Best used automatic cars

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

John Evans
Oct 31, 2019

There are many reasons why a car with an automatic gearbox might appeal over a manual. You might only be qualified to drive an automatic car, or perhaps you're simply tired of having to work the clutch over and over again while sat in traffic. Whatever the reason, there is absolutely nothing wrong with opting for an automatic. In fact, in some cases, the automatic version of a car can actually be better than the manual.

Some modern automatics now offer this benefit without the poor fuel economy that used to be something of an affliction, 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.

Automatics might be more complex than their manual counterparts, but they remain reliable thanks to years of investment and research. Motor Warranty Direct, a used car warranty provider that uses figures taken from real-life claims for cars that are outside their manufacturer warranty, 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

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.

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 cars

1. Hyundai i10

Our pick Hyundai i10 1.2 SE auto 5dr
Gearbox type Automatic
Latest Hyundai i10 Auto deals from £4,495
Monthly finance from £91

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 protection 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 buyers' guide

2. Skoda Fabia

Our pick Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI 110 SE DSG 5dr
Gearbox type Dual-clutch
Latest Skoda Fabia Auto deals from £6,098
Monthly finance from £105

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 110hp 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 buyers' guide

3. Mazda 3

Our pick Mazda 3 2.0 SE Nav auto 5dr
Gearbox type Automatic
Latest Mazda 3 Auto deals from £8,490
Monthly finance from £151

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 buyers' guide

4. Jaguar XE

Our pick Jaguar XE 2.0 i4 d 180 R-Sport auto
Gearbox type Automatic
Latest Jaguar XE Auto deals from £12,500
Monthly finance from £201

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.

5. Honda CR-V

Our pick Honda CR-V 1.6i DTEC 160 SE auto 5dr
Gearbox type Automatic
Latest Honda CR-V Auto deals from £12,490
Monthly finance from £230

Larger sport utility vehicles (SUVs) which are often more rugged and heavier to deal with driving off-road can struggle 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 Honda 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 buyers' guide

6. Skoda Kodiaq

Our pick Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology
Gearbox type Dual-clutch
Latest Skoda Kodiaq Auto deals from £17,995
Monthly finance from £271

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 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 buyers' guide

7. Porsche Macan

Our pick Porsche Macan S Diesel
Gearbox type Dual-clutch
Latest Porsche Macan Auto deals from £30,100
Monthly finance from £414

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 buyers' guide

 

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