money of the utilitarian Duster can’t dim the Evoque’s brilliance. It’s a terrific family SUV.
In this category we look for:
- Plenty of space for both luggage and passengers
- Large boot with lots of clever storage solutions
- Good fuel economy and running costs
- Comfortable interior for passengers in all seats
- Highquality finish without breaking the bank
Best buy Less than £28,000: Mazda CX-5 2.0 Skyactiv-G 165 2WD SE-L Nav+
The CX-5 may not have the additional practicality of seven seats, but it should have no problem taking care of busy family life. There’s decent room in the back for six-foot passengers, while the boot has enough space for a couple of pushchairs. Folding the rear seats also leaves a flat space to help with loading life’s paraphernalia, although the similar-priced Honda CR-V offers even more space.
The Mazda also claims points for driving prowess, because it’s more rewarding to drive than rivals such as the Citroën C5 Aircross and Ford Kuga. Its 2.0-litre petrol engine is refined with strong performance, while the confident handling that comes from having plenty of grip and well-controlled body lean means that you can have fun along country roads. The slick manual gearbox even has whiffs of the MX-5 sports car’s.
The interior is beautifully crafted, too, with swathes of soft-touch surfaces – plenty more than you’d find in the Kuga. Even our recommended entry-level SE-L Nav+ trim comes well equipped and gets a raft of safety technology, including adaptive cruise control and blindspot monitoring. In short, the CX-5 offers much more than its price would suggest.
Best buy £28,000-£35,000: Peugeot 5008 Puretech 130 Allure
One of the 5008’s standout features is the fact that it comes with seven seats as standard; even our top price point winner doesn’t have that. The third-row seats are also far more usable than those in the rival Seat Tarraco and Nissan X-Trail, with individually sliding seats to help with getting passengers in the back.
It’s more than up to the job of coping with family life, then, but that’s not the only reason why the 5008 wins in our large SUV class for another year. Its interior features plush materials and a smart finish that puts it above the X-Trail, while our preferred Allure trim comes loaded with kit such as parking sensors and a rear-view camera. It’s worth noting the optional panoramic sunroof can really restrict head room for rear passengers, though.
On the road, the 1.2-litre petrol engine might seem a bit small for a car of this size, but is surprisingly gutsy. There’s more than enough power for both in and out of town journeys, plus it’s quiet and refined, making for a relaxing drive for all occupants. In fact, for what is still a reasonable price, the 5008 combines everything you could need for fun and practical motoring.
Best buy More than £35,000: Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro S Line
It’s no surprise that the Q5 is once again our choice at the premium end of the market, because its combination of interior space and quality, comfort and driving prowess is still hard to beat. Although it doesn’t get the option of seven seats like the larger Land Rover Discovery Sport, there’s still plenty of rear space for all passengers, while the spacious boot matches those of rivals such as the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
On optional air suspension, the Q5 is one of the smoothest-riding cars you can buy, while the 2.0-litre diesel engine offers gutsy performance while being quieter than the equivalent unit in the X3. It’s more agile on twisty country roads, too, despite its large footprint. The only potential niggle is its automatic gearbox, which is laggy and slow to respond; both the GLC and X3 have slicker ’boxes.
Inside, the Q5 is classy and luxurious, with soft-touch surfaces combined with gloss black fascias and even highlights of alcantara for a premium feel wherever you look, making this an exquisitely well-rounded package.
Overall Large SUV winner: Peugeot 5008 Puretech 130 Allure
We can’t hide from the fact that one of the priorities in the large SUV category is space and practicality, and neither the Audi Q5 nor Mazda CX-5 can hold a candle to our overall winner, the Peugeot 5008. With seven seats as standard, more flexible middle-row seating and a large and practical boot for all of your family’s clobber, it offers more than rivals nearly twice as expensive, while still offering ride quality, driving prowess and interior finish to take on them all.
To top it all, it’s cheaper to run and just as fun when taking on city routes or motorway miles alike. While it might cost more than the sleeker-looking CX-5, the 5008 wins our large SUV category for the third year in a row as a fully rounded and capable family ferrier.
In this category we look for:
- Strong performance
- Precise steering
- Agile, entertaining handling
- Decent ride comfort
- Smart and practical interior
Best buy less than £40,000: Volkswagen T-Roc R
If you’re going to build a sports SUV, why not borrow from the best? That appears to have been Volkswagen’s thinking with the T-Roc R, because it uses the same 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, four-wheel drive system and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as last year’s award winner in this category, the Cupra Ateca.
The T-Roc is a smaller and lighter car, though, so it’s even faster, blasting from 0-62mph in just 4.9sec. Plus, as you may have read elsewhere in this issue, it feels quite a bit sharper than the Ateca, positively darting into corners and gripping the road like it’s been glued there.
Let’s put it this way: the Ateca handles very well by SUV standards, but the T-Roc is more reminiscent of a hot hatch, despite offering the sort of elevated driving position that SUV buyers prize. True, it’s not as practical as the Ateca, with less rear leg room and a smaller boot, but it’s still spacious enough to serve as a family car and is actually the cheaper buy if you look at all the costs of ownership, rather than just the initial purchase price.
Best buy £40,000-£60,000: Porsche Macan S
The first question to ask yourself when buying a Macan is whether the S model is worth the premium over the entry-level 2.0-litre, and the short answer is absolutely. Not only does it produce an extra 108bhp and slice 1.4sec off the 0-62mph time, but its 3.0-litre V6 engine sounds much better.
You might also want to consider the Turbo variant, because this is a lot quicker again. However, it pushes the price up to within a whisker of £70k, so for us it’s the S that represents the sweet spot of the range. For the same sort of money as the S you could also have Audi’s SQ5 or BMW’s X3 M40i, both of which are excellent cars in their own right. Indeed, the SQ5 grips the Tarmac harder than the Macan, and the X3 is the fastest accelerating of the three cars.
While the Macan might be slower than its rivals around a track, though, it’s the most enjoyable to drive on the road, which we reckon is far more important. Its super-accurate steering is a particular highlight, with this backed up by tightly controlled body movements and a wonderfully balanced feel.
Best buy more than £60,000: Porsche Cayenne Coupé Turbo
There’s an old adage that tells us there’s no arguing with physics, but Porsche has had a very good try with the Cayenne Coupé Turbo. Specify it with the optional active anti-roll bars and it corners with virtually zero body lean. What’s more there’s huge grip and the steering is even better than the Macan’s, so you’d never believe you were driving something that weighs the best part of 2.3 tonnes.
Indeed, the Coupé is not only more agile than the regular Cayenne Turbo, thanks to a tweaked suspension set-up, but also key rivals such as the Audi SQ8, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and Range Rover Sport SVR.
The car that runs it closest in this price point is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, which is similarly thrilling, if not quite as controlled. However, the Stelvio isn’t as impressive an all-rounder, feeling like the cheaper car it is inside and not sounding particularly special unless you drive it everywhere in its most extreme, Race mode.
The fact that the Cayenne Coupé Turbo’s standard air suspension helps it soak up bumpy roads remarkably well for such a sporty SUV only adds to its huge appeal.
Overall Sports SUV winner: Porsche Macan S
Above all, sports SUVs have to be fast and fun, and all of our price point winners more than deliver. However, unlike traditional sports cars, they’re also likely to be used every day, so the fact that the Macan is quieter, more comfortable and much classier inside than the T-Roc R makes it worth the extra in our opinion.
The Cayenne Coupé Turbo moves things onto another level again, particularly in the areas of performance and space. But then it costs twice as much as the Macan and most certainly doesn’t feel like twice the car. If you’re looking for a sports SUV that’s as rounded as it is thrilling, the Macan is the one to choose.
In this category we look for:
- A logical and beautifully built interior, with great infotainment
- More than enough space for five passengers, better still for seven
- A comfortable ride, matched by good refinement
- Strong performance despite impressive efficiency
- Handling that makes such vastness not a concern
Best buy Less than £60,000: Land Rover Discovery SD4 SE
The SDV6 may be the very best version of the delectable Discovery, thanks to its creamy V6, but the four-cylinder engine of the SD4 is nevertheless a perfectly proficient performer, as well as more efficient and significantly cheaper. Yes, it’s slower than the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, but its automatic gearbox isn’t so hesitant, so you can make smoother and more assured progress. The ride is reasonably smooth when you’re cruising, too, even if the Q7 is better around town.
It’s in terms of luxury and practicality where the Discovery does best. It has a loftier driving position than its rivals, plus a properly luxurious ambience and decent infotainment. And while all its rivals offer plenty of head and leg room in the front and rear, the Discovery provides more shoulder room in the second row and far better accommodation right at the back – noticeably more so than either the Q7 or Volvo XC90.
It’s also a considerably better bet than its rivals if you live in the sticks or regularly tow (it has a huge capacity of 3500kg), while everyone else should be very tempted by the fact that it’s considerably cheaper than either the Q7 or GLE on PCP finance and as a company car.
Best buy £60,000-£70,000: Audi Q7 50 TDI S line
Imagine a car that could accelerate like a hot hatch, pamper like a limo, handle like a saloon and accommodate like an MPV. Actually, you don’t need to, because there’s the Audi Q7, the ultimate automotive polymath.
It negotiating a country B-road is akin to watching a Mastiff win the Crufts agility contest as it scarpers away from the BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery. Yet standard air suspension affords the Q7 a remarkable duality; it’s one of the most comfortable and relaxing cars to waft around in. Even more so than the chilled Volvo XC90, which also isn’t as good as blocking out wind and road noise.
Perhaps its 3.0-litre diesel V6 is most impressive, though. With 282bhp in 50 TDI form, it’s really punchy from low revs, making the Q7 effortless to drive hurriedly. Inside, there’s room for even the tallest of drivers, while the rear is particularly commodious, with more leg room than the X5 and three individually sliding and reclining rear seats. Neither that rival nor the Mercedes-Benz GLE have as much space in the third-row, either.
Even better, the Q7’s interior is designed and built to the very highest of standards, with fantastic precision to its controls and materials that put some rivals to shame. Indeed, our sole criticism is the recent replacement of the splendid dial-controlled infotainment with a responsive but oft-fiddly touchscreen.
Best buy More than £70,000: BMW X7 xDrive30d
All five of BMW’s large and luxury SUV models are built in South Carolina, but it’s the X7 that stands out as a car designed for America. For starters, it’s ridiculously big and roomy, so much so that three adults can comfortably sit abreast, with head and leg room to spare. Behind them, two six-footers will be happy – more so than in the Audi Q7. And the X7 has a vast boot that can take 12 carry-on suitcases – the most of any car we’ve tested.
Completing the package are awesome build and material quality and BMW’s market-leading dial-operated infotainment system. Last year, our pick here was the Bentley Bentayga; the X7 is half as pricey but doesn’t at all feel it. Of course, its diesel straight-six isn’t on the level of a petrol V8, but it still push you from 0-62mph in just 7.0sec. What’s more, it’s more frugal than either the Range Rover SDV6 or Mercedes-Benz GLS 400d.
Just as impressive is the ride, with the air suspension ignoring the 21in wheels to deliver GLS-beating waft. And yet it doesn’t handle like an Airbus; smooth, accurate steering and greater agility than any rival bar the Q7 ensure the X7 doesn’t denigrate the BMW badge.
Overall Luxury SUVs winner: Audi Q7 50 TDI S line
There’s really no need to buy an SUV with a Rolls-Royce or Bentley mascot when you can have an incredibly spacious, cosseting and classy BMW X7 for just £70,000. But by the same token, you can have an exemplary luxury SUV for just £62,000. In fact, the Audi Q7 is even more consummate than the bigger BMW, with an exceptionally comfortable ride, more precise handling and comparable interior quality, not to mention a more powerful engine.
It’s easily roomy enough for seven inside, too. While the Land Rover Discovery is cheaper still, it falls slightly behind in every aspect that matters to the average buyer. After all, very few cars are quite so multitalented as the Q7.
In this category we look for:
- Space for people and family paraphernalia
- Comfortable ride, especially for rear occupants
- Versatile seats with plenty of adjustment
- Engine that can cope with a fully loaded car
- Good fuel economy to save on running costs
Best buy Less than £22,000: Citroën Berlingo M Puretech 110 Feel 5St
Would you believe that, despite being 660mm shorter than the considerably more expensive Audi Q7 luxury SUV, the Citroën Berlingo has the same boot capacity and a roomier interior? That’s because it was designed with family life as the overriding priority. By the same token, a lofty roofline means loading children of all ages into car seats is no bother, while sliding rear doors make light of car parks. And as well as the five-seat Berlingo M, our winner here, there’s the XL model, which has a third row of seats and an extra 250 litres of boot space.
Our recommended 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine gives enough pull to ferry around a car full of family and things, plus the Berlingo has a softer ride than the Vauxhall Combo Life, which will come to the pleasure of rear passengers.
It may be essentially the same car as the Combo Life and Peugeot Rifter, but the Berlingo offers more equipment and a plusher interior than either, making it feel that bit smarter, despite it actually having the lowest starting price. A much larger list of personalisation options, including upholstery styles and paint colours, raise perceived quality.
Best buy £22,000-£30,000: Volkswagen Touran 1.5 TSI 150 SE
Contrary to Volkswagen’s marketing spiel, the Golf often doesn’t suit every family; those who have more than four regular passengers will instead need the Touran. This MPV offers the same level of plushness you’d find in that regular hatchback – much better than that of the rival Citroën Grand C4 Spacetourer, then – along with seven seats, an enormous boot and plenty of seating flexibility.
Three independently sliding and reclining rear seats mean nobody should have any problem getting comfortable, and even the third row is roomy enough for average-size adults. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say the Touran drives quite like the Golf, too, with precise steering and tidy handling, plus minimal body lean through corners despite its taller body. Buyers get the choice of excellent 2.0-litre diesel engines or our chosen 1.5-litre turbo petrol, which performs well even when the Touran is fully laden.
And while the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer may be similarly impressive, the Touran is cheaper to buy yet still gets plenty of standard equipment.
Best buy More than £30,000: Ford Galaxy 2.0 TDCi 150 Zetec
Most impressive about the Ford Galaxy is the fact it drives and handles like a car half its size – good news, because it’s the largest of our recommended MPVs. It’s well balanced, with plenty of grip, and controls its body well in spite of its high roof and wide waist.
Light steering and a tight turning circle make it great for manoeuvring through the city, too. Its soft ride and refined engines set it apart from less composed rivals such as the Volkswagen Sharan, and although its interior isn’t quite as plush, there are plenty of smart touches, such as chrome-coloured inserts, that improve the impression of quality.
Back to space, and you’ll have no trouble fitting 6ft-tall adults even in the rearmost seats, while a middle row with individually folding and reclining seats allows for many passenger and packing configurations. There’s more space with the seats up and down than in either the Sharan or the Seat Alhambra, and other practical touches include cupholders for every passenger. If pure practicality is what you need most from your new car, the Galaxy is unbeatable.
Overall MPV winner: Citroën Berlingo M Puretech 110 Feel 5st
The Berlingo is the very definition ‘multi-purpose vehicle’, and not just because it’s a big box – although you won’t find anything at a similar price with this much space, whether that’s for passengers in all three rows or loading everything from pushchairs to plant pots.
While naturally less powerful than our pricier picks here, the Berlingo still has plenty of performance for driving around town and taking on motorway miles alike. Plus, it has a better-controlled ride than the Volkswagen Touran, so kids are less likely to be made carsick. And although the Berlingo can’t match the interior quality of the Ford Galaxy, it feels plusher than its price would suggest.
In this category we look for:
- Huge boot and lots of practicality
- Flexible seating to help fit people and luggage
- Strong engines to pull a heavilypacked car
- Comfortable ride for long journeys
- Low running costs to appeal to companycar users
Best buy Less than £20,000: Skoda Fabia Estate 1.0 TSI 95 SE
Skoda might not be a brand that springs to mind when you think of load-luggers, but it should be, because the Fabia, Octavia and Superb estates are all the roomiest in their price brackets. It costs just under £3000 to upgrade from the Fabia hatchback to the estate, getting you a mega 1395-litre cargo capacity when the rear seats are folded down. The only rival with a bigger boot is the Dacia Logan MCV, but that’s considerably less polished inside and without plenty of the tech and kit offered by the Fabia Estate.
Speaking of which, our preferred SE trim gets rear parking sensors, a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system and air conditioning, while you can opt for a height-adjustable boot floor to rid the step up to the folded-down rear seats and make it easier to load bulkier items.
The 94bhp made by Skoda’s turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s enough to pull a Fabia Estate loaded full of people and luggage while managing surprisingly good fuel economy. The Fabia Estate is much tidier to drive than its Romanian rival, too, feeling more comfortable and composed than its minimal price tag might suggest.
Best buy £20,000-£30,000: Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology
If the Fabia Estate isn’t spacious enough for you, look to the ginormous Superb Estate, which beats every other estate car, regardless of price, for cargo-carrying capability. There’s an incredible 1950 litres available with the rear seats folded down, which is 170 litres more than offered in the similarly priced Volkswagen Passat Estate. The rear seats are also spacious enough for you to sit back in comfort, even if you’re a lanky six-footer.
We could keep on about the space on offer, but the way it drives is just as impressive. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is more than up to the job, easily managing motorway miles and B-road overtakes alike, with plenty of low-down torque allowing to leave the Ikea car park with ease. The rival Ford Mondeo Estate is more entertaining to drive, but it isn’t as smart inside and doesn’t ride as well. You see, the Superb is biased very heavily towards comfort, and as such is a wafter on the motorway and a roller through corners.
Our chosen SE Technology trim gets heated front seats, an intuitive 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system and roof rails – just in case you somehow need yet more storage space.
Best buy More than £30,000: BMW 5 Series Touring 520d SE
If you want more in your estate than just space, the 5 Series Touring offers everything bar the kitchen sink – although you could easily fit that in the boot as well. The 5 Series saloon is already an outstanding luxury car, so its sensible sibling reaches the peak of premium practicality.
The interior features swathes of plush materials, BMW’s class-leading, dial-controlled iDrive infotainment system and a long list of equipment, even on our recommended entry-level SE trim. And there’s plenty of space for passengers, as well as 1700 litres of boot space. Only the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate manages to surpass that, and people well over 6ft tall won’t have any problems sitting in the back of either.
The BMW more fun to drive than the Mercedes, though, thanks to sharp handling and strong performance from its smooth 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine. It’s beautifully refined when cruising, too, while you’re gliding along broken surfaces in total comfort. The 520d even achieves impressive official fuel economy and CO2 emissions, making it incredibly appealing for company car drivers as well.
Overall Estate winner: Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology
It’s easy to wax lyrical about the need for boot space and rear comfort in a wagon, but the Skoda Superb Estate has all of that and more, as proven by this fifth consecutive category win. The smaller Skoda Fabia Estate is similarly impressive if you’re on a budget, and while the BMW 5 Series Touring offers one of the best interiors and most complete driving experiences around, the Czech car represents unbeaten value for money.
Confident driving manners and an effortless ride quality mean it’s comfortable for long journeys, and performance is perfectly capable despite the 40bhp deficit over the BMW. Generous standard kit, an appealing interior and low running costs make it the go-to option for mile-munchers and load-luggers alike.
In this category we look for:
- Go anywhere ability
- Work ready load bay
- Robust, durable interior
- Commanding driving position
- Commendable reliability
Best buy Less than £27,000: Ssangyong Musso 2.2 Rebel auto
Mighty pick-up ability needn't come with a mighty price tag. Cheap pricing is no new concept to Korean brand Ssangyong, but the Musso is the first of its products that truly mixes it with the best in its respective class, while massively undercutting its rivals on price.
Its biggest strength? Well, aside from its hugely competitive pricing, it’s enormous inside. Get the tape measure out and you’ll find it offers more space than its immediate rivals. What’s more, the interior looks and feels more plush than more rudimentary competitors such as the Mitsubishi L200. Twiddle a switch or rub a hand across the dash and the sense of quality belies its price tag.
There’s a trump card it can play on all of its rivals, too: it can carry its full payload of 1058kg while towing a 3500kg trailer. And out on the road the steering is as impressive as more expensive rivals, and this strong diesel engine is more refined than almost all of its rivals. Add to that a massive seven-year warranty and it’s clear to see that the Musso has a lot to offer prospective pick-up buyers. Rebel trim is the pick of the range, with roof rails and an 8.0in infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as a heated steering wheel.
Best buy £27,000-£32,000: Ford Ranger 2.0 170 XLT
The most-watched films aren’t always the best. And the most listened-to songs certainly aren’t, either. But in the pick-up market in the UK, the model that tops the charts happens to be one of the very best.
The Ford Ranger stands out from its rivals from the moment you haul yourself up into the commanding interior. The materials around the inside feel taken from Ford’s road cars, while our favoured XLT trim brings a leather steering wheel and leather-trimmed gearlever for the six-speed manual gearbox to further lift the feeling of quality. It’s significantly nicer inside than rivals such as the Fiat Fullback Cross and Toyota Hilux.
And on the road, it’s in another league entirely from most in this class. The ride is among the best, soaking up big bumps in the road with the kind of ease not felt in rivals like the Nissan Navara. Plus it’s one of the more nimble pick-ups. Turn in to a tight corner and it's easy to appreciate the steering's accuracy and response, as well as the Ranger's resistance to body lean.
Best buy More than £32,000: Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI 204 Trendline
Pick-ups have been growing hugely in popularity, and it’s cars like the Volkswagen Amarok that are increasing their appeal to buyers. This truly is a pick-up you should be able to live with easily day to day. One of the main reasons for that is its class-leading ride. Even compared with the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, which has a more sophisticated suspension setup, the Amarok is far comfier, especially at higher speeds.
The steering is fantastic, too, but it’s the cracking line-up of engines that stands out more for the Amarok. This smooth, punchy 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine is hugely impressive compared with the more agricultural engines offered in most rivals.
Plus, the Amarok is hugely practical. The load bay is among the very biggest you’ll find and there’s no shortage of passenger space inside. Up front, the dashboard layout is refreshingly simple with an infotainment system that is easier to operate than many fiddly touchscreen-only new alternatives, and build quality it’s robust enough to cope with the rough and ready life of a pick-up. Entry-level Trendline is the pick of the line-up, getting DAB radio, climate control and some chrome detailing.
Overall Pickup winner: Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI 204 Trendline
Yes, pick-ups are likely to lead hard-working lives, but our winners show that it doesn’t mean they have to compromise quality in other areas. The Ssangyong Musso is outstanding value. The Ford Ranger is good to drive. But there is one pick-up offering the most compelling all-round package, and that is the Volkswagen Amarok.
All things considered, it should prove the most pleasant pick-up to live with, offering the smoothest ride in the class along with the most impressive engine by far. Add to that an interior that is screwed together brilliantly, and a load bay that’s the most practical around, and it’s clear that it is certainly worthy of retaining its pick-up class crown. In fact, it could give some more conventional SUVs a run for their money.
In this category we look for:
- Effortless long distance capability
- Strong equipment levels as standard
- Low running costs
- A comfortable driving position
- Easy to-use infotainment system
Best buy Less than £30,000: Skoda Superb 1.5 TSI 150 SE Technology
How you determine value for money can vary according to personal taste, but by almost any estimate it is the Skoda Superb that sets the standard in the executive car category. It is comfortable, well equipped and oh-so roomy - up front, in the back and in the boot - compared with rivals, including some that cost much more.
In many regards, only the badge on the bonnet distinguishes it from more premium rivals; the comfortable seats, plush materials and easy-to-use infotainment set a standard few alternatives can match, for instance. The 1.5-litre petrol engine is also a gem, delivering strong performance, low emissions and decent economy even in a car of this size.
In fact, the only quibble of note is that it isn’t the most thrilling car to drive. If that really is a priority, buyers can look to the Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6, but we believe few will want to, given the Superb’s all-round strengths. SE Technology is our pick for bringing strong kit levels for not too much extra. Dual-zone climate control and adaptive cruise control are fitted as standard, while the infotainment system brings with it DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Best buy £30,000-£40,000: BMW 3 Series 330e M Sport
What happens when you combine the tried and trusted facets of the 3 Series with the latest, cutting-edge plug-in hybrid technology? You get the BMW 330e and, in short order, a five-star review and a What Car? award - the first time a hybrid has achieved those accolades outside of the dedicated category for such cars.
In this form, the 3 Series is a car that is a joy to drive yet remains supremely comfortable and relaxingly refined, especially on the motorway. It has class-leading infotainment and plenty of space in the front and rear. The only significant downside of the hybrid system is that boot space suffers - to the notable tune of 100 litres of space - in order to house the battery.
However, plugged in and fully charged, it can officially cover up to 37 miles (but more likely 24 or so in the real world) on electric power alone while remaining reasonably frugal when running on its 2.0-litre petrol engine. The hybrid system also brings a low CO2 rating and potentially significant tax savings for company car drivers. For all this, it’s worth noting that the 330e takes its place here by a narrow margin over the 320d, thanks to its potentially significantly lower running costs. For some, and despite the negative headlines, diesel might still be the best choice.
Best buy More than £40,000: Tesla Model 3 Standard Range
Here’s another piece of history in the making: the Tesla Model 3 is the first electric car to win a price point outside of our dedicated categories for the technology. Yes, it really is that good, and for some buyers added lustre will come with April’s upcoming company car tax changes that can make running one significantly cheaper than any traditional rival.
The Model 3 stands out for being great to drive, packed full of alluring tech and offering reasonable practicality, as well as eye-opening pace, albeit largely from a standstill, all for a keen price. Tesla owners can also use the firm’s Supercharger network, which gives access to dedicated rapid chargers across the country, removing many range concerns. In our Real Range test, this model recorded a reasonably accomplished 181 miles.
It’s true that on twisting roads the weight of the batteries count against its overall finesse, and the Model 3 isn’t quite as comfortable as some rivals on the UK’s beaten-up roads, but the firm edge never overwhelms its composure. Nor is the build quality up there with the very best in class, something that is reflected in improving but still mixed results for Tesla in our Reliability Survey.
Overall Executive Car winner: BMW 330e
Petrol, hybrid or electric? Our answer is to recommend the car we believe will suit most people most of the time: the BMW 330e. The BMW does almost everything we wish for from an executive car brilliantly, combining know-how of what customers want built up over decades with slickly integrated new tech. That it is able to be both great to live with and relatively cheap to run, and back that up with a solid showing for BMW in our Reliability Survey and decent dealership ratings, makes it our winner.
However, buyers should consider carefully what suits their needs best. If the Tesla can meet your needs then is a terrific choice, soon to be boosted if you can take advantage of April’s BIK changes. Likewise, the Skoda offers great value, delivering much of the BMW’s capability, albeit without the tech edge or premium lustre.
In this category we look for:
- Red carpet-ready looks
- Exquisite build quality
- Endless exciting luxuries on the options list
- Pin drop-silent interiors
- Powerful, efficient engines
- Space for VIPs to stretch out in the back
Best buy Less than £40,000: BMW 520d SE
Here it is again. The BMW 5 Series. This seventh-generation model has appeared in these Awards pages since it was released in 2017, and for very good reason. It is, completely and utterly, a consummate all-rounder. And it’s all the more impressive having consistently seen off tough competition over the years from cars such as the new Audi A6 and updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The 5 Series simply offers the best driving position of its rivals, and its feature-packed, user-friendly iDrive infotainment system is light years ahead everything else.
The 5 Series also wipes the floor with its rivals on running costs. It’s the cheapest to buy privately, or as a company car, and this frugal 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine will cost less to fuel than competitors’. Add to that the fact it’s the most comfortable and the quietest car in its class then it’s clear that its dominance in this price bracket will take some toppling.
Lots of people go for M Sport trim but SE is the best value, with plenty of standard equipment. And although the 2.0-litre diesel is the best all-rounder, the 5 Series has a fantastic line-up of engines if you’d prefer something fruitier.
Best buy £40,000-£60,000: BMW 6 Series GT - 630d SE
The BMW 6 Series GT may have polarising looks, but its brilliant ability as a luxury car is not up for debate. While you may prefer the sleeker looks of the Audi A7 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz CLS, the 6 Series GT holds plenty of trump cards over them.
GT stands for Gran Turismo, and it certainly delivers plenty of mile-munching muscle. The six-cylinder diesel engine delivers the throatiest growl of its rivals, and offers smooth, punchy performance. Plus, it’s more efficient than its competitors. The good value doesn’t finish there. Because no matter how you decide to purchase it, this SE model is cheaper than the equivalent versions of the A7 and CLS – and it’s still packed with features, with plenty more luxuries available on the options list.
And you’d never guess this is a bargain offering. Inside, it’s durable, plush and packed with technology, and the major positive here for the 6 Series GT compared with its rivals is the space on offer. The rear may not swoop down so dramatically as other coupé-like cars in this class, but its cavernous boot puts others to shame, and the limo-like space in the back allows passengers to properly stretch out.
Best buy More than £60,000: Audi A8 L 50 TDI Sport
The top price point in this class brings with it, arguably, the highest expectations of any of our award winners. After all, the best luxury car in the highest price point should have it all: tech, comfort and space in abundance. The Audi A8 offers all this and more, proving to be one of the most luxurious cars in the world.
It arguably had the toughest opposition of all the cars in this class, too. Beating the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is no mean feat. For many, the S-Class has always represented the very pinnacle of luxury automotive transport, but the A8 retains its lead in this price point. It’s more comfortable, quieter on the move and has an even higher quality interior than the S-Class, oozing opulence from every panel.
This year the A8 has faced new competition from the updated BMW 7 Series, but even that car couldn’t reach the heights of Audi’s flagship luxury car. The A8 has it beaten on comfort and costs. Whether you’re driving or being driven, you can turn up at any awards ceremony in the world - no matter how extravagant - and the A8 won’t be out of place.
Overall Luxury Car winner: BMW 520d SE
The BMW 5 Series, our overall Car of the Year from 2017, remains our favourite luxury car for the third year in a row. It retains its crown because it still manages to offer the very best traits of this class, but for less money than the alternatives listed here.
Yes, the A8 is outstandingly comfortable, and the 6 Series GT is brilliantly practical. But the 5 Series really isn’t far off from either and it’s much cheaper. And even though it’s the winner of the bottom price point, if your budget stretches to it you can add luxuries and extravagances to your hearts delight. Twiddle your fingers to raise the volume, kick back and relax with massaging seats, or tune in to the TV while you wait for your glamorous passenger. It will take something truly special to take the 5 Series’ luxury car crown.
In this category we look for:
- Piffling running costs compared with petrol or diesel equivalent
- Very CO2 emissions to benefit company car drivers
- The same usability as a regular car
- Smooth transitions between electric only drive and the combustion engine
- Packaging of the electric motor and battery that allows for as much practicality as regular versions
Best buy less than £20,000: Toyota Yaris Hybrid Icon
Toyota was one of the first to offer a hybrid in the small car class, and it continues to be a lone-wolf in this sector ever since Honda discontinued the Jazz Hybrid some five years ago. You can get a tiny number of mild-hybrid small cars, but because those cars cannot run on electric power alone, they don’t qualify for this category.
Fortunately, the hybrid version of the Yaris is an improvement on both the regular 1.0- and 1.5-litre petrol versions because it has a more settled, less floaty ride due to the added weight of the batteries and revised suspension settings. The compact exterior size and light steering of the Yaris makes it a doddle to drive in town, and with a standard reversing camera on the best value Icon trim, parking is an absolute breeze.
You’ll also be able to cram more of your detritus in a Yaris than most other small car rivals, such as the Vauxhall Corsa, despite the Hybrid version having a slightly smaller load area than the regular version. Plus, it’s one of the most efficient cars we’ve ever tested, returning a city loop figure of 80mpg, which is exactly the sort of economy hybrid buyers are looking for.
Best buy £20,000-£30,000: Toyota Corolla Hybrid Icon Tech
The latest Toyota Corolla has caused a bit of an upset in this middle price-point category, displacing our once favoured hybrid, the Hyundai Ioniq, because the Corolla has a more comfortable ride and is significantly more efficient.
Inside, the new car is far better than the old Auris ever was, using plenty of dense, squidgy plastics on the dashboard; even in places you don’t expect, like the door cards. It genuinely feels plusher than long-standing rivals such as the Ford Focus. True, that last rival handles more sweetly, but in today’s gridlock-prone roads, it’s the Corolla that you’ll appreciate more, thanks to the silence when stationary in start-stop traffic and sprightly off-the-line performance.
We’ve gone for the 1.8-litre version because the battery in the 2.0-litre model takes up valuable space under the boot floor. Go for a well-equipped Icon Tech and you’ll get all you’ll ever need, including sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors as well as a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control and even electric lumbar support.
Best buy More than £30,000: Honda CR-V Hybrid 2.0 i-MMD 2WD SE
The fact that the Honda CR-V has held on to its position as our favoured hybrid in the top price point is all the more impressive when you consider that it was up against strong competition in the form of a new Toyota RAV4 that’s even more efficient than its predecessor was. However, the CR-V continues to punch above its weight with a high level of standard equipment on even our preferred mid-range SE version; LED headlights, sat-nav with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, dual-zone climate control, lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking all come as standard.
True, the RAV4 gets much the same equipment for similar money and is actually more efficient on paper. However, the CR-V doesn’t suffer from excessive road noise like the RAV4, and it drives better because you can more accurately place it on the road since it has greater steering precision and superior grip.
What’s more, the CR-V is absolutely huge inside – a major selling point for buyers that want to transport both family and luggage. This Honda is more practical, too, with rear seats that fold down flatter and can be released with handles on the inside of the boot aperture, rather than having to awkwardly reach over to the back bench for a release handle.
Overall Hybrid winner: Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-i Icon Tech
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to a private driveway or be surrounded by an infrastructure that can support a shift over to a plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle. This is why a hybrid vehicle makes a great deal of sense for those wishing to partake in greener motoring, without having to compromise and make your car fit your lifestyle.
Both the Yaris and CR-V allow you to do this, but the Yaris is simply too small to work for everyone, and the CR-V, while spacious, can’t transport any more people over our overall favourite hybrid car: the Toyota Corolla. It’s the perfect choice for the majority of buyers not just because of its practicality, but because of its low running costs and Toyota’s outstanding reliability record.
In this category we look for:
- Usefully long electric only range
- Exceedingly frugal
- Quick and easy charging
- Cheap company car tax
- Smooth switching between electric and petrol power
Best buy Less than £35,000: Skoda Superb iV SE Technology
We’ve been big fans of the Superb for many a year now, and now the big Czech cruiser has added yet another string to its already powerful bow. Yes, you can now get a plug-in hybrid version, badged iV, that combines a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine with a battery pack big enough for an electric range of 34 miles.
Sound familiar? Well, that’s because you’re in effect getting the guts of a Volkswagen Passat GTE in a more spacious body with limo-like rear space. But bigger means pricier, right? Not in the case of the Superb, because it’s usefully cheaper than its German cousin yet still feels very much like a plush executive express inside.
Quality is good, while on our favourite SE Technology trim you get leather seats that are heated up front and sat-nav. There’s a lot to like about the driving experience, too; the Superb’s wafty ride and smooth electric running help you relax behind the wheel, yet its 215bhp gives brisk acceleration when you need it. Factor in a low 16% rate of BIK tax for company car users and it's easy to see why it wins here.
Best buy £35,000-£50,000: BMW 330e M Sport
Look familiar? Yes, that’s right: our new Executive Car of the Year, the BMW 330e, is also in strong contention for this category. Part of the reason for its inclusion here is that it’s a hybrid you can still have some fun in. The Volvo S60 T8 is certainly far faster, but it and the Mercedes-Benz C300de can’t match the 330e’s agility and sense of connection to the road. It’s also worth pointing out that both are significantly more expensive to buy, while the 330e dips below the £40,000 mark, so you avoid premium car tax costs.
According to official figures, you should be able to manage up to 36 miles on a single charge and it also sits in the 16% tax bracket for company car users. The switch from electric to engine power and back again is barely noticeable and it’s even fairly frugal when your battery is empty.
It’s worth pointing out that the boot is rather small because of the big battery, but we’ve no complaints regarding the rest of the interior. Everything feels suitably expensive, the infotainment system is a cinch to use and there’s a decent amount of space in the back, too. The 330e really is a great car.
Best buy More than £50,000: Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription
If you’re used to reading reports of plug-in hybrids suffering from reduced practicality, you clearly haven’t looked into the XC90 T8. Unlike the BMW X5 xDrive45e and Audi Q7 TFSIe, the big Swede is available with seven seats and boot capacity is impressively unchanged when compared with regular versions of the XC90. Even better, they’re comfortable for a couple of average height adults, even on a long journey.
Those further forward will have little to complain about thanks to lashings of leather, squidgy plastics and a choice of metal or wood trim pieces.
Despite being a big old Bertha, the T8 can certainly sprint when needed. With total power getting jolly close to 400bhp, it can hurl itself from 0-62mph in a scant 5.8sec. However, as official figures put the electric range at up to 28 miles, it won’t bleed you dry at the pumps if you regularly top it up with electricity. Sure, the CO2 emissions do creep over 50g/km so you’ll pay 19% BIK tax, but that’s still miles better than your typical luxury SUV. All in all, it’s a brilliant choice if you need something seriously spacious.
Overall Plug-in Hybrid winner: BMW 330e M Sport
Yes, it’s another class won overall by the terrific 330e. The XC90 may be far more practical, but there’s no hiding from the huge price difference between the two. Besides, the 330e goes farther on a charge and is far more frugal when running on petrol.
But what of the Superb iV? Well, it’s certainly comfier and even less expensive to buy, but it just isn’t as good to drive and its interior isn’t as swanky, either. Given that the 330e makes regular petrol and diesel versions of the 3 Series obsolete for most company car drivers, it simply has to win overall.
SMALL ELECTRIC CAR
In this category we look for:
- Generous enough real-world range to fit most lifestyles
- Plenty of charging options and quick top-up times
- Usable space and strong practicality
- Comfortable ride that isn’t hindered by a heavy battery
Best buy Less than £25,000: Seat Mii Electric
Many brands are now trying to capture the emerging lower end of the electric car market, and it’s Seat that leads, thanks to the enjoyable driving experience, reasonable range and decent practicality of the new Mii Electric. This city car is surprisingly fun and relaxing to drive around town, thanks to light steering, while its ride stays composed at all speeds. And our Real Range test revealed that it can go 111 miles between charges – a lot farther than most commutes, let alone inner-city journeys.
In fact, it’s not too far off what the larger and much pricier Volkswagen e-Golf achieved. Despite coming with only rudimentary smartphone-based infotainment, the interior feels of surprisingly high quality. The boot is small, of course, but you can still fit in a pair of carry-on suitcases, plus there’s just about space for two adult passengers in the back.
The Mii runs riot against the Smart Forfour EQ, which is worse to drive and scored a Real Range of just 57 miles. Note, however, that the Skoda Citigo-e iV and new Volkswagen e-Up – both essentially the same car as the Mii – are soon to go on sale, priced slightly lower and slightly higher respectively.
Best buy £25,000-£35,000: Renault Zoe R135 GT Line
The Zoe won a price point last year, and this overhauled model gives all the more reason for Renault to take home a trophy, being improved in pretty much every area. With its bigger battery, it covered 192 miles in our Real Range test – around a third more than its predecessor and 64 miles more than the similar-priced Nissan Leaf.
It pulls farther ahead of that car, as well as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, thanks to its modern-looking, smart-feeling interior. Although those rivals are bigger and therefore roomier, the Zoe still has space for four adults. It’s now more impressive to drive as well, thanks to brisk acceleration, composed handling and a settled ride on the motorway.
Every trim is well equipped, but range topping GT Line gets automatic emergency braking, a bigger infotainment touchscreen and attractive recycled cloth upholstery. It’s just a shame that you have to pay £750 extra for 50kW rapid-charging capability over the standard 22kW. Even so, that impressive range, its enjoyable driving manners and its surprisingly good practicality make the Zoe worth every penny.
Best buy More than £35,000: Kia e-Niro 4
Any car waiting to take on the Kia e-Niro faces a Herculean task, seeing as this family SUV took our coveted Car of the Year crown last year. In our Real Range test, it managed a seriously impressive 253 miles – the same as the larger, considerably pricier Jaguar I-Pace.
The e-Niro offers plenty of space for five people and their luggage, while its healthy haul of equipment takes on that of the supposedly more premium yet actually much less recommendable DS 3 Crossback E-Tense.
The e-Niro’s newborn sibling, the Kia Soul EV, is also worth thinking about at this price, but it doesn’t ride or handle quite as adroitly yet isn’t significantly cheaper. There’s also the closely related Hyundai Kona Electric to consider, but the e-Niro edges the win once again, by riding more comfortably, staying more composed through corners and being slightly more spacious.
Plus, its electric motor produces the same 201bhp, so acceleration off the line is serious and motorway journeys are made a breeze. So, despite the electric car class being closely contested and rapidly expanding, the e-Niro is easily maintaining its worth.
Overall Small Electric Car winner: Renault Zoe R135 GT Line
The Renault Zoe won our first electric car award in 2017; now the market has expanded enough for us to divide it by size, and the updated version deserves our inaugural small electric car trophy. The Kia e-Niro remains a fantastic proposition, but the Zoe now offers a nicer interior, a much longer range and a better driving experience than before, so you really needn’t spend any more.
And while the Seat Mii Electric is cheaper again, it’s far less practical and has an interior that feels dated in comparison. If range is your ultimate priority, the e-Niro does much better than either rival here. But the Zoe offers more than most will need, and in a very well-rounded package.
LARGE ELECTRIC CAR
In this category we look for:
- A long range and ultra fast charging capability
- A luxurious and comfortable interior
- A smooth ride and capable handling
- Lots of high tech driver aids
- Strong performance and exceptional refinement
Best buy Less than £55,000: Tesla Model 3 Performance
The prospect of a smaller, cheaper model than Tesla’s existing Model S and Model X was a mouth-watering one for a lot of people, and the Model 3 didn’t disappoint when it finally arrived in the UK in mid-2019. In fact, it has exceeded all expectations, delivering the performance, range, practicality and technical innovation that we expect from Tesla at a lower price, with a surprising dose of driver appeal thrown in.
Even the £40,000 entry-level model is a praiseworthy car, but it’s the range-topping Model 3 Performance that really stands out, delivering eye-popping acceleration and an official range of 329 miles, dropping to 239 miles in our Real Range test. Some other EVs such as the Kia e-Niro can go farther between top-ups, then, but the Model 3 is better to drive than most, and it’s able to recharge at a much faster rate.
As well as being a technological marvel, with advanced self-driving capability and a huge touchscreen controlling almost all functions, the Model 3 is roomier inside than conventional rivals such as the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE and has a bigger boot (two, in fact), making it highly practical by saloon standards. The hype is all true, then; the Model 3 provides a compelling argument for ditching petrol and diesel power for good.
Best buy £55,000-£70,000: Jaguar I-Pace EV400 S
Jaguar’s first electric car has been one of our favourites at the top end of the market ever since it arrived in 2018, with its clean-sheet design resulting in a distinctive-looking and very well-rounded take on the luxury SUV theme. Crucially, it has one of the best ranges of any EV, achieving 292 miles in the official test and 253 miles in our hands. It’s also startlingly quick, outperforming the rival Audi E-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC.
The interior is probably Jaguar’s best yet in terms of the quality of the materials used, although it isn’t quite as hushed on the move as the EQC. Being in effect an oversized hatchback, the I-Pace is perfectly practical enough for a family of five, although its boot isn’t as big as the Tesla Model X’s and it lacks the ability to carry seven occupants.
While you might be tempted by the extra luxuries that come with range-topping HSE trim, we feel the entry-level S makes the most sense, being quite a bit cheaper than its direct rivals. When you add in the fact that it’s more rewarding to drive than the rest, the I-Pace’s place at the top table is thoroughly deserved.
Best buy More than £70,000: Audi E-tron 55 quattro
The E-tron may be Audi’s very first EV, but it’s a convincing effort, combining traditional Audi qualities such as a top-notch interior with hitherto unimagined levels of ride comfort and refinement at sub-Rolls-Royce prices. On standard air suspension, it wafts along incredibly smoothly on any road surface and at any speed, putting its rivals to shame for comfort. Only the Mercedes-Benz EQC can trump it for noise isolation, too.
Like its rivals, the E-tron delivers forceful performance, although it trails the EQC and Jaguar I-Pace for outright acceleration. Its range isn’t quite as good, either, officially covering 237 miles between top-ups and returning 196 miles in our Real Range testing, although in practice it’s more than satisfactory for most people’s needs. The E-tron is capable of charging at a faster rate than those rivals, too, with 30-80% possible in as little as 15 or 20 minutes with the right type of charger, and twin charging ports (with slick motorised flaps) give more flexibility than usual when it comes to plugging it in.
The spacious five-seat interior may be familiar from other high-end Audi models, but it’s bursting with quality materials and technology, with a host of advanced driver assistance systems being available. That familiarity will no doubt be a boon for those who are even slightly nervous about the idea of going fully electric; the E-tron is sure to make the transition as easy as possible. And for that, it should be commended.
Overall Large Electric Car winner: Tesla Model 3 Performance
These cars may all be battery powered and fast, but in practice they’re distinctly different from each other. On the one hand you have the relatively firm-riding, agile and rather wacky-looking I-Pace, and on the other there’s the E-tron, which is wafty and refined yet very much sticks to the traditional Audi styling mould inside and out.
However, neither is a game-changer in the way that the smaller Model 3 is. Not only is it quicker and better to drive than both, but it’s also just as practical (despite being a saloon) and comfortable, especially on the motorway. It can be recharged in less time than the other two and has an excellent range, too. Best of all, it’s far more affordable than rival premium EVs, at less than £50,000, once the Government’s £3500 grant has been factored in. Desirable and capable cars though the I-Pace and E-tron are, they’re overshadowed by the all-round brilliance and value of the Model 3, a car that will encourage you to go electric like no other.
In this category we look for:
- Wind in-the-hair excitement
- Quick and easily operated roof
- Space for four
- Practicality for everyday use
- Luxurious interior
Best buy Less than £30,000: Mini Convertible Cooper Classic Comfort/Navigation
It’s no secret that “Mini” doesn’t mean quite so mini anymore, but that's no bad thing, because it allows the Mini Convertible to provide plenty of space for four adults to sit in comfort, even with the roof up – more than you can say about the Fiat 500C. You can still get a shopping bag or two in the boot, too, even when the electrically folded fabric roof is lowered.
There’s three different power outputs of petrol engine, but the entry-level Cooper has more than enough performance to see you scooting around twisting country roads and taking on motorway miles alike, all while enjoying genuine wind-in-your-hair fun. It’s not the best of the Mini family to drive, though, with a choppy ride and lack of rigidity caused by the absence of a roof. It can get seriously expensive by the time you’ve added some personalisations and upgraded accessory packs, too.
At least everything that does come as standard basks in quality, with plenty of soft touch surfaces and solid-feeling retro-style knobs and dials. In fact, the interior finish is enough for it to take on more expensive rivals, such as the Audi A3 Cabriolet – and convincingly win, taking the honours in this price point.
Best buy £30,000-£50,000: Audi A5 Cabriolet 40 TFSI
Based on the Audi A4 – our Car of the Year back in 2016 – the A5 Convertible already has plenty going for it as a smooth and sleek soft-top. Although it lacks the clever metal-folding roof of the BMW 4 Series Convertible, the comfort and refinement offered in its interior still make for a luxurious and cosseting experience. There are swathes of soft-touch surfaces and plush-feeling materials, while the A5 comes with Audi’s MMI system featuring a physical rotary-controlled dial as well as a touchscreen – it’s one of the best systems available.
You’ll enjoy the A5 Cabriolet most on a relaxed cruise. It lacks some of the genuine excitement offered by the stiffer 4 Series Convertible when shuffling along a twisting road, but makes up for this with a more comfortable ride than the BMW and less body-lean than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet. Its smooth and refined engines offer plenty of performance at incredibly hushed volumes; the mid-range 2.0-litre 40 TFSI with 187bhp is our pick of the bunch, offering a solid compromise between performance and costs.
Best buy More than £50,000: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet S560 AMG Line
Mercedes-Benz’ flagship S-Class is simply exceptional, whether it’s in saloon, coupé, or this convertible guise. There’s only one size of engine – a 4.0-litre V8 petrol – that’s available with either a mighty 603bhp in the S63 variant, or the ‘entry-level’ S560 463bhp unit that’s our choice. It offers more than enough punch and performance to ruffle your hair along a twisting country road, and there’s also Mercedes’s responsive nine-speed automatic gearbox that responds smoothly whether pottering around town or taking on faster motorway jaunts.
The S-Class has much more controlled handling than you’d expect a car this size – and without a roof – to have. That said, without the added support from the metal above your head, the S-Class does lose a bit of rigidity and overall isn’t quite as composed in corners as the DB11 Volante. It is, however, a more polished cruiser than both the Aston and the BMW M850i Convertible.
The S-Class Cabriolet has a soft and comfortable ride, plus genuinely usable rear passenger space, unlike its rivals. Build quality is second to none, while the interior finish is more luxurious than anything this side of a Rolls-Royce Dawn, making for a truly exemplary convertible.
Overall Convertible winner: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet S560 AMG Line
It’s another year of success for the S-Class Cabriolet, and while it still sits as the most expensive of our contenders, it justifies this by proving every penny of its list price has gone to good use. It’s not just its well crafted interior that highlights it; unlike its smaller convertible rivals, it still handles with the grace of the coupé, meaning precise and confident handling for genuine driving enjoyment, whether you’re cruising down a country B-road or taking on your daily commute in style.
Better still, being bigger than the Mini or the Audi, there’s impressive inside space for four adults to sit comfortably even with the roof up. Add in its excellent refinement, and the S-Class Cabriolet is worth its high price.
In this category we look for:
- Exciting handling
- Enticing performance
- A characterful engine
- Fine to live with day to day
- Sensible running costs
Best buy Less than £25,000: Ford Fiesta ST ST-2 Performance Pack 3dr
Fair play to Ford. Volkswagen is credited with inventing the hot hatchback genre, but when it comes to producing winning examples time and again, Ford is arguably the best in the business. Take the Fiesta ST Performance as an example. Fresh out of the blocks last year – and off the back of an outgoing Fiesta ST that will probably go down in history as an all-time classic – the current model proves it still has the magic.
Bringing Volkswagen back into the frey, the Fiesta ST blew away the Polo GTI on multiple levels. Its gamey engine has a much more thrilling parp, the handling is 10 times more engaging and the Fiesta comes with a proper manual gearbox that’s super-slick and much more fun to use than the Polo’s dual-clutch automatic ’box. The ST has also seen off the Suzuki Swift, which feels like a far less polished car, not just to drive but to live with every day. We reckon adding the optional Performance Pack to get the traction-enhancing limited-slip differential is the way to guarantee the most thrills for under £25,000.
Best buy £25,000-£30,000: Hyundai i30 N 2.0 T-GDi 250
If Ford is the hot hatch grandee, then Hyundai is most certainly the upstart. But sometimes thrusting a disrupter into the mix, which is precisely what the i30 N proved to be, is a good thing. ‘Flabbergasted’ described our state after we tried Hyundai’s very first hot hatchback, only to discover that Hyundai had pretty much hit the nail on the head from the off.
And you don’t have to go for the balls-out i30 N Performance version to find the sweet spot, because we think the entry-level 247bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is just the ticket. It delivers the kind of pace to allow you to stick to the tail of a Volkswagen Golf GTI driven spiritedly, plus it has much better balanced and more approachable handling than the rather ham-fisted Seat Leon Cupra.
For those who need to use their hot hatch every day, the i30 N’s standard adaptive suspension offers a smoother ride than the ultra-bouncy Renault Mégane RS, and it comes fully loaded with toys. And the price for all that? Well, it’s way under all the rivals we’ve just mentioned. In fact, it’s yours for not much more than the smaller Volkswagen Polo GTI we mentioned above.
Best buy More than £30,000: Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT
Few cars can be described as ‘perennials’ in our awards, but the Honda Civic Type R is getting to that stage. Over the past couple of years, the Type R has demolished all comers, but last year we wondered whether it had met its match.
That was when it faced the hotly awaited arrival of the Renault Mégane RS, which turned out to be very good indeed. But not Type R good, because although it was almost as quick on a track, it wasn’t as beautifully balanced on the road, which is where it really matters. This year was another big test for the Type R, because we had the new Ford Focus ST to try. But try as it might, the Focus ST proved neither as quick in a straight line nor through corners.
What makes the Type R so good? Masses of traction, huge grip and a chassis that’s as well honed as a racing car but won’t bite the uninitiated in the behind. Oh yes, and an engine that, once it’s into its stride, has been proved to outgun cars with way more power.
Overall hot hatch winner: Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT
The Fiesta ST is a feisty little scamp that’s a hoot to drive on the tightest, twistiest back roads and fantastic value for money. The Hyundai i30 N is also a bargain, and after even a moment behind the wheel you’ll be revelling in the crackling and popping engine and sweet handling.
But neither car has destroyed all comers like the Honda Civic Type R. But believe it or not, the fact that the Type R can corner faster than some supercars and feels like a road-legal touring car racer aren’t the only reasons it wins. It wins overall because it’s so multi-dimensional, being one of the roomiest, most comfortable and best-equipped hot hatchbacks you can buy, as well as the quickest.
In this category we look for:
- Sharp performance
- Good ride/ handling balance
- High build quality
- Decent practicality
- Sophisticated appearance
Best buy Less than £30,000: Audi TT Coupé 40 TFSI Sport S tronic
The Audi TT was missing from this category last year. No, we didn’t forget in a moment of amnesia; at the time it was off sale while Audi gave it a mid-life spruce up. That meant the BMW 2 Series came in and stole the honours in a category the TT has historically dominated.
So why, then, has it stormed straight back in at number one in this price point? Well, the TT continues to be a sharper, sportier option than the 2 Series, which you can tell the minute you get behind the wheel. Although purists love the idea of a rear-wheel-drive BMW, it’s actually the front-driven TT that’s nimbler and more precise. And don’t think it’s a boneshaker; sure, the suspension is relatively firm around town – although never crashy – but hit the motorway and the TT is jolly compliant.
Then there’s the new 194bhp 2.0 TFSI engine. This packs way more punch than a 218i, and, speaking of packing, if you think a TT is impractical, think again: despite its slinky, dinky packaging, you can fit a road bike in the back with the rear seats down.
Best buy £35,000-£50,000: Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 AMG Line Premium
To get to the point of winning its price point, the CLA has had to get the better of other fine cars: the bigger Audi A5 Sportback and Volkswagen Arteon, to name but two. So why does it get the gong? Because it’s incredibly stylish, with a lavish interior that, on pizazz points alone, outguns the A5’s demonstrably, and the Arteon’s by a country mile. It backs that up with substantial substance, too. Take its stonking performance, which will vanquish any A5 costing similar money.
On the subject of money, the CLA’s rock-solid resale values make it a better long-term proposition for private cash buyers than an A5 or Arteon, and if you’re a finance buyer, its low depreciation delivers lower monthly PCP rates than its rivals as well.
And don’t think you’ll want for executive toys. The CLA in this specification twinkles like a mirror ball with more kit and caboodle than its rivals, and if you’re out and about and want to load up with kit, the boot’s enormous. It’s happens to be one of the safest cars on the market, too.
Best buy More than £50,000: Aston Martin DB11 V8
Considering this is one of our priciest price points, the expectations are higher than a kite caught on the Shard. Thanks god, then, that the Aston Martin DB11 V8 delivers. For a start, look at it; the all-new Polestar 1 may look sharp, but even a Bentley Continental GT struggles to out-suave the splendiferous Aston.
The Bentley can’t compete dynamically, either, because when it comes to a sporty coupé, the DB11 is one of the best in the business. It’ll cut through corners more cleanly than the Queen through ribbons, demonstrating the kind of alacrity, steering feel and body control that belies a car of this size. The Continental GT and Mercedes-Benz S63 feel quite lumbering by comparison, and don’t think the Bentley will be any more comfortable over patched-up roads; it isn’t.
The Aston shares its mighty V8 engine with the S63, which offers standout acceleration and sounds no less intoxicating and mellifluous here. So sit back, ensconced in the sea of handcrafted natural hides and wools that adorn the interior, and enjoy the delights of the traditional GT car at its very best.
Overall Coupé winner: Audi TT Coupé 40 TFSI Sport S tronic
It doesn’t always boil down to ‘the cheapest car wins’. But on this occasion we feel that you get everything, and more, for less. The TT isn’t as astounding to look at inside as the CLA, or indeed as bespoke as the DB11, but it’s arguably more exquisitely put together than both of its dearer rivals, and still thoroughly contemporary inside.
Since the update this year it’s gained a new engine that delivers pace almost on a par with the rapid CLA and, while it’s not anywhere near as accelerative as the DB11, we doubt it would be far behind down a slippery, sinewy country road, and its driver’s smile no less extreme. It really is the ultimate coupé for everyone and every occasion.
In this category we look for:
- A strong sense of connection to the car, even when you’re tootling
- Plenty of power from a melodic engine
- Handling that doesn’t come at the expense of a backbreaking ride
- Practicality is nice to have, but not essential
Best buy Less than £30,000: Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav+
If you’ve got £25,000 burning a hole in your pocket and want the funnest thing on four wheels for the money, the answer is always MX-5. For a start it’s tiny, so you can thread it along narrow B-roads without worrying about clashing mirrors with someone, while grip levels are fairly modest. That might not sound great for a sports car, but it means you can really explore its playful chassis without travelling at warp factor nine.
And it’s certainly not slow thanks to a rev-hungry 2.0-litre engine that comes sans-turbo for a lightning-fast response from the accelerator pedal. Sure, you’ll need to use every one of the 7000rpm it’ll spin to for it to feel fast, but the soulful bark it produces makes it something to relish time and time again. It’ll certainly give you far more aural pleasure than the Toyota GT86 and it’ll cost you less money to buy and run, should yawn-inducing factors like that be forced upon you. With the option to fold the roof down for some topless fun and generous levels of standard equipment in our favoured Sport Nav+ trim, the MX-5 fully deserves its silverware once more.
Best buy £30,000-£60,000: Alpine A110 Pure
To beat the Porsche 718 Cayman once is a hell of an achievement, but to beat a revised Cayman range with more focused versions such as the T and GT4 shows just how utterly beguiling the reborn Alpine A110 is. Key to its appeal is a featherweight construction that means it weighs a whopping quarter of a tonne less than the porky Porsche. That means the suspension doesn’t have to be overly stiff, tyres particularly wide or engine massively powerful for it to perform as well as it does.
Yes, the Cayman or more focused A110 S will be faster around a track, but the A110 Pure we love so dearly is all about having fun on the road. Indeed, it’s supple enough to attack a potholed and undulating country road that would spit a BMW M2 Competition into the weeds.
And while the Cayman sounds like a cross between an old VW Beetle and a cement mixer, the A110’s fruity rasp just goads you on even more. With steering that constantly chatters about the road’s surface and even reasonable running costs on its side, the A110 is unmatched at this price point.
Best buy More than £60,000: Porsche 911 Carrera 2 PDK
A new 911 is always big news, and this ‘992’ generation is no exception. Wider, more powerful and more usable than before, you could almost hear purist’s teeth grinding before anyone had actually driven the car. However, those that worried the 911 had gone soft can breathe a sigh of relief. That’s because although it’s perfectly usable everyday thanks to its blend of relative comfort, practicality and ease of use, it can still plaster a big, stupid grin across your face.
For a start, it still sounds distinctively 911, with a baleful howl as you approach the redline and more than enough performance for all but the most addled of adrenaline junkies. The steering is precise, perfectly weighted and sends plenty of messages through the wheel rim to tell you just enough about the road’s surface without chattering unnecessarily.
Then there’s the handling, with immense traction on all but the wettest of days, virtually no body lean and a sense of agility that highlights how this is a sports car first and a grand tourer second. It’s so much more fun than an AMG GT or Aston Martin Vantage and so much more usable than an Audi R8 or McLaren 570S. You could say it’s all the sports car you’d ever need and then some.
Overall Sport Car winner: Alpine A110 Pure
That’s right: even the might of a brand new Porsche 911 can’t stop the Alpine A110 from picking up the overall sports car crown for a second year in a row. That’s because the A110 is intoxicatingly engaging, approachable and so much fun, you’ll be setting your alarm for 3am every Sunday just to get out there and drive.
It’s a lot pricier than the MX-5, but the additional precision and better body control over tumultuous Tarmac, not to mention that those over six-foot tall will actually fit make it worth the extra. Besides, the A110 is even better on fuel if you’re careful, so you’ll save money in the long run. Probably.
As for the 911, it might sound better and be outright faster, but the A110’s lower limits and chattier steering mean you’re more connected more of the time. There’s no doubt, the A110 is sensationally good.
In this category we look for:
- Entertainingly agile handling
- Eye widening acceleration
- A fruity exhaust note
- Punchy, characterful engine
- Great driving position
- Everyday usability
Best buy Less than £50,000: Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon
Take one regular Mercedes A-Class Saloon, add a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 302bhp, feed this to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and you’ve got the A35 Saloon you’re looking at here. Naturally, such a hefty power figure in a small saloon gives rapid acceleration. The run from 0-62mph takes a mere 4.8sec – Porsche Cayman territory – and it emits a pleasing rasp from the twin exhausts in the process. But it doesn’t just swallow straights in one big gulp; it’s got a real hunger for corners, too.
The four-wheel drive system certainly adds all-weather capability, but this isn’t some boring, straight-laced saloon. It feels keen to dive into corners, giving a real sense of agility, and you can really feel the rear tyres dig in on the way out. That makes it just as entertaining as the rather raggedy Kia Stinger GT S, but far more capable in slippery conditions. Of course, the Audi S3 Saloon has a similar skillset to the A35, but it isn’t long for this world.
Inside, the A35 is just as stunning as the regular A-Class, but with an added sporting garnish, thanks to sports seats and an AMG steering wheel. Crucially, it’s comfy and practical enough to use every day. That makes it an exceedingly compelling package that’s impossible to beat at this price.
Best buy £50,000-£80,000: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo 510
Despite new competition from the Audi RS5 Sportback and BMW M340i xDrive, it’s the Giulia Quadrifoglio (or four-leaf clover for those who don’t speak Italian) that remains our favourite speedy saloon. Unsurprisingly, a big part of the appeal is a twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 that has more than a dash of Ferrari DNA and a voice that would make an opera singer jealous. However, despite it sending all 503bhp to the rear wheels alone, this isn’t some scary monster of a car.
The back axle has plenty of bite, so you can push on confidently whatever the weather. Sure, it can be persuaded to wag its tail if you flick it into Race mode, but this is something to be enjoyed rather than feared, especially given the quick and precise steering.
Unlike rock-hard rivals, the Giulia also has a softer side. With the standard adaptive suspension in its most compliant mode, the ride is soft enough for long journeys to pass by comfortably and the engine is refined when you’re not poking it with a stick. Given that the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s purchase price is competitive and you get plenty of standard equipment, its victory is an easy one.
Best buy More than £80,000: Mercedes-AMG E-Class Estate E63 S 4Matic+
Although some might think a big, sensible estate car means you’ve settled down and put all thoughts of excitement behind you, those people have clearly never seen an E63 S Estate. You see, this is the automotive equivalent of a reverse mullet. Out back, it’s all business, thanks to a vast load area and a spacious back seat. However, up front is all party, thanks to a mighty twin-turbo V8 with a dizzying 604bhp.
Unlike some rivals, the E63 is no point-and-squirt weapon. Instead, the clever four-wheel drive system makes it feel rear-wheel drive in the majority of situations, so you can have some proper fun in bends. Should you find yourself on track, you can make it rear-wheel drive only and immolate the rear tyres on demand.
Sure, the ride is a bit on the firm side, but it’s acceptable and certainly won’t rattle your kids’ baby teeth out. Instead, they’ll probably be more impressed by the luxurious interior, acres of space and impressive infotainment system. Crucially, it’s more exciting to drive than a BMW M5 and has a far flashier interior, while it isn’t as exorbitantly priced as the less practical Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo.
Overall Performance Car winner: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo 510
For the third year in a row, it’s the Giulia Quadrifoglio that tops our performance car category, and for very good reason. For a start, it’s more entertaining to drive than the cheaper yet less involving A35 Saloon, not to mention more spacious, if that’s of concern. As for the E63 Estate, it may be even faster and more practical, but the price chasm is hard to swallow, especially given than the Giulia is comfier and a bit more fun.
But the Giulia isn’t just about putting an ear-to-ear grin on your face. As long as you don’t mind frequent trips to the petrol station, this is a car you could comfortably use every day. That makes it the ideal performance car, in our book.
In this category we look for:
- Practicality that isn’t sacrificed for style
- Decent value compared with noncoupé equivalents
- Sensible running costs
- Classy interior design
Best buy Less than £35,000: Audi Q3 Sportback 35 TFSI Sport
A head start is always welcome, and the Q3 Sportback had just that when it was launched in 2019. It takes all the best bits of the regular Q3 SUV – impressive performance, tidy handling and a beautifully crafted interior – and dresses them in a more eye-catching shape with very little impact on practicality. In fact, with a sliding, reclining rear seat, the Q3 Sportback has a more flexible interior than its BMW X2 rival, and its boot is easily big enough for family duties.
The least expensive 35 TFSI engine also happens to be our pick of the range; with 148bhp and electric mild hybrid assistance, it certainly isn’t short on pep, yet its vivacious performance comes without astronomical running costs. What’s more, our favourite Sport trim is generously enough equipped that there’s little need to get too busy with the options list. Automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance are both fitted as standard.
Its ride is a little on the firm side but still proves comfortable on long journeys, and the petrol models are particularly quiet inside. Overall, while the stylish Q3 Sportback is a little pricier than its more sober sibling, its greater physical appeal justifies the extra outlay.
Best buy £35,000-£60,000: Range Rover Velar D180 S
You couldn’t ask for a more comprehensive range of engines than that offered by the Range Rover Velar. The flagship SVAutobiography model is powered by a huge 5.0-litre petrol V8 that lends it sports-car humbling performance, yet our favourite – the entry-level 2.0-litre D180 diesel – feels just as at home under the Velar’s sleek bonnet.
The effortless way it accelerates up to motorway speeds is perfectly in keeping with this SUV’s relaxed demeanour, complementing a more cosseting ride than its BMW X4 and Porsche Macan rivals can offer. The Velar’s interior doesn’t let the side down, either, particularly with the standard 14-way electrically-adjustable seats of our favourite S trim level. There’s more space in the back than you’ll find in the Porsche Macan, too.
There’s also no disputing the high-tech wow factor of the touchscreen infotainment and climate controls that dominate the Velar’s dashboard, and there are rotary dials to ensure key functions aren’t overly frustrating to access. Those who would assume that its concept-car looks are a clue that it’s more style than substance would be amazed by how capable it is on rough terrain, too; make no mistake, this traditional Range Rover attribute is prominent on the Velar’s CV.
Best buy More than £60,000: Audi Q8 50 TDI S Line
Some recipes seem truly bizarre, and the Audi Q8 shouldn’t make sense at all. Yet, although it’s based on the hulking Audi Q7 SUV, the Q8 is an altogether more svelte, nimble proposition and can match its BMW X6 rival for performance and handling prowess.
Where it definitely shows its rival a clean pair of heels, though, is inside. Few cars at any price can beat the sense of quality and precision that the Q8’s interior exudes, with rock-solid build quality and top-notch materials all around. There’s also more space for rear passengers than the X6 provides, and a bigger boot for their luggage.
These qualities make the Q8 a great car for long-distance travel, as does its V6 50 TDI engine. It’s barely audible at motorway speeds and provides effortless shove for those urgent back-road overtakes, or for when joining fast-moving traffic. It’s surprisingly economical, too, besting equivalents from BMW and Mercedes. Yes, the Q8 is pricey, but it arguably belongs in a class of its own, plugging a gap between the BMW X6 and Bentley Bentayga, a car with which it has lots in common under the surface. And when that car’s intimidating price is taken into account, the Q8 suddenly looks quite sensible.
Overall Coupé SUV Winner: Range Rover Velar D180 S
You could argue that the Velar has cheated to win this award – it’s the only contestant that isn’t derived from a squared-rigged stablemate. But, by delicately straddling the line between Coupé and SUV shapes, it truly delivers the best of both worlds.
Where the Q3 Sportback’s steeply raked roofline restricts its rear head room, the Velar’s clever styling delivers no such compromise. And, while the Q8 is a hugely impressive machine, it’s not altogether easy to justify its extra cost over the Q7 on which it’s based.
The Velar wins for being a terrific all-rounder that balances style and substance without losing its grip on the realities of daily life, and our favourite engine and trim combination is a very tempting ownership proposition.
WHAT CAR? CAR OF THE YEAR 2020: Ford Puma
And the winner is… the Ford Puma 1.0L mHEV 155 ST-Line X.
The Range Rover Evoque would have made a worthy overall winner, having seen off a former Car of the Year to take the honours in the Family SUV class, while the Skoda Scala and Tesla Model 3 were also strong contenders for the top prize. However, in 2020 they’ve had the misfortune of coming up against the new Ford Puma.
As a small SUV, this competes in one of the fastest growing sectors of the car market. And, crucially, it excels in all of the areas that our research shows are important to buyers.
Thanks to its sharp handling, gutsy engine and clever mild hybrid technology it offers a mix of fun and frugality not previously seen. Plus, it’s very well priced and equipped, and as spacious as it is stylish. In short, it’s truly outstanding.
The best cars for safety must have gained five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. They must perform well in four key areas: adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, minimising harm to vulnerable road users and having active safety systems that can detect other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists and act to help prevent accidents. On top of that the winning car needs to be reasonably affordable so that the best safety systems are available to the widest possible audience.
WINNER: BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series is a great all-rounder when it comes to safety, and a deserving winner of the title Safety Award winner 2020 even though it wasn’t quite the top scorer of the year in Euro NCAP tests. It has excellent adult and child occupant protection, it’s been designed to minimise the injuries it would cause to vulnerable road users in the event of an accident and its active safety systems are among the best.
Second Place: Tesla Model 3
The Model 3 gained 94% for its safety assistance systems; by far the highest score of the year. With scores of 100% for its lane support system, which includes both lane keep assistance and emergency lane keeping, it shows that a well designed system can protect the driver without annoying them.
Third Place: Mercedes-Benz CLA
With an overall score of 90% in Euro NCAP tests, the CLA beats the 3 Series by 1.5% and is the highest achiever of the year. It performed well in crash tests, gaining 92% for keeping adults safe and 88% for child protection. As well as a pop-up bonnet to minimise injuries to pedestrians and cyclists, it has a highly effective automated emergency braking system that’s able to detect them and avoid or mitigate collisions.
Our Technology Award celebrates innovation in all its forms. This year, we put a particular focus on technology which makes driving easier or safer. Manufacturers were invited to pitch an entry from the past year. Our panel of judges then chose a winner:
WINNER: Subaru Driver Monitoring System
Driver Monitoring Systems improve safety by sounding an alarm when a driver is either distracted or drowsy – meaning that their full attention isn’t on the road ahead. The alarm refocuses your attention on the road, or alerts you to the need to take a break.
Subaru’s system is the most advanced of its kind, and uses facial recognition software to keep an eye on a driver’s eyes. If it detects that a driver’s gaze has wandered – for example, by staring out of the side window for too long – or that they’re too tired to continue, it sounds an alarm. The system knows if a driver is feeling drowsy, because it can detect if you’re frequently closing your eyes for long periods of time.
Second Place: Volkswagen Golf Car2X
The new Volkswagen Golf will be able to talk to other cars when it goes on sale in the Spring. Not literally talk, of course, but it will be able to warn other cars of traffic jams or other potential hazards – such as a broken-down car or approaching emergency service vehicles – thanks to a system known as Car2X.
Third Place: Hyundai Central Airbag
Central airbags act as a divide against each side of the car, and can cut down on head injuries caused by passengers hitting each other by 80%. Central airbags themselves aren’t new, but Hyundai’s system is both lighter and smaller than other designs, and that means it can be fitted to smaller cars. The new i20 small car is likley to be the first Hyundai to receive the new central airbag next year.
We asked What Car? Website users which new car appearing in 2020 they were most looking forward to. These are the top three:
WINNER: Land Rover Defender
Automotive icons don’t come much bigger than the Land Rover Defender, so it follows that when the covers came off the all-new model at September’s Frankfurt motor show, thousands were watching. And rightly so, because the scale of the Defender’s reinvention is right up there with Apple or New Coke – everything from how it looks to what powers it, and from where it’s positioned to who it’s aimed at has changed.
Second Place: Volkswagen ID 3
Less than 40 votes separated our second and third-place contenders, but by the final bell it was Volkswagen’s all-electric family hatchback which took home the silver medal. The ID 3 offers up to 342 miles of range, yet prices should start from around £29,000. Even entry-level cars come loaded with kit including sat-nav, heated seats and 18in alloys, too.
Third Place: Jaguar XJ
That Jaguar Land Rover takes two of the podium spots this year shows what an exciting year 2020 is setting out to be for the company, but while the Defender will only be partly electrified, Jaguar is going the whole hog with an all-electric XJ luxury saloon.
During 2019 we surveyed 18,119 owners about the reliability of their cars, giving us the ability to rank 31 makes of car and 218 models.
WINNER: Lexus - Reliability rating: 96%
The luxury Japanese car brand managed a clean sweep of wins in the latest What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming the top spot for cars aged up to five with an almost perfect 99%, and for those aged six to 15 years old. Its score of 93% in the older car category demonstrated just how dependable its cars are as they age.
Second place: Suzuki - Reliability rating: 95%
Suzuki owners told us their cars remained doggedly durable as the years piled on. As well as a near-faultless 98% reliability rating for cars aged up to five, the brand scored 92% for models aged up to 15.
Third place: Toyota - Reliability rating: 93%
Toyota only missed out on one of the higher places because the dependability of its cars tailed off with age; the overall reliability rating for models aged up to 15 years old dipped to 88%, 10% down on the performance of newer cars.