Cheap cars with paddle shifters

Paddle shifters on the wheel can make automatic cars feel more sporty but these models needn't be costly. Here are some affordable options

James Wilson
Mar 21, 2022

Paddle shifters - often referred to as flappy paddles - are now common in all sorts of automatic cars after they started appearing in very expensive, very fast performance cars. Over time the technology has filtered down to more affordable cars from brands including Kia and Ford, and this tech has made regular cars fitted with an automatic gearbox more engaging to drive.

By and large paddle shifters work by allowing a driver to take over the control of gear selection in cars with an automatic transmission. The left paddle typically changes down through the gears and the right paddle typically shifts up through the gears.

Although the best modern automatic gearboxes are good at picking the right gear 99% of the time, using paddles can add more fun to the driving experience as it gives a driver more control over what the gearbox does. This type of feature also makes it easier to get the car in the right gear ahead of overtaking or when travelling down a steep hill, where keeping the car in a low gear helps to control the speed.

Paddle shifters are not only for the convenience or engagement of changing gears, though. In some electric cars such as the Hyundai Kona, the paddles are used to change how much 'regenerative braking' the electric motor applies. Regenerative braking pumps energy back into the battery pack so is useful for helping maximise the range of an electric car and helps to slow the car more quickly when you lift off the accelerator.

This enables you to sometimes drive the car with only one pedal - you can use the accelerator to pick up speed or maintain a set speed and then when you lift off, there's often enough slowing force for you to not need to use the brake pedal, except for in emergencies.

It is worth keeping in mind when you are shopping for a car, that not every automatic model that is available with paddle shifters includes these as standard. It is often the more expensive and better-equipped trim levels that come with paddle shifters, though these can often be added as an optional extra when new.

Cars with a flappy paddle gearbox

1. Audi TT

Our pick Audi TT Coupe 2.0 TFSI S line S tronic
Used deals from £16,780
Monthly finance from £0*

Unlike some small sporty cars, the Audi TT can easily be used every day, provided you don’t expect the rear seats to function as anything more than extra storage, as they are very cramped. Fold the rear seats down, though, and thanks to the hatchback boot, the TT is surprisingly practical.

One of the main reasons for its usability is the cabin, which is such a nice place to be. The materials are of great quality, there is plenty of standard equipment and there are nifty touches such as the heated seat controls being integrated into the air vents on the dashboard.

Finding an automatic model with paddle shifters should be very straightforward as there are plenty of petrol and diesel models with an automatic gearbox. Go for a petrol model if you want the best performance and most engaging drive. Meanwhile, if you cover higher annual mileages of around 15,000 miles upwards, you may want to go for a diesel model, as these are more economical and should cost you less to fuel.


2. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi PHEV Premium SE
Used deals from £16,499
Monthly finance from £0*

The Hyundai Ioniq is first and foremost an eco-car. It is available as a conventional hybrid - which has a petrol engine, assisted by an electric motor for a slight economy boost, a plug-in hybrid - which has a larger battery pack and can travel on electric power alone for up to 30 miles or so on a full charge, and as a fully electric car. For more info on the different types of hybrid, have a look at our hybrid guide.

We are focusing on the plug-in hybrid Ioniq here. Hybrid cars and electric cars come with automatic gearboxes, which makes things easier for those looking for a car that changes gears for them.

Depending on which of the two driving modes you select - with eco and sport modes to choose from - the paddles in the Ioniq do different things. In eco, which is the default mode, the paddles adjust how much regenerative braking the electric motor provides, with higher levels of regenerative braking slowing the car more quickly when you lift off the accelerator and consequently putting more charge back into the battery pack in the process. In sport mode, meanwhile, the paddles allow the driver to change gears, just like in other automatic cars.


3. Kia Proceed

Our pick Kia Proceed 1.4 T-GDi GT-Line DCT
Used deals from £10,995
Monthly finance from £0*

Not many people automatically associate Kia with style but its Proceed has style by the bucket load. Kia designed the Proceed to be a sort of middle ground between a practical estate car, an easy-to-drive hatchback and a stylish coupe - meaning it has a large practical boot but a sleek, sloped roofline that swoops down towards the rear bumper. This kind of bodystyle means there aren’t any direct rivals to the Kia. The Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake is similar but it is a significant step up in cost.

There are diesel and petrol engines to choose from and both are available with an automatic gearbox and paddle shifters. For those wanting performance as well as style there is the Kia Proceed GT, which has a 1.6-litre petrol engine that produces a relatively strong 201hp. This figure is roughly the same as a Ford Fiesta ST, which is something of a benchmark for small fast cars. The Kia isn’t quite as fast as the Fiesta as it is much bigger and heavier, but it is still more than quick enough for most drivers.


4. Mercedes GLA

Our pick Mercedes GLA 220d AMG Line automatic
Used deals from £15,550
Monthly finance from £0*

The previous generation of Mercedes GLA was on sale from 2014 to 2020. To make the GLA Mercedes took its standard A-Class hatchback, lifted its ride height - meaning it has a greater distance between the bottom of the car and road, and gave it more rugged styling - including features such as plastic cladding around the wheel arches. This gives it a dose of SUV style.

Compared to the A-Class, the GLA is a more comfortable car to drive thanks to its slightly softer suspension. This does mean its handling around corners is marginally worse, but unless you are the kind of driver who seeks out faster, twisty roads for fun, you are unlikely to notice much of a difference. Paddle shifters are available across the GLA range, including entry-level SE trim, well-specified AMG Line models and even the incredibly fast GLA 45 high-performance model.


5. RenaultSport Clio

Our pick Renault Clio 1.6 TCe RenaultSport EDC
Used deals Limited stock

It is fair to say the Renault Clio Renaultsport (often shortened to 'Renault Clio RS') was a surprise when it arrived on UK roads almost a decade ago. This was due to it only being offered with an automatic gearbox and paddle shifters. Up until that point, there hadn’t even been the option of an automatic Clio RS. All previous high-performance Clio RS models were manual only.

Still, the move to paddles didn’t change the fact that the Clio RS came with cracking roadholding and a small but powerful engine. If you are looking for the last word in driving enjoyment, then the Ford Fiesta ST pips the Clio, but there isn’t an automatic Fiesta ST. The Clio is also practical, as all models come with rear doors which is more than can be said for some small fast cars. The Mini Hatchback JCW and Toyota GR Yaris are two three-door only models.


6. Ford Kuga

Our pick Ford Kuga 1.5 EcoBoost 182 Titanium automatic
Used deals from £11,750
Monthly finance from £0*

If you are looking for a relatively cheap family-sized SUV with paddle shifters, then the Ford Kuga could be just the ticket. More specifically the previous generation Kuga, which Ford manufactured from 2012 to 2020. Although the Kuga doesn’t stand out in one particular area, it performs well across the board - the driving experience, running costs and build quality are all good.

Ford has offered quite the variety of Kugas. There are front-wheel-drive models, four-wheel-drive models, models with a manual gearbox and models with an automatic gearbox and paddle shifters. If you are looking for the best all-round Juga model then aim for Titanium spec with the 150hp or 182hp 1.5-litre petrol engines as these come with plenty of equipment (such as a heated windscreen and a touchscreen media system) and a good balance of performance and fuel economy.


7. Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Our pick Jaguar XF Sportbrake 3.0d V6 S
Used deals Limited stock

The Jaguar XF Sportbrake S, with its 3.0-litre diesel engine, makes a compelling case for itself as a very fast, very practical car. Coming with an automatic gearbox and paddle shifters means it should be relaxing to drive the majority of the time, but there is the option of taking control of the gearbox at a moment's notice. In fact, the Jaguar’s enjoyable driving experience helps it to stand out against rivals from Mercedes (the E-Class) and Audi (the A6).

There is plenty of performance on offer with this version, as the engine produces enough power to propel the XF from 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds. That is faster than a large proportion of cars on the road and gives the XF effortless speed. When simply cruising along at a steady pace, the cabin of the XF is a nice place to be, though rivals such as the Mercedes E-Class are a little slicker inside.


8. BMW 2 Series

Our pick BMW 220i Coupe M Sport automatic
Used deals Limited stock

If you want an affordable old school sports coupe, there is little that comes close to the BMW 2 Series. It is relatively small, although the rear seats are much more spacious than those in the Audi TT - you can actually fit smaller adults back there, although on longer journeys the rear seats might start to become a little uncomfortable. Handling is a particular highlight for the 2 Series, making it an enjoyable car to drive on twisty roads.

Although there are an awful lot of automatic 2 Series models available, not all come with paddle shifters. High-performance automatic M235i and M240i models all come with paddles. Alternatively, there are 20i and 20d (‘d’ is for diesel and ‘i’ is petrol) models which offer a good mix of performance and fuel economy.


*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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