slideshow

What Car?’s best used cars in Britain

Time to take a look at the results of the What Car? Used Car Awards for 2020...

2 Oct 2019 14:30

The What Car? Used Car Awards winners for 2020 are here.

Mazda MX-5 being examined by our used car team

We’ve looked at every used car in every category, combining the road testing expertise of our whole team with the knowledge of our used car experts to pick out the shining lights in each class.

We choose cars that fulfil the criteria for their class - for example that a small car must be practical and frugal, and an SUV spacious and refined – and also take account of their reliability as show in our recent Reliability Survey. And that way for every class of car, we choose a winner and two runners-up – let’s take a look:

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CONVERTIBLE: Audi A3 Cabriolet (2014-present)

Audi A3 Cabriolet (2014-present)

Best buy: Less than £15,000

The Audi A3 Cabriolet has been a regular price point winner in this section over the years, and no wonder. It’s stylish, it rides comfortably and it’s great to drive, with a wide range of punchy and efficient engines to choose from, both petrol and diesel. Add to that its tidy handling and impressive re­finement and it’s hard to fault.

The interior, meanwhile, is a classy delight, featuring high-quality materials and great design. There’s also a fantastic dial-controlled infotainment system. While the BMW 4 Series Convertible has gone down the folding metal hard-top route, the A3 Cabriolet has stuck with a more traditional fabric roof, which saves weight (and can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 31mph), yet the car still feels solid.

CONVERTIBLE: Audi A3 Cabriolet (2014-present) - interior

Audi A3 Cabriolet (2014-present) - interior

In the end, the Audi is better value than both the 4 Series and the highly impressive but less agile Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. We’d look for a 1.4 TFSI turbo petrol in Sport trim; this version is handsomely equipped, and its smoothness and turn of speed serve to enhance the A3’s premium credentials.

RUNNERS-UP: BMW 4 Series Convertible (2013-present); Mercedes-Benz E Class Cabriolet (2017-present)

CITY CAR: Volkswagen Up (2012-present)

Volkswagen Up (2012-present)

Best buy: Less than £8000

If you remember last year’s used car award winners, you’ll know that we gave the city car trophy to one of the Up’s siblings, the Skoda Citigo. However, the Volkswagen gets the nod this time around, because it’s classier inside yet the required price premium has reduced.

In addition, it offers a more powerful version of the VW Group’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, which will pay dividends when you need to venture onto faster roads.

CITY CAR: Volkswagen Up (2012-present) - interior

Volkswagen Up (2012-present) - interior

And the great thing about the Up is that you can happily do just that, because its driving position is spot on and its ride pretty forgiving. In fact, it’s more comfortable and spacious inside than its main rival, the Kia Picanto, while the 89bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre engine is punchy and pleasantly refined.

Furthermore, the Up’s interior is much smarter and better equipped than the Suzuki Celerio’s, which looks dated and doesn’t feel as substantial. So, for less than £8000, nothing can beat the overall package of the Up. It ticks all our boxes, plus there’s the added feel-good factor of getting a desirable badge for a bargain price.

RUNNERS-UP: Suzuki Celerio (2015-2019); Kia Picanto (2017-present)

COUPÉ: Audi TT (2014-present)

Audi TT (2014-present)

Best buy: Less than £15,000

No car has won as many What Car? awards over the years as the Audi TT, both as a new purchase and as a used one. If anything, we rate it even more when it’s got some miles under its belt.

That’s because you get to enjoy all of its many fine features – its eager handling, delightful interior, refined line-up of engines and strong performance – at a fraction of the price of a car that’s just come fresh out of the showroom.

COUPÉ: Audi TT (2014-present) - interior

Audi TT (2014-present) - interior

You can find examples of our favoured 2.0 TFSI Sport model for less than £15,000 – great news when you remember that the TT is clearly ahead of its rivals in so many ways. This third-generation version embodies all that’s good about the TT: it’s agile, fast and easy to drive, while the whole thing feels rock solid.

The TT looks neat, too, and even though it was up against two great-looking rivals, in the end it was an easy winner here, because it’s much sharper to drive than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé and even better value for money than the Audi A5 Coupé. Satisfaction is most definitely guaranteed.

RUNNERS-UP: Audi A5 Coupé (2016-present); Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé (2016-present)

ELECTRIC CAR: Renault Zoe (2013-present)

Renault Zoe (2013-present)

Best buy: Less than £15,000

Battery electric vehicles have stirred up a huge amount of public interest in recent years, but the trouble is that this technology is expensive and therefore out of reach for a large proportion of the car-buying population.

The answer is to buy a used one, taking advantage of depreciation. That’s where the funky-looking Renault Zoe scores. You see, you can pick up an early example of this small electric hatchback for as little as £6000although you’ll then need to pay a monthly fee to lease the battery.

ELECTRIC CAR: Renault Zoe (2013-present) - interior

Renault Zoe (2013-present) - interior

The Zoe is practical and easy to drive and there are plenty of used examples to choose from. Later models upped the official WLTP range to 186 miles – a very respectable figure – and can now be had for around £15,000.

In our preferred R110 Dynamique Nav guise, the Zoe is a better all-rounder than the rival Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV. It sees off our other two price point winners too, offering a longer range than the Volkswagen e-Golf and trumping the Jaguar I-Pace by bringing zero emissions motoring within reach of the masses.

RUNNERS-UP: Volkswagen e-Golf (2014-present); Jaguar I-Pace (2018-present)

ESTATE CAR: Volkswagen Passat Estate (2015-present)

Volkswagen Passat Estate (2015-present)

Best buy: Less than £17, 000

It may have been around in various guises for what seems like forever, but the Volkswagen Passat is still a bit of an unsung hero. Through its various generations, it has always impressed us with its all-round competence and air of solidity, whether as a saloon or an estate, and in recent years it has spread its wings, growing noticeably bigger and moving more deliberately upmarket.

As such, this latest version is good to drive, remarkably refined and classy and well equipped inside.

ESTATE CAR: Volkswagen Passat Estate (2015-present) - interior

Volkswagen Passat Estate (2015-present) - interior

What’s more, the estate version has a boot that only the very largest cars in this category can rival for sheer size and space. This load bay is practical, too, thanks to a low loading lip and a variable-height door. That you can have all this competence and classiness with such a huge chunk off the price on a car that’s barely a year old seals victory for the Passat Estate – over not only comparable wagons but also the other splendid price point winners here from Seat and BMW.

Our pick would be the economical 2.0 TDI 150 diesel in SE trim, which comes with all the luxuries anyone could reasonably expect.

RUNNERS-UP: Seat Leon ST (2013-present); BMW 5 Series Touring (2017-present)

EXECUTIVE CAR: Skoda Superb (2016-present)

Skoda Superb (2016-present)

Best buy: Less than £14,000

The Volkswagen Arteon fell to the Skoda Superb by virtue of space; nothing else in the executive car class can match the Skoda in this regard. In fact, if practicality were the only factor by which this category were judged, the Superb would win without ever turning a wheel.

Victory over our 2016 new Car of the Yearthe Audi A4, wasn’t so clear cut. But what finally swung the vote in the Superb’s favour was price – because a saving of more than £10,000 on a car that was cheaper than the competition to begin with is simply too good to ignore.

EXECUTIVE CAR: Skoda Superb (2016-present) - interior

Skoda Superb (2016-present) - interior

It’s that value for money that elevates the Superb over the other offerings at this price point, too, including the previous-generation BMW 3 Series and the current Mercedes-Benz C-ClassInside, every Superb comes well equipped, including those in our recommended SE trimand features plenty of soft-touch materials and an excellent touchscreen infotainment system. 

With a £14,000 budget, you’ll find Superbs with our favoured 2.0-litre diesel engine and less than 20,000 miles on the clock. As a well known supermarket often asks, why pay more?

RUNNERS-UP: Audi A4 (2015-present); Volkswagen Arteon (2017-present)

FAMILY CAR: Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present)

Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present)

Best buy: Less than £18,000 

It’s crazy, really: the current Audi A3 Sportback is about to go off sale, yet it’s still trouncing all comers. That’s a testament to the rightness of our decision to name it as our overall new Car of the Year back in 2013.

Indeed, the whole package stands up to the same scrutiny today. The A3 drives brilliantly, finding an ideal balance between a supple ride and tidy handling. It’s also refined and practical, while its interior is a class act, with high-quality materials and a top-notch infotainment system.

FAMILY CAR: Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present) - interior

Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present) - interior

On top of all that, there’s a range of fine engines, including 1.4-litre and 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engines with cylinder-on demand technology, for good fuel economy. A year-old 1.5 TFSI Sport (our favourite model) can now be had for less than £18,000 – a huge saving over a new one. This, along with its broad talents, gives the A3 the edge over the likes of the Ford Focus and Honda Civic.

Indeed, it’s such exceptional value at this age and price that it beats the worthy Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia to lift the family car crown. Neither offers as much for the money as the premium A3.

RUNNERS-UP: Seat Leon (2013-present); Skoda Octavia (2013-present)

HOT HATCH: Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017)

Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017)

Best buy: Less than £15,000

The Ford Fiesta ST has long been a favourite here, having scooped the used hot hatch award a couple of years ago, and it’s easy to see why: it offers terrific performance and oodles of fun for a bargain price.

A punchy 1.6-litre turbo engine means it’s quick, while its slick manual gearbox is a delight to use. Meanwhile, its handling is hugely entertaining, with bags of grip, little body roll and quick steering. You have to be willing to put up with a very firm ride, though.

HOT HATCH: Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017) - interior

Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017) - interior

The supportive seats and sporty styling additions don’t take away from the practicality of the Fiesta, either; there’s more than enough room for a couple of suitcases in the boot and two people in the back for a long journey.

The 2018 introduction of a new-generation Fiesta ST has suppressed used prices of our preferred previous model to the point where you can find loads of well-equipped 2017 cars for less than £12,000, opening up a more significant price gap between it and last year’s winner, the BMW M140i, and the Renault Mégane RS. The ST will be cheaper to run, too.

RUNNERS-UP: BMW M140i (2017-2019); Renault Mégane RS (2018-present)

HYBRID: Volvo XC90 T8 (2015-present)

Volvo XC90 T8 (2015-present)

Best buy: Less than £40,000

Hybrid cars used to be predominantly found in cities, because their electric driving technology had limited effect at higher speeds. But modern hybrids are much better at this and so should suit even sceptical high-mileage diesel drivers.

Each of our award winners here shows that regardless of your budget or priorities, you can get a great used hybrid car without compromising what you’re used to. The Hyundai Ioniq, for example, is a great family car for those on a budget. And if you want more excitement, the performance and rear-wheel-drive handling of the BMW 330e might well be just what you’ve been looking for.

HYBRID: Volvo XC90 T8 (2015-present) - interior

Volvo XC90 T8 (2015-present) - interior

However, it’s the sheer value of the Volvo XC90 T8 that takes the win, because you can now get this luxurious seven-seat SUV for almost half its list price when new. What’s more, unlike some hybrid and plug-in hybrid SUVs, the T8 doesn’t lose its third row of seats.

And unlike the Ioniq, it can drive on its electric motor alone, and do so for the same distance as the much less practical 330e. If you’re in the market for a greener vehicle, it’s the best used hybrid you can buy right now.

RUNNERS-UP: Hyundai Ioniq (2017-present); BMW 330e (2016-2018)

LARGE SUV: Kia Sorento (2016-present)

Kia Sorento (2016-present)

Best buy: Less than £17,000

When Kia launched this third-generation Sorento in 2017, we were impressed. Not only did it have all the space and practicality of the previous version, but it was also much improved in both its driving manners and its fit and finish.

Indeed, it’s now noticeably more refined than several of its more premium rivals, including the Land Rover Discovery Sport, so you don’t need to make excuses for buying a Sorento; it now displays an all-round competence that makes owning one seem like a very sensible idea. It’s easy to drive, with a commanding driving position, plus it’s well equipped and simply enormous inside.

LARGE SUV: Kia Sorento (2016-present) - interior

Kia Sorento (2016-present) - interior

Buy a nearly two-year-old example (as we’ve picked here) from a franchised dealer and you can enjoy a full seven-year warranty – the same as you get on a new one – thanks to Kia’s generous approved used scheme.

You’ll also get a very good car at a cut price; the Discovery Sport and Audi Q5 (our other two finalists) simply can’t match that value. We’d seek out the KX-2 version, which offers all the goodies you could reasonably want or need.

RUNNERS-UP: Audi Q5 (2018-present); Land Rover Discovery Sport (2013-present)

LUXURY CAR: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (2014-present)

Mercedes-Benz S-Class (2014-present)

Best buy: Less than £35,000

You might be surprised to see the Mercedes-Benz S-Class taking the overall victory in this category, given that it’s the cheaper BMW 5 Series that’s been our favourite for the past two years at our new car awards. But the price gap between the two narrows significantly when you’re buying used – so much so, in fact, that we feel the S-Class is an absolute steal.

At the same time, while the more expensive Porsche Panamera can put a bigger smile on your face on the right road, and the likes of the Audi A7 Sportback and Mercedes’ own CLS are more stylish to many eyes, it’s the S-Class that’s the more complete luxury car package.

LUXURY CAR: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (2014-present) - interior

Mercedes-Benz S-Class (2014-present) - interior

For starters, its ability to eat up motorway miles is second to none. In addition, you get to relax in one of the finest car interiors money can buy, and it’s loaded with clever technology that helps to take the stress out of driving.

Add in its incredibly low noise levels, plus the fact that our favourite S350d diesel version averaged more than 35mpg in our True MPG fuel economy test, and the S-Class is simply unbeatable in this category.

RUNNERS-UP: BMW 5 Series (2017-present); Porsche Panamera (2016 -present)

LUXURY SUV: Volvo XC90 (2015–present)

Volvo XC90 (2015–present)

Best buy: Less than £30,000

It used to be easy to turn a mud-plugger into a luxury vehicle; you simply added some wood to the dashboard and a bit of carpet to the floor. Those days are long gone now, because while a luxury SUV doesn’t need quite the same offroad abilities, it needs to be a practical family vehicle and provide a quiet, comfortable space in which to cover long distances.

And the car that best encapsulates these qualities this year is the Volvo XC90 – especially when you can find examples for less than £30,000.

LUXURY SUV: Volvo XC90 (2015–present) - interior

Volvo XC90 (2015–present) - interior

It should come as no surprise that the XC90 is highly practical. Volvo is, after all, the brand that popularised the boxy estate car. There’s not only plenty of head and leg room for five people but also space for two more in the third row, as well as a respectable amount of luggage in the boot – something that can’t be said of the Range Rover Sport, one of the other finalists in this category.

The XC90 may not have a smooth V6 diesel engine like the Audi Q7, but in our chosen 2.0-litre D5 Momentum spec, it undercuts that car on price by a significant margin.

RUNNERS-UP: Audi Q7 (2015-present); Range Rover Sport (2013-present)

MPV: Ford Galaxy (2015-present)

Ford Galaxy (2015-present)

Best buy: Less than £20,000

It’s no surprise that the Ford Galaxy is the default choice for minicab drivers on airport runs and suburb-to-city commutes: it offers an exceptionally airy and roomy interior for seven people and a humongous boot.

As you’d expect of Ford, the Galaxy is also one of the best-handling used MPVs you can buy, eclipsing even the impressive Volkswagen Sharan and the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer.

MPV: Ford Galaxy (2015-present) - interior

Ford Galaxy (2015-present) - interior

In addition, it’s refined, especially with our preferred 2.0 TDI 150 engine in Zetec trim, so it’s a great choice if you regularly take a car on long-distance journeys to visit far-flung places. It even has supple suspension, making it more comfortable than the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso that’s also on our shortlist this year.

All seven occupants get their own, individual seats, too, hopefully minimising any squabbling over who’s taking up the most space, and the Galaxy has more leg room in the rearmost row than the Volkswagen Touran, giving it the edge if you need to carry seven adults regularly. For the money, no other car defines this sector better than the Galaxy.

RUNNERS-UP: Citroën Grand C4 Picasso (2014-present); Volkswagen Touran (2015-present)

PERFORMANCE CAR: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016-present)

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016-present)

Best buy: Less than £45,000

It’s often said by car enthusiasts that everyone should own an Alfa Romeo at some point in their life. But for a long time that was based on a romantic ideal rather than reality, because the brand scored poorly in reliability surveys and no longer offered the driving fun it was once famous for.

Enter the Giulia. This executive saloon has proved itself as dependable as it is agile, while the high-performance Quadrifoglio version went straight to the top of its class and has remained there, making it a superb used buy. Steering that’s light but incredibly quick and a rear end that’s as planted as you want it to be combine to make the Quadrifoglio hugely entertaining in all conditions.

PERFORMANCE CAR: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016-present) - interior

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016-present) - interior

In addition, it’s almost as fast as the much more expensive Mercedes-AMG E63 and on a whole different level from the Jaguar XE S.

Add in a fantastic soundtrack from the Quadrifoglio’s 503bhp twin-turbocharged V6 – particularly in Race mode – plus the fact that 2017 cars are available for £20,000 less than they cost new and it’s hugely appealing.

RUNNERS-UP: Jaguar XE S (2015-2018); Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate (2017-present)

SMALL CAR: Skoda Fabia (2015-present)

Skoda Fabia (2015-present)

Best buy: Less than £6000

It’s always good to feel like you’ve got more for your money. The Skoda Fabia won this award last year too, but on that occasion it emerged from the sub-£10,000 category; this time it beat all comers for just £6000, and you’re still getting the exact same 1.0 TSI 95 SE model.

Usually when a car is this cheap, there’s a compromise that must be made. But not here. After all, we named the Fabia as our overall Car of the Year when it arrived back in 2015, because it provided practical, low-cost transportation yet was also good to drive, comfortable and equipped with most of the features and tech you could want.

SMALL CAR: Skoda Fabia (2015-present) - interior

Skoda Fabia (2015-present) - interior

This all still holds true, plus our Reliability Survey has since revealed that the Fabia holds up well. Giving the Fabia the nod over the much more expensive Volkswagen Polo was a fairly easy decision, but justifying victory over the Seat Ibiza was harder, because the Spanish car is closer on price as well as being quite a bit roomier.

However, we don’t think most people will mind a little lost space when getting a car that’s otherwise every bit as good for £4000 less.

RUNNERS-UP: Seat Ibiza (2017-present); Volkswagen Polo (2018-present)

SMALL SUV: Kia Sportage (2016–present)

Kia Sportage (2016–present)

Best buy: Less than £15,000

If you buy a Sportage that’s less than 20 months old with no more than 20,000 miles on the clock through Kia’s approved used programme, the warranty is topped back up to seven years. That level of peace of mind should quell the fears of even the most ardent used car sceptic.

Mind you, there shouldn’t really be much cause for you to use that warranty, because the Sportage came top of its class in the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey, well ahead of its closest rivals, the Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai. Our preferred mid-range 2 trim comes with more kit than the equivalent Volkswagen Tiguan, while there’s a lot more space inside than you’ll find in a Renault Captur.

SMALL SUV: Kia Sportage (2016–present) - interior

Kia Sportage (2016–present) - interior

The Sportage is also stress-free to drive and rather efficient when fitted with the 1.7 CRDi diesel engine. The fact that you can have all of this for less than £15,000 makes the Sportage a conspicuous bargain in its class.

Sometimes a car is inexpensive for a reason, but in the Sportage’s case it’s difficult to single out any area in which Kia has had to cut corners. For the money, it’s a rare nugget of gold.

RUNNERS-UP: Renault Captur (2013-present); Volkswagen Tiguan (2016-present)

SPORTS CAR: Porsche Cayman (2013-2016)

Porsche Cayman (2013-2016)

Best buy: Less than £35,000

A great sports car is very much like a Christmas present: there’s that same sense of anticipation every time you open the door to go for a drive as there is when you rip off the wrapping paper.

Will I enjoy it? Is it going to be everything I imagined it to be? And of the finalists on this list, it’s the Porsche Cayman that best fulfils all the heady desires of a sports car buyer. The current 718 Cayman uses a rather flat-sounding four-cylinder engine, but this car has a classic six-cylinder unit that howls when you reach the upper echelons of its rev range, yet also gearing that allows you to enjoy yourself at sensible speeds.

SPORTS CAR: Porsche Cayman (2013-2016) - interior

Porsche Cayman (2013-2016) - interior

Meanwhile, the handling is poised and highly accurate, thanks to the Cayman’s balanced mid-engine layout and fantastically capable chassis. The same could be said of the Audi R8, of course, but then it’s more than twice the price and will be far more expensive to run.

The Mazda MX-5 is outstanding too, but it doesn’t have the drama of the brawnier PorscheWe lamented the day this Cayman went off sale, but those in the used market don’t have to.

RUNNERS-UP: Mazda MX-5 (2015-present); Audi R8 (2015-present)

OVERALL WINNER: Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present)

Audi A3 Sportback (2013-present)

Picking a champion from all our category winners was no mean feat. This was a bumper year for much-admired cars, including the great-value Skoda Superb and the capacious Volvo XC90, and who could overlook the wonderful Ford Fiesta ST for its cheap-as-chips fun factor?

In the end, though, one car combined all the qualities we were looking for in its class better than the others. That car is the Audi A3 Sportback. Audi’s family hatchback is great to drive and has a roomy, classy interior. It’s practical, reliable and comfortable, too. Buy our recommended petrol 1.5 TFSI in Sport trim at a year old and you’ll struggle to tell the difference between it and a new A3, despite the fact that there’s a price difference of more than £6000.

So, we’re happy to decorate a car we’ve championed since it took our overall Car of the Year Award when it was new in 2013. That it’s still winning trophies as it nears the end of its life just goes to show how exceptional it is.