Best automatic petrol cars: from superminis to SUVs

Petrol cars with an automatic gearbox are no longer a niche. Read why here.

BuyaCar team
Feb 18, 2020

There are lots of reasons why you would pick a car with an automatic gearbox over a manual alternative. They're self sufficient and stress-free around town, while they also allow for smooth and calm cruising over hundreds of motorway miles.

They're also becoming increasingly common as electric and hybrid cars are now more popular. But, while we're not all considering making the jump to electric power, more and more drivers are beginning move away from diesel in favour of petrol power.

If you're a driver who's tired of having to do all the work yourself, you've come to the right place, because we've covered all the bases with some of the best automatic petrol cars on the market.

Automatic gearboxes have come a long way since the early 2000s. There was a time when they would be horribly slow and disturbingly inefficient. Nowadays, however, there is very little to choose between the merits of manuals and automatics - in most cases anyway.

Even sports cars are now routinely fitted with automatic gearboxes as standard. Where old-tech versions ambled from one gear to another, the latest gearboxes rifle through the speeds, faster than the human hand. Yes, it is less immersive than physically shifting the gears yourself, but you'll get there quicker.

Best automatic petrol cars

1. Smart ForTwo

Used deals from £4,750
Monthly finance from £96

Previous versions of the Smart ForTwo were almost infamous for their automated manual transmission. These cars have a clutch and gearbox, but robotise the action of changing gear. These kinds of gearboxes are cheap to make, but are lurchy and jerky under hard acceleration. Or soft acceleration. Or medium acceleration.

However, Smart has switched to using a DCT (dual-clutch transmission) which Smart calls twinmatic. This makes it quick shifting, and very smooth. As far as dinky cars with petrol engines and automatic gearboxes go, the Smart ForTwo is your best bet.

SMART FORTWO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Hyundai Ioniq

Used deals from £13,685
Monthly finance from £188

The Ioniq is available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and as a fully-electric car. The hybrids use a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is far nicer to drive than the CVT (continuously variable transmission) in the alternative Toyota Prius, which becomes thrashy when you're looking to accelerate swiftly.

As with most battery-powered cars, the electric Ioniq only has one gear.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Volkswagen Golf

Used deals from £8,995
Monthly finance from £168

The Volkswagen Golf is the de facto choice of car for many families. It’s slightly nicer than a Ford Focus, but not as expensive as a BMW 3 Series. Rock solid used prices and reassuringly well-made interiors complete the look.

Pre-2017 models will have six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox. Newer models have a seven-speed. The newer is slicker-shifting and generally worth looking for. This seven-speed ‘box can be found in the smallest 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine, all the way up to the 306bhp performance Golf R.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Seat Ateca

Used deals from £17,250
Monthly finance from £247

Named after a municipality in Zaragoza (Seat is Spanish after all), the Ateca benefits from Volkswagen's excellent dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

Seat's crossover is a family hatchback that's been raised up for a higher driving position and some extra practicality. Unlike many other cars of this type, it feels sporty to drive, remaining stable in corners with little leaning. The fast-changing automatic gearbox fits with this character and is available with all TSI petrol engines.

If you’re really after something fast, Cupra, Seat’s sporting sub-brand, makes its sporting version of the Ateca, which will accelerate from 0-62mph in only 5.2 seconds and comes with an automatic gearbox as standard.

SEAT ATECA BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Nissan Qashqai

Used deals from £9,999
Monthly finance from £169

Like the Smart above, the Nissan Qashqai is a contender for the most improved award. Previous models used a CVT automatic that is cheap and easy to use. But it can be unbearably noisy.

In October 2018, Nissan slotted in a nine-speed DCT system that is smooth, quiet, and pairs nicely with the also-new 1.3-litre petrol engine.

The Qashqai lacks paddles mounted behind the steering wheel to change gear. This may annoy people who like the option of changing gear themselves, but in truth, the average Qashqai user wouldn’t really make use of them anyway.

NISSAN QASHQAI BUYERS' GUIDE

6. BMW 3 Series

Used deals from £12,501
Monthly finance from £174

New for this year, the brand new BMW 3 series brings new styling, technology, and a driver-focussed attitude that sacrifices some comfort for sharp steering response.

At the moment, it’s only available with one petrol engine, badged 330i, which will be quick enough for most, accelerating from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.

It also comes with BMW’s slick-shifting eight-speed automatic. BMW calls it a sports automatic - meaning that in day-to-day driving it works like a normal automatic, but if you want to spice things up, you can change gears manually using paddles behind the steering wheel.

BMW 3 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Alpine A110

Used deals Limited stock

If you haven’t heard of Alpine, you’re probably not the only one. Alpine is Renault owned, and hasn’t had a car for sale in the UK for more than 20 years.

Under the bonnet is a 1.8-litre petrol engine good for 155mph and 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds. It also sounds great for a four-cylinder engine.

There isn’t an option of a manual. The automatic is a seven speed dual-clutch and works well around town when going slowly, but more importantly, wakes up with razor-sharp changes when you want it to be quick.

ALPINE A110 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Mercedes S-Class

Used deals from £28,989
Monthly finance from £467

Luxury cars don’t come much more luxuriously well made than an S-Class.

Changing gears yourself is not what the jet-set life is about. Mercedes uses a traditional torque-converter type of gearbox, but despite its relative simplicity, it changes gears so smoothly that you won't notice. As befitting of a car like this, the automatic gearbox is made for smoothness, and not speed.

Mercedes offers all S-Class’ with automatic gearboxes, which means you can choose from the S450, S500, or AMG 63.

MERCEDES S-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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