Best automatic cars

Smooth shifting and more economical than a manual: the best automatic cars are worth searching for

BuyaCar team
Mar 25, 2019

With no clutch and no need to change gear manually, an automatic car can be a godsend in heavy traffic, and make every journey smoother.

The best of these seem to know what you’re about to do: they change down a gear to provide maximum power at the very instant you press the accelerator, and they’ll change up the gears so swiftly that you’ll barely hear or feel the shifts.

In contrast, the worst gearboxes can leave you waiting for power for what seems like an age, as you pull out to overtake, or will unexpectedly rev the engine hard just as you’re slowing down for some traffic lights.

Many of the differences are down to the type of gearbox that’s fitted to your car. With a varying number of speeds or ratios, and various labels such as S-Tronic, DSG and CVT, you’ve got more choice than a supermarket crisp aisle, and some of the options are just as bewildering. Here is a description of some of the main types of automatic gearbox:

  • Automatic
    The original type of automatic gearbox can sometimes take its time to change gears, but is usually smooth.
  • Dual-clutch automatic
    This gearbox uses two clutches: you drive along in one gear, while the next one you’re likely to use is pre-selected. When the time comes to change, the shift is quick and smooth.
  • CVT
    A continuously variable transmission (CVT) doesn’t use cogs, but has a belt that constantly changes the car’s gearing. In this way, it can keep the engine revving at its most efficient speed while you accelerate and brake. The sensation is strange but it can boost fuel economy.
  • Automated manual
    This isn’t really an automatic gearbox, but a manual one that’s operated electronically, so there’s no clutch pedal. It uses less power than a proper automatic, but is often makes driving quite jerky.

The other thing to consider are the number of gears. Seven, eight and even nine-speed gearboxes are increasingly common. In general, the more gears you have, the quieter and more economical your car will be, because the engine will be able to spin at its most efficient speed for longer. But these gearboxes need to be smooth because they change gear so frequently.

Best automatic small cars 

Best automatic family cars 

Best automatic sports cars

Best automatic small cars

Hyundai i10 1.2 Premium auto

Gearbox type automatic
Latest automatic Hyundai i10 deals from £6,380
Finance from £121 per month

The i10 is one of the very best city cars on the market and is one of the few cars of its size that has a decent automatic gearbox. It’s smoother than most, although your journeys would still be less jerky if you opted for the manual gearbox.

It only has four gears, but works well when combined with the 1.2-litre engine. At 45.6mpg, the 1.2-litre Hyundai i10's fuel economy is over 10mpg worse than the equivalent manual i10 though.
Hyundai i10 buying guide


Skoda Fabia

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest automatic Skoda Fabia deals from £8,599
Finance from £147 per month

Skoda is owned by the Volkswagen Group, which means that its cars use the company’s dual-clutch gearbox (called DSG) also found in Audis, Seats and Volkswagens.

It’s one of the best gearboxes available, even when it’s installed in the little Fabia, where smooth changes are a fine match for the nippy 1.2-litre petrol engine (you can only get the automatic with the most powerful petrol engine or one of the diesels). Fuel economy is even slightly better than the manual.

The similarly-sized VW Polo and Seat Ibiza are also available with the same DSG gearbox, but the Fabia’s spaciousness and good record of reliability, makes it more appealing.
Skoda Fabia buying guide


Ford Fiesta

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest automatic Ford Fiesta deals from £6,800
Finance from £131 per month

The Ford Fiesta regularly best-seller lists in the UK, combining sparkling driving fun with low running costs. The latest model, introduced in 2018, is no exception, delivering fun, value for money and a reasonable dose of stylish good looks.

There’s a wide range of engine and trim options, too, but sadly the automatic choice is limited to just the one engine – the 100hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost. It’s a willing little motor, though, and combined with the sharp-witted and smooth Powershift twin-clutch automatic gearbox, makes for an impressively versatile small family car.
Ford Fiesta buying guide


Best automatic family cars

Mercedes C-Class

Gearbox type automatic
Latest automatic Mercedes C-Class deals from £12,000
Finance from £165 per month

It’s rare to find a manual version of the Mercedes C-Class: if you’re looking for a car with more luxury than the mainstream, then you’re less likely to want to change gear.

And so, with plenty of experience in supplying cars with automatic gearboxes, it’s no surprise that Mercedes uses one of the smoothest on the market. It’s a conventional gearbox, sacrificing some of the speed and efficiency of a dual-clutch model for almost seamless shifts that have you wondering whether the gearbox even exists.

Some C-Class models only come with a less-advanced seven-speed gearbox that’s not as smooth as the nine-speed version, so it's best avoided if you can afford to do so.
Mercedes C-Class buying guide


Volkswagen Golf

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest automatic Volkswagen Golf deals from £8,490
Finance from £126 per month

Volkswagen’s seven-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox is a good match for the Golf – perhaps the very definition of a car that likes to get on with things without making a fuss.

It’s an ideal fit with the Golf – it might not be the most exciting family hatchback that you can buy, but it’s supremely easy to live with, flexible and offers a level of comfort and quality that’s beyond most direct rivals.
VW Golf buying guide


Jaguar XE

Gearbox type automatic
Latest automatic Jaguar XE deals from £13,750
Finance from £221 per month

It’s not just that the gearbox in the Jaguar XE is smooth, but that it also seems to know which gear the car needs to be in before you do. So as you press hard on the accelerator, the eight-speed automatic seems to instantly find a lower gear for better acceleration. And when you’re slowing down, it flows from one gear to another, reducing the car’s speed without any jerkiness.

The Jaguar XE also received a major update early in 2019, with revised trim options, a sleeker exterior, and updates to the interior – including a significantly improved dashboard screen.
Jaguar XE buying guide 


Best automatic SUVs

Seat Ateca

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest automatic Seat Ateca deals from £16,465
Finance from £237 per month

(Seat is part of the VW group). The seven-speed automatic has enough gears to ensure that the 2.0-litre diesel engine is running efficiently and quietly, avoiding the clatter that it can make when it’s running slowly or very fast.

As ever with this gearbox, changes are quick and it does a good job of changing down quickly when you need to accelerate. Unlike other cars with DSG gearboxes, the automatic Ateca is slightly less efficient than the manual version, and it’s expensive too: the only automatic version available is the top-of-the-range 2.0 diesel XCellence.
Seat Ateca buying guide


Audi Q7

Gearbox type automatic
Latest automatic Audi Q7 deals from £27,000
Finance from £335 per month

The Q7 is designed to make its passengers as comfortable as possible rather than being the last word in performance, so Audi’s eight-speed automatic gearbox, called Tiptronic, is an ideal fit for the seven-seat SUV. You’ll barely notice the shifts, or the sound of the car’s diesel engine, even when you’re accelerating hard.

It may not change gear quite as quickly as the DSG dual-clutch gearbox in other Audis, but most Q7s are not bought for performance.
Audi Q7 buying guide


Range Rover Sport

Gearbox type automatic
Latest automatic Range Rover Sport deals from £31,280
Finance from £433 per month

The eight-speed gearbox in the Range Rover Sport has to be a jack-of-all-trades. Its different settings allow it to boost off-road performance, or prioritise smooth on-road driving. And despite the different demands, it shines at both extremes.

For a big seven-seat SUV, it’s relatively efficient too, with an official fuel economy figure of 36.7mpg. As with other Jaguar and Land Rover automatic gearboxes, it’s controlled by a dial that rises out of a panel next to the driver. The price of comfortable, cocooning luxury? A not insignificant £72,800 before discounts.
Range Rover Sport buying guide


Best automatic sports cars


Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest BMW M2 deals from £30,576
Finance from £362 per month

The seven-speed automatic gearbox in the BMW M2 is an optional extra. The manual 'box in this car is good, but the auto in many ways is better. For a start, it makes the car quicker to 62mph – the auto makes it in a blistering 4.3 seconds, whereas the manual takes 4.5 seconds.

There are paddles behind the steering wheel that give you the chance to change gear, and in sport settings, it will let you wring the car's neck to the 7000rpm redline. These paddles feel weighty and well-made too, making the gear changing experience feel solid and meaty, rather than limp and unexciting.
BMW 2 Series buying guide


Porsche 911 Carrera S

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
Latest automatic Porsche 911 deals from £61,750
Finance from £789 per month

For the most involvement in a sports car, you’ll want a manual gearbox. But for the optimum performance and fastest gear changes, then a computerised dual-clutch gearbox is faster to change than any human.

Porsche has form with this type of gearbox – it developed the the very first dual-clutch gearbox for the 956 racing car in the early 1980s. The latest version of Porsche’s automatic gearbox, called PDK, has eight gears, and can enable the car to accelerate from 0-62mph in as little as 3.5 seconds.

If you want to take control, then there are paddles behind the steering wheel that change gear quickly in response to your taps. In traffic, you’ll be relieved that there’s no heavy clutch to handle.


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