The 50 Best cars
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
Friday 15 March 2013
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-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.
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.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.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.
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.
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.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.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.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.
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.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.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.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.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.
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-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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-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.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.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.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.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.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.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.
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.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-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.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.
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.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.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.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.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.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.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.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.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.
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.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.
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.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.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.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.
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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