Best automatic cars 2023

Don't fancy changing gears for yourself and would rather the car does it for you? We've rounded up the best automatics in cars of all sizes

By BuyaCar team

With no clutch pedal and no need to change gear manually, an automatic car can be a godsend in heavy traffic, or simply take the stress out of driving. The best automatic cars seem to know what you’re about to do - they change down a gear to provide maximum power at the very instant you go to press the accelerator, and they’ll change up the gears so swiftly that you’ll barely hear or feel the shifts when you ease off the throttle.

In contrast, the worst gearboxes can leave you waiting for power for what seems like an age, potentially as you pull out to overtake - which could prove highly dangerous - or will unexpectedly rev the engine hard for no reason, 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 different cars. With a varying number of gears, and various labels such as 'S tronic', 'DSG' and 'CVT', there sometimes seem to be more choice than in a supermarket crisp aisle, and some of the options are just as bewildering. Our article on all the different types of gearbox will give you more details.

The other thing to consider is 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 gearbox can offer super-long gears for silent cruising at motorway speed, plus a number of shorter gears for quick acceleration at lower speeds. As a result, these gearboxes need to be smooth because they change gear so frequently. Keep reading for the best automatic cars of all sizes.

Best automatic small cars

1. Hyundai i10

Gearbox type automatic
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The Hyundai 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 petrol engine. At 45.6mpg, the 1.2-litre Hyundai i10's fuel economy is more than 10mpg worse than the equivalent manual i10 though. This means that if you have a licence to drive manual cars you'll get a better car and save money, but it's a reasonable option if you hate driving a manual or need a two-pedal car for other reasons.

Hyundai replaced the i10 in 2020, and with it came a more efficient 5-speed automatic gearbox. Drivers should still expect a 5mpg dip compared with the same engines but with manual gearboxes.


2. Skoda Fabia

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

It’s one of the best gearbox types available, even when it’s installed in the little Fabia, where smooth changes are a fine match for the reasonably powerful 1.2-litre petrol engine. 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, as do affordable second-hand prices.


3. Ford Fiesta

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
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The Ford Fiesta has long been the UK's best-selling car, combining driving fun with low running costs. The latest model, introduced in 2018, is no exception, delivering an enjoyable drive, 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 turbocharged 'EcoBoost' petrol engine. It’s a willing little motor, though, and combined with the sharp-witted and smooth 'Powershift' dual-clutch automatic gearbox, makes for an impressively versatile small family car.


Best automatic family cars

1. Mercedes C-Class

Gearbox type automatic
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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 torque converter 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. You'll be able to identify these by their '7G-Tronic' and '9G-Tronic' names respectively.


2. Volkswagen Golf

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
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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.

The newer version of the Golf, introduced in 2020, also uses this DSG gearbox, including the 'eTSI' mild hybrids. It's worth noting that the plug-in hybrid models (badged eHybrid or GTE) only have six gears, but they're still as slick.


3. Jaguar XE

Gearbox type automatic
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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.


Best automatic SUVs

1. Seat Ateca

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
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Because Seat is part of the Volkswagen Group, it, too, gets the same super-smooth DSG gearbox as the Golf and the Fabia. The seven-speed automatic has enough gears to ensure that the 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. While many cars are more efficient with a DSG gearbox compared with a manual, the same can't be said for every version of the Ateca. This is likely due to its weight.

Buyers looking for the performance-orientated Cupra Ateca get the seven-speed DSG gearbox as standard, just like the fast versions of the Golf with which it shares its engine.


2. Audi Q7

Gearbox type automatic
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The Audi 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. The plug-in hybrid models and the sporty SQ7 also use this smooth gearbox.


3. Range Rover Sport

Gearbox type automatic
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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 as high as 35mpg in the mild hybrid diesel model (or 85mpg for the plug-in hybrid). As with other Jaguar and Land Rover automatic gearboxes, early models were controlled by a dial that rises out of the centre console next to the driver. Newer models use a more normal-looking automatic gearstick.


Best automatic sports cars

1. BMW M2

Gearbox type dual-clutch automatic
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The seven-speed automatic gearbox in the BMW M2 is an optional extra. The manual 'box in this car is good, but the automatic in many ways is better. For a start, it makes the car quicker to 62mph – the automatic 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 yourself, and in sport settings, it will let you wring the car's neck to the 7,000rpm redline. These paddles feel weighty and well-made too, making the gear changing experience feel solid and meaty, rather than limp and unexciting.


2. Porsche 911

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


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

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