The 50 Best cars

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In the market for a new runaround? From red-blooded track beasts to the greenest city cars on the road, David Wilkins test drives this year’s top motors

Luxury:

Porsche Panamera

porsche.com/uk, from £60,272

Porsche toyed with the idea of a four-door car for years before coming up with the Panamera. Those looks take a bit of getting used to but it’s roomy and there’s even a diesel version available.

Rolls-Royce Ghost

rolls-roycemotorcars.com, from £200,500

BMW successfully reimagined the Mini, now it’s reinventing Rolls-Royce. The Ghost captures the elegance for which the RR badge is famous.

Bentley Mulsanne

bentleymotors.com, from £224,700

An outstanding product that carries forward decades of fine car building at Bentley’s UK factory in Crewe. Thanks to big investment by VW, it gets all the latest technology as well.

Jaguar XJ

jaguar.com, from £56,260

A big car but a light one, thanks to its clever aluminium body structure. The design team has also reflected the feline qualities of past Jags in this thoroughly modern shape.

Mercedes-Benz CLS

mercedes-benz.co.uk, from £47,600

At first, this secondgeneratoion CLS struggled to match the impact of the original. But the new CLS Shooting Brake estate version puts it back at the top of the tree.

 

Eco-friendly:

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

toyota.co.uk, from £28,245

The Prius was a trail-blazer, and this latest plug-in version enhances its appeal. Now, with a mains top-up, it can travel 15 miles in electric-only mode.

Smart Fortwo

uk.smart.com, from £9,475

The Smart Fortwo is roomy and comfortable – but only for two, while its tiny dimensions make parking a doddle. The long-awaited electric version hits UK showrooms this year.

Renault Twizy

renault.co.uk, from £6,795 plus £45 per month battery rental

A large quadricycle rather than a proper car, the Twizy is one of the most convincing electric vehicles to make it onto the market so far.

Nissan Leaf

nissan.co.uk, from £23,490

Not your average Nissan, the brilliant all-electric Leaf has just had a £2,500 price-cut. Most drivers, though, still won’t be able to live with this car’s limited battery range.

Chevrolet Volt

chevrolet.co.uk, from £30,255

An electric car without range anxiety – that’s the compelling proposition offered by the Volt. Its batteries will last up to 50 miles on a mains top-up before its petrol engine cuts in.

 

Sporty:

Audi RS4 Avant

audi.co.uk, from £54,925

Supercar performance in an estate body – the RS4 Avant offers everything except great fuel economy. The V8 engine provides thrilling acceleration but enthusiasts will mourn the loss of the manual gearbox.

Subaru BRZ

subaru.co.uk, from £24,995

The fruit of a link-up between Subaru and Toyota, the BRZ is an old-school rear-wheel drive sports car that’s an awful lot of fun to drive. The throbby beat of Subaru’s four-cylinder boxer engine only adds to the appeal.

Ford Focus ST

ford.co.uk, from £21,995

The new ST is a sweet, smooth and subtle thing, with none of the rough edges of previous fast Fords. One big surprise – this latest ST sounds and goes almost as well as its predecessor, despite its smaller engine.

Porsche 911

porsche.com/uk, from £71,449

The glorious Porsche 911 is 50 years old and it has only had two full updates in all that time. One thing has remained unchanged throughout, though; a rear-engined layout that shouldn’t work but does.

BMW 6-Series

bmw.co.uk, from £59,870

The 6-Series is a sports car for our times – the majority sold are powerful diesels, which would have been unimaginable a few years ago. The fourdoor Gran Coupé is a convincing rival for Mercedes’ CLS.

 

Off-roaders:

Dacia Duster

dacia.co.uk, from £8,995

You may not have heard of this Romanian-badged, Indian-built bargain before but it’s backed by Renault. You won’t get this much capable SUV for so little money anywhere else.

Mitsubishi Outlander

mitsubishi-cars.co.uk, from £23,699

The latest Outlander is a bit understated but scores with refinement, a seven-seat option and great emissions and fuel economy.

SsangYong Korando

ssangyonggb.co.uk, from £16,995

This new Korean contender lacks the polish of Japanese and European rivals but offers a lot for the price. It vies with Dacia for value-for-money.

Land Rover Defender

landrover.com, from £21,410

The magnificent Defender, which can trace its roots back to 1948, won’t be with us for ever, so enjoy it while it lasts. Crude but effective – and a lot cheaper than a Merc G-Wagen.

Range Rover

landrover.com, from £71,295

This all-new Range Rover is 400kg lighter, with huge benefits for economy and performance. Always a top off-roader, it now competes with the best luxury saloons.

 

Fashionable:

Range Rover Evoque

landrover.com, from £29,195

The achingly stylish Evoque has become a common sight on British roads but still turns heads. Now it’s being offered with the world’s first ninespeed automatic gearbox.

Citroën DS3

citroen.co.uk, from £12,700

The DS3 was the first model in Citroën’s up-market DS range, and it’s still the most convincing. Thanks to a huge array of personalisation options, you can stamp your identity on it.

Vauxhall Adam

vauxhall.co.uk, from £11,255

The oddly named Adam isn’t very exciting to drive but will brighten your existence with its huge range of zanily named trim levels, fancy paint colours and funky interiors.

Hyundai Veloster

hyundai-car.co.uk, from £18,000

The Veloster is a slightly dull drive but scores points for its looks. Its unusual body with one door on one side and two on the other works well.

Mini

mini.co.uk, from £11,870

The Mini is more than just a car these days; it’s an entire range, offering seven different body types. The original three-door hatch is still the most convincing – and the cheapest.

Cheap and cheerful:

Volkswagen up!

volkswagen.co.uk, from £8,095

The up! returns Volkswagen to its roots as a maker of small, cheap cars but still delivers great levels of quality and fun. If you don’t fancy a VW, you can get this car, with minor tweaks, as a Seat or a Skoda.

Fiat 500

fiat.co.uk, from £9,960

Fiat has always been better at small cars than large ones The 500, which recalls the famous 1950s model, is one of its best. All versions work well but the characterful two-cylinder TwinAir offers the most fun.

Dacia Sandero

dacia.co.uk, from £5,995

Renault’s budget brand is taking the UK by storm thanks to keen pricing, but if you want a Sandero for £5,995 you’ll have to wind your own windows and do without air con. Still, it’s unbeatable value.

Fiat Panda

fiat.co.uk, from £8,900

Ever since the Fiat 500 arrived, the Panda has lived in the shadow of its more fashionable stablemate but still has plenty going for it. Space, comfort and a different sort of style are its strong points.

Kia Picanto

kia.co.uk, from £7,795

The Picanto is a great example of how Kia is moving beyond its humble budget roots with cars that combine keen pricing with real style and ability. Beaten by Volkswagen’s up! for cabin quality though.

Mainstream:

Mercedes A-Class

mercedes-benz.co.uk, from £18,970

Mercedes has finally got it right with this excellent third-gen A-Class, which abandons the narrow, tall look of its predecessors.

Seat Leon

seat.co.uk, from £15,670

The all-new Leon uses the same weight-saving body as its sister model – the latest VW Golf – with impressive results. The centrepiece of Seat’s strongest range ever.

Mercedes E-Class

mercedes-benz.co.uk, from £32,400

The E-Class has had a mid-life revamp. The E 300 BlueTEC diesel-electric hybrid version delivers low emissions and high performance.

Kia cee’d

kia.co.uk, from £14,395

The first cee’d, launched back in 2007, put Kia on the map in Europe. Now this impressive second-generation model adds a big dollop of polish but keeps the old car’s keen pricing.

Volvo V40

volvocars.com/uk, from £19,995

This is Volvo’s first car since it left Ford’s ownership – and it’s good. Younger and sportier than previous Volvos but with the safety features you expect.

Volkswagen Golf

volkswagen.co.uk, from £16,285

With this seventh-gen model, the Golf goes from strength to strength. It uses Volkswagen’s radical weight-saving MQB architecture.

Honda Civic

honda.co.uk, from £16,995

Hondas contain a lot of great engineering but are sometimes a bit too understated for their own good. The new 1.6-litre diesel engine is one of the best in the business.

BMW 3-Series

bmw.co.uk, from £23,180

BMW has been making the 3-Series since 1975 and this is the best yet, with great engines and lots of poise. Those who want more space can opt for the Touring estate.

BMW 5-Series

bmw.co.uk, from £30,430

If you’re looking for a car in this bracket, there should be a 5-Series for you. From the miserly but still quick 520d EfficientDynamics to the storming M5, BMW has the lot.

Jaguar XF

jaguar.com, from £29,940

The XF is getting on a bit now, but a facelift, an expanding engine range and the addition of the handsome Sportbrake estate have kept it fresh. Matches its German rivals.

Peugeot 208

peugeot.co.uk, from £9,995

Peugeot has struggled quite a bit lately but this is a pretty convincing effort. That said, the forthcoming GTI will have to be very good if the 208 is going to be a worthy successor to the legendary 205.

Audi A3

audi.co.uk, from £17,905

The new A3 doesn’t look much different to the old one but under the skin Audi has cut weight and improved the engines, giving it a much sharper feel. The five-door Sportback is now roomier.

Seat Toledo

seat.co.uk, from £12,495

A prettier sister to Skoda’s new Rapid, the Toledo is hard to beat for space, quality and value, but it’s not particularly exciting to drive. A handsome car likely to appeal to the head rather than the heart.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

alfaromeo.co.uk, from £17,760

Alfa Romeo’s range has been cut to just two models, the Giulietta and the Mito, but they are among the best of Alfa’s recent efforts. The Golf-sized Giulietta offers more style at the price than most rivals.

Renault Clio

renault.co.uk, from £10,595

Renault’s cars have lost some of their sparkle over the years. This latest Clio recovers some of that lost va va voom, but it’s slightly pricey compared with the Dacia Sandero with which it shares the same showrooms.

 

Practical:

Ford Tourneo Custom

ford.co.uk, from £28,285

Ignore the unfamiliar name – this is the latest version of the Transit with extra windows and seats, and it’s remarkably refined and comfortable given its commercial roots.

Volkswagen Sharan

volkswagen.co.uk, from £24,300

A great all-rounder, offering high levels of comfort, quality and versatility, although Ford’s Galaxy and S-Max edge ahead on the driving front.

Ford B-Max

ford.co.uk, from £12,995

Ford’s B-Max thrashes its small MPV rivals with a single big innovation – an enormous side opening thanks to clever structural work that does away with the central “B pillar”.

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

vauxhall.co.uk, from £20,135

Despite tough competition from Ford, Vauxhall’s people carriers, particularly the Zafira, are standing up pretty well. One curiosity – the old Zafira is still available at a lower price.

Citroën C3 Picasso

citroen.co.uk, from £12,995

Practical, stylish and keenly priced, the C3 Picasso offers a lot more space and comfort for the money than most rivals – and it’s better value still if you can catch a discount offer.

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