Best British cars

Back UK manufacturing with one of the best British cars - there's more choice than you might think...

John Evans
Sep 12, 2017

Britain may have few British-owned car companies but that doesn't mean it’s stopped making cars. Far from it.

Last year the country produced over 1.7 million of them. Most were made by six mainstream car makers but these were joined by nine luxury and specialist manufacturers (including Rolls-Royce).

It means that thousands of owners are probably driving a British-made car - such as a Nissan Qashqai or Toyota Auris - without realising it.

And there are thousands more who don’t realise how easy it is to buy British. Whether you need a family runaround or a bespoke limousine for ceremonial duties, there’s a British car for you:


Best British supermini

Mini Hatchback 

Made in Cowley, Oxfordshire

Britain’s most famous small car has been German since 1994 when BMW bought Rover Group, which was still producing the original 1960s Mini. But the company managed the relaunch of the brand perfectly, producing a new-generation car with modern features and safety, but enough of the cheeky charm that made the original a hit.

It also kept production in Britain, at the Cowley factory in Oxfordshire, where more than 2.5 million cars have rolled off the production line. The Clubman, Convertible and five-door Hatchback are all produced there, as is the pick of the range: the three-door hatchback.

It’s got the style, the performance, the nippy cornering and even the fuel economy to make it the best British-built supermini on the market - particularly if you opt for the Mini Cooper.
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Best British crossover

Nissan Qashqai

Made in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear

The name certainly doesn’t come from Sunderland, but - every 62 seconds - a new Nissan Qashqai does.

The site began producing Nissan Bluebird saloons in 1986, but has now moved on to making Qashqais, along with Jukes and electric Leafs.

Recently updated, the current-generation Qashqai has proved an enormous hit with families who like the straightforward dashboard layout, practical interior, with well-sized storage spaces, and the car’s light and precise steering. The car’s small but powerful petrol and diesel engines are economical and cheap to run.
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Best British family hatchback

Vauxhall Astra

Made in Ellesmere Port, Liverpool

Vauxhall has been producing cars in Britain since 1903, and its current factory, in Ellesmere Port, makes the current Astra.

For the first time in decades, the car is a better all-round choice than its big rival: the Ford Focus, thanks to its space, comfort and stability in corners.

The car is particularly good with the small 1.0T petrol engine, which combines performance with fuel economy that’s not too far behind the diesel options. Buy it in SRi Nav specification for a standard sat-nav, 17in alloy wheels, plus additional driver assistance systems such as traffic sign recognition and lane departure assist.

The future may be less rosy, though. Vauxhall’s current American owner, General Motors, is in the process of selling the brand to PSA, which owns Peugeot and Citroen. The French company already has too many factories for the number of cars that it produces, which means that Vauxhall’s British workers have a fight on their hands to keep Astra production in the UK.
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Best British GT sports car

Aston Martin DB11 

Made in Gaydon, Warwickshire

As the preferred transport of Britain’s most famous spy, nothing could seem more British than an Aston Martin. In fact, the car maker is owned by a consortium of companies including a Kuwait-based investment company and another based in Italy.

Mercedes has a small share in the company, although this is more to do with its contract to supply electrical systems and powerful Mercedes-AMG engines.

The first car to emerge from this agreement is the Aston Martin DB11. Fitted with a V12 engine (developed by Aston Martin) that has the power reserve of a supertanker, a luxurious interior and with a surprisingly smooth ride, it’s the ideal British GT car that’s perfect for long cross-continental journeys.

When you arrive at your destination, the fast, accurate steering and tyre grip, makes for a rewarding blast along twisting roads.

The V12 car costs from £157,900 but there’s a slightly cheaper option available, that comes with a Mercedes-AMG-sourced V8 engine underneath the bonnet. And there are more new British-built Aston Martins to come - including the new DBX crossover.

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Best British convertible

Rolls-Royce Dawn

Made in Goodwood, Chichester

Like Mini, Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW. And, as with the Mini, the new owners have clung on to the brand’s traditions and design.

That’s why the cars are still built by hand in Britain - although production has moved from the company’s post-War base in Crewe to Goodwood, where Rolls-Royce could recruit skilled wood-workers and experts in small-scale, bespoke production, from the local marine industry.

The latest model to appear is the Rolls-Royce Dawn Convertible: the most luxurious and expensive way to mess up your hairstyle.

It’s hugely extravagant, but the ultimate four-seat convertible. The Dawn is powered by a 6.6-litre V12 that’s whisper quiet, until you prod the accelerator, at which point the hefty drop-top powers down the road like a sportscar.

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Best British small SUV

Honda CR-V

Made in Swindon, Wiltshire

Honda has been making cars in Swindon since 1989, and the CR-V since 2000. The current model of the car has a strong reputation for reliability, which is unsurprising, given that CR-Vs have been exported to Japan from the start.

However, this is the last year that you’ll be able to buy a new British-built CR-V: it will be replaced by an all-new Canadian-built car next year.

Not only reliable, the CR-V is also extremely safe thanks to a wealth of standard safety features, supported by a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. A recent update has improved the quality of the interior, which remains just as spacious, with a large 589-litre boot that grows to 1627 litres with the rear seats folded.

It’s not the most fun SUV to drive but it is comfortable. The CR-V’s 1.6 diesel engine is economical, returning a reasonable 53.1mpg in real-world driving. The car is increasingly cheap, as larger discounts appear towards the end of the car’s life, which helps to make SE Plus Navi specification more affordable - it comes with all the essentials including a sat-nav, climate control and automatic emergency braking.
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Best British saloon

Jaguar XE

Made in Castle Vale, Birmingham

Jaguar was bought by the India-based group, Tata Motors, in 2008 and makes cars in the Midlands and Liverpool.

The XE was the first in a series of cars that mark the return of the company to excellence. As well as being nimble, fast and fun to drive, the XE is easily comfortable enough to function as a family car - a combination that makes it a better buy than the excellent BMW 3 Series.

It’s not as luxurious or well-designed inside as its rivals, but the equipment and touchscreen is straightforward to use. It’s a little cramped in the back, though, and you can't fold the rear seats down if you need extra load space. On the plus side, there’s a range of efficient engines to choose from.

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Best British family SUV

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Made in Halewood, Liverpool

Like Jaguar, Land Rover is owned by Tata Motors, and has gone from strength to strength since the Range Rover Evoque began the modern relaunch of the entire range.

Most of its cars can still plough through rough, muddy, rocky and steep conditions, but the latest Land Rovers are also engineered to be at their best on the road - offering comfort, quietness and steady cornering.

That’s true of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, despite its place as the cheapest car in the range. It comes with the option of seven seats, and is well-equipped with even entry-level Pure versions having 18in alloy wheels, an 8in touchscreen and part-leather seats. Upgrade to SE Tech, for a sat-nav, a bootlid that opens with a poke of your foot underneath the bumper, and front parking sensors.

It may be Land Rover but the Discovery Sport is available in two-wheel drive as well as four. While that means some versions lack extreme off-roading ability, it does improve fuel economy from the 2-litre diesel engine.

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Best British luxury SUV

Range Rover

Made in Solihull, West Midlands

The third car in this list from the Jaguar-Land Rover group, the Range Rover has kep the same British luxury SUV qualities that it’s had for decades - even though it’s now owned by Tata.

That means that it’s capable of being a luxury limo one moment and a field-crossing people carrier the next, with a design that’s sober enough for the Royal family, but which satisfies the extravagance of flashier clientele.

It’s comfortable, steady and - towards the top of the range - opulent too. But when the cheapest model cost more than £75,000 - before any Range Rover discounts - entry-level models are hardly sparse, featuring a 360-degree camera, powered bootlid and Dynamic Response, hi-tech suspension feature that feature that enables the car to soak up bumps, but remain fairly level in corners.
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Best British hybrid

Toyota Auris hybrid

Made in Burnaston, Derbyshire

In 1992, Linford Christie won the 100m gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics and the first Toyota Carina rolled off the production line at Toyota’s Burnaston factory.

The successor to that model - the Avensis - is still built at the Derbyshire plant, along with the Auris and Auris Hybrid.

The Hybrid is one of only a few such cars in the family hatchback sector and has carved out a reputation for reliability and efficiency. In fact, its official economy figure is 80.7mpg which is almost 30mpg better than the standard petrol car (although the benefits reduce on longer journeys at steady speeds.

In town, the Auris Hybrid’s efficiency is impressive, as it recovers energy that would normally be lost during braking, and uses it to boost power when you accelerate . For car buyers looking for a no-nonsense, reliable and economical hatchback, it’s hard to fault.
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