Best used automatic cars

The best used automatic cars you can buy - plus the most reliable brands

John Evans
Apr 18, 2019

Buying an automatic car has always guaranteed less stress in traffic jams, with no need to constantly press and release the clutch.

Some modern automatics now offer this benefit without the poor fuel economy that afflicted older cars, while lower prices mean that advanced technology has found its way into smaller and cheaper models. It’s boosted sales of automatic models, which now account for more than one in three cars sold in Britain, giving used buyers plenty of options.

They might be more complex than manual cars but you can improve your chances of trouble-free motoring with one of the most reliable automatic brands, as ranked by Motor Warranty Direct, a used car warranty provider, which uses figures taken from real-life claims for cars that are outside their manufacturer warranty.

It suggests that automatic gearboxes in Lexus models are most reliable, with a claims rate of just 0.14%. Also in the top ten, with a failure rate of less than 1% are Smart, Suzuki, Honda, Mazda, Toyota and Skoda. Worst-rated is Renault, whose automatic gearboxes have a failure rate of 4%, according to the data.


Types of automatic gearbox

Gearboxes take power from the engine and send it to the wheels, so they have an enormous impact on the way that a car drives:

Automatic The original type of automatic gearbox, which uses fluid instead of mechanical gears to transfer the engine’s power to the gearbox. it’s smooth to change but usually less efficient than a manual.

Dual-clutch automatic By pre-selecting the next gear you’re expected to use, this mechanical system delivers lightning-quick changes. It’s efficient but can be jerky at low speed.

CVT A Continuously variable Transmission (CVT) has a belt running around two cones which move independently to vary the belt’s diameter. This creates an almost infinite number of gears so the engine is always running at its most efficient. However, this can be noisy under acceleration and feel unnatural.

Automated manual This system uses electronics to control and make gear changes. it’s efficient but slow and jerky.

Most automatic cars allow you to manually select gears with paddles behind the steering wheel, or by moving the gearlever.

The other thing to consider is the number of gears, or speeds. In general, the engine will be able to run at its most efficient speed (using minimal fuel) for longer if you have more gears.


Best used automatic small cars

Hyundai i10

Gearbox type automatic
Our pick Hyundai i10 1.2 SE auto 5dr
Hyundai i10 deals from £4,490
Finance from £77 per month

Small city cars, such as the Hyundai i10 usually offer cheaper technology to keep costs down. that’s the case here, with a traditional automatic gearbox reducing fuel economy by 10mpg, compared with the manual car.
It performs extremely well in other respects, though, with smooth gear changes and nippy acceleration from a standstill. There’s plenty of choice on the used market and all recent models come with the balance of Hyundai’s impressively long five-year new car warranty.
Hyundai is ranked 11th in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Hyundai i10 buying guide


Skoda Fabia

Gearbox type dual-clutch
Our pick Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 110 SE DSG 5dr
Skoda Fabia deals from £6,190
Finance from £101 per month

Skoda is owned by the Volkswagen Group, which means that it can use the same fast-changing, smooth and responsive automatic gearbox (badged DSG) that’s used by its sister brands Audi, VW and Seat.
Economy is a strong point. Combined with a 110 horsepower petrol engine in the Fabia, you can expect around 46mpg, which is virtually the same as the manual car.
The only weakness is from a standing start, where changing gear can be jerky. it’s also difficult to judge the amount of pressure to use on the accelerator when you want to creep forward slowly - at a blind junction, for example.
Skoda is ranked ninth in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Skoda Fabia buying guide

Best used automatic family cars

Mazda 3

Gearbox type automatic
Our pick Mazda 3 2.0 SE Nav auto 5dr
Skoda Fabia deals from £6,190
Finance from £101 per month

Mazda’s automatic gearbox might use a traditional design, but advanced technology allows it to deliver the smooth gear changes of a traditional automatic gearbox, with only a small reduction in fuel economy.
You can expect around 40mpg from the automatic 2-litre Mazda 3, according to real-world tests, compared with 42mpg for the manual car.
Where you’ll feel more of a difference between the two is in acceleration. The manual is just that bit quicker. Mazda is ranked sixth in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Mazda 3 buying guide


Jaguar XE

Gearbox type automatic
Our pick Jaguar XE 2.0 i4 d 180 R-Sport auto
Skoda Fabia deals from £12,250
Finance from £176 per month

Jaguar uses a gearbox made by a third-party company called ZF, which has one of the best reputations in the business. They are also used by BMW, which is ranked 13th in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics - one place behind Jaguar.
The XE’s gearbox has eight speeds, which helps to boost efficiency and responsiveness when you push the accelerator hard.


Best used automatic SUVs

Honda CR-V 2.0i VTEC SE

Gearbox type automatic
Our pick Honda 1.6i DTEC 160 SE auto 5dr
Honda CR-V deals from £9,290
Finance from £160 per month

Larger, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which are often more rugged and heavier to deal with driving off-road. This can make it difficult to accelerate smoothly with a manual gearbox and you may also need to change gear more frequently.
An automatic gearbox removes those problems, and can also make towing easier, making it less likely that you’ll roll backwards during hill-starts.
With nine speeds, the CR-V’s gearbox makes the car efficient and responsive. real-world fuel economy is just 2mpg less than an equivalent manual car.

Honda is ranked fifth in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Honda CR-V buying guide


Skoda Kodiaq

Gearbox type Dual-clutch
Our pick Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology
Skoda Kodiaq deals from £20,000
Finance from £299 per month

Big, comfortable and best-driven calmly: large SUVs like the Skoda Kodiaq are suited to a smooth automatic gearbox, which takes more of the effort away from the driver.
It’s another car that uses the Volkswagen Group DSG gearbox, which means that real-world fuel economy is virtually the same, whether you choose the automatic or manual version.

Skoda is ranked ninth in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Skoda Kodiaq buying guide


Porsche Macan

Gearbox type Dual-clutch
Our pick Porsche Macan S Diesel
Porsche Macan deals from £31,100
Finance from £480 per month

Porsche fans often prefer a manual gearbox, which offers more control and gives a sense of greater driving involvement.
But when the Porsche in question is a sizeable SUV, then there’s no shame in opting for the company’s excellent gearbox, called PDK. It has been engineered for extremely quick gear changes, and is good at predicting the gear you’ll need next, so there’ little delay when you want a burst of acceleration. Paddles behind the steering wheel also allow you to change gear manually.

Porsche is ranked eighth in Motor Warranty Direct’s chart of most reliable used automatics.
Read the Porsche Macan buying guide


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