Best automatic petrol cars: from superminis to SUVs

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

BuyaCar team
Mar 16, 2022

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

Our pick Smart ForTwo 0.9 Turbo 90 twinmatic
Used deals Limited stock

Previous versions of the Smart ForTwo were almost infamous for their poor 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 switched to a slick dual-clutch transmission which it 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.


2. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi Hybrid DCT
Used deals from £15,999
Monthly finance from £0*

The Ioniq is available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and an 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, so linear is as smooth as it gets. There are no Ioniqs available with a manual gearbox, so you can rest assured that any version you buy will come with that all-important automatic gearbox.


3. Volkswagen Golf

Our pick Volkswagen Golf 2.0 GTI DSG
Used deals from £16,000
Monthly finance from £0*

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 1 Series. Rock-solid used prices and reassuringly well-made interiors complete the look.

Pre-2017 models will have a 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 300hp performance Golf R.


4. Seat Ateca

Our pick Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI EVO DSG
Used deals from £21,299
Monthly finance from £0*

Named after a municipality in Spain, the Ateca benefits from Volkswagen's excellent dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It's available with a handful of petrol and diesel engines, but we think the 150hp version of the 1.5-litre petrol engine balances performance and efficiency rather well.

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.


5. Nissan Qashqai

Nissan Qashqai front three quarters view

Our pick Nissan Qashqai 1.3 DiG-T DCT
Used deals from £17,300
Monthly finance from £0*

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, and not very helpful if you need to pick up speed quickly.

In late 2018, Nissan added a nine-speed dual-clutch system that is smooth and quiet. It was introduced alongside a new, efficient 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.


6. BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series front three quarters view

Our pick BMW 320i automatic
Used deals Limited stock

The BMW 3 Series is the saloon against which all other saloons are judged, and this latest version introduced in 2019 sets the bar high. Most versions are automatic-only, and while the diesel engines are highly efficient on the motorway, the 2.0-litre petrol engines are reasonably economical in day-to-day driving.

It 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.


7. Alpine A110

Our pick Alpine A110 1.8 Turbo DCT

If you haven’t heard of Renault-owned Alpine, you’re probably not the only one. Nevertheless, under the bonnet of this Audi TT rival 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.


8. Mercedes S-Class

Our pick Mercedes S350d automatic
Used deals Limited stock

Luxury cars don’t come much more luxurious than an S-Class, which has been the standard choice for wealthy business owners and execs for decades.

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.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


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