Best medium cars for 2020
By Daljinder Nagra
Article 6 of 16
Medium cars are the most popular type in the UK. Thanks to our rigorous tests, we can reveal the best new and used medium cars - as well as the worst.
Looking for the best medium car? This car class is dominated by popular hatchbacks, including the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, along with more premium models, such as the VW Golf and Audi A3.
But while they may all be around the same size, not all medium cars are worth your money. The best medium cars are reliable, practical, safe and reasonably cheap to run. Yet the worst are much more likely to break down, or be uncomfortable or poorly designed.
Only cars that score highly in our tough lab and road tests are Which? Best Buys.
You'll find our top recommendations for the best new and used medium cars in the tables below. Plus we reveal three medium cars that aren't worth your money.
Alternatively, if you want to find out more about how to buy the best medium car, you can use the links below to jump to:
Best new medium cars
Hybrid cars are increasingly commonplace, but this was the first upmarket medium sized model available with the technology. Aside from sipping fuel and being effortless to drive, it is built to the same exemplary standard as the brand’s larger executive cars.
High performance cars and cleaner motoring needn’t be mutually exclusive concepts, as this model proves. Not only does it have hot-hatch pace, its plug-in hybrid system ensures low official CO2 emissions and the potential for very small running costs. It’s also got the same high-quality cabin as the regular petrol version.
Rear seat space may be at a premium, but this saloon ticks the boxes in almost every other respect. Including a fantastic selection of engines and the option of a slick twin-clutch gearbox. However, it misses out on Best Buy status due to emissions issues.
The best used medium cars
Buying used in a great way to get an exceptional car for a lower cost - just make sure you select a great model to avoid making a costly mistake. Our experts select the very best models to choose.
Best used medium cars
A battery electric car that doesn't compromise on luxury. It may be the frumpy hatchback in its maker’s range, but it's got most of the luxury trappings of more expensive models. The silent electric drivetrain only improves the tranquillity. It's a deserved Which? Best Buy.
This premium model is now something of a bargain on the used market. It offers a unique and engaging driving experience. It’s also available with a wide selection of engines with decent performance and economy. Cramped rear seat passengers won’t like it as much as you will, though.
Not found the car for you? Go straight to all our medium car reviews.
Medium cars need to be jacks of all trades: great family cars, with space for a pushchair and a fortnight's luggage, but compact enough to park easily in town. They should be easy to drive, comfortable and smooth - all while being cheap to run. Our testing has found medium cars that are master of one or more of these desirable traits, while some don't manage any.
By their very nature, medium cars should be more spacious than small ones. While most models have plenty of room in the front, some are cramped in the rear, while headroom and legroom can leave a lot to be desired. We use human-sized dummies to measure exactly how much room there is in every seat in a car.
People's high expectations of medium cars extend to how cheap they are to run. A manufacturer's claimed mpg is usually high, and almost always too good to be true. We conduct our own fuel-economy tests, so you get an accurate figure, and will know exactly how much the cars on your shortlist will cost you to run.
Here are the models you should steer clear of, to avoid disappointment when buying a new or used medium car.
Medium cars to avoid
This model is a common sight on the roads, but don’t let that lull you into thinking it’s a good car. It feels large on the road, despite not being exceptionally roomy inside. Petrol models are somewhat unrefined and diesels didn’t match fuel economy claims in our tests. Furthermore, over-the-shoulder visibility is compromised by thick window pillars.
It's easy to be seduced by this car’s styling and sporty petrol engines. However, its talents really are just skin deep. It's not particularly refined or spacious in the back, and its latest Euro NCAP assessment saw it awarded just three stars out of five for safety. You'd be better off with a newer Best Buy medium car instead.
How to buy the best medium car
We look at passenger comfort, safety and practicality as well as driving pleasure to help you choose the best medium car for you. Here are our top buying tips and things to look out for.
We’d avoid buying a mid-sized saloon unless it’s second hand. When it comes to medium cars, the UK is a nation of hatchback buyers - we simply don't go in for saloon versions of models such as the new Honda Civic and Ford Focus (now available used only) in great numbers.
Medium saloons are often less practical, with smaller boot apertures and ultimately less available space for luggage, though this does depend on individual models.
You can use our car reviews to check how much boot space is in a car and to compare between different models. We measure only the usable space in the boot so you'll know how much room you really have for your luggage.
If you are considering a medium-sized model as a family car and you have small children, check that the boot will be large enough for your requirements.
Despite most medium cars taking up a similar amount of space on the road, there are often huge differences in terms of luggage space. The previous generation BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) for instance, has a relatively small boot, as its rear-wheel-drive robs space in the name of a better driving experience.
However, other models are designed specifically with practicality and ease of use in mind. The Honda Civic, for example, offers an exceptionally large boot.
We don’t rely on manufacturer's claims. Our independent tests assess just how much usable boot and passenger space there is in each model, so you can make an informed choice.
We’d recommend a five-door model over a three-door, particularly if you’ll be installing a child car seat. Not only is it more practical, but newer models are often just as sporty looking as their three-door counterparts.
In recent years, the traditional boxy hatchback silhouette has given way to more stylish coupe-esque designs. While these often look more appealing, sloping roofs can compromise interior headroom, as well as cause problems for taller passengers getting in and out.
Consider legroom for both children and adult rear-seat passengers. We measure the space inside each car we test, so in our car reviews we can tell you what height of person will fit in each seat. This means you will know you're buying a car that's suitable for your passengers, without having to take them with you on every test drive.
If your children or grand children need a child car seat, check to see if there are Isofix mounting points and make sure that the rear doors open wide enough for easy access.
Also, make sure the rear window frames are not so high that a small child wouldn’t be able to see out (this can exacerbate car sickness, making a mess of your lovely new car).
You don’t have to sacrifice driving pleasure just because you need a practical medium-sized car. If you want a sports car but have a family, a hot hatch like the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST is a great compromise between performance and versatility.
Watch out for higher insurance costs, though. Plus you'll need to make sure that all your family can cope with a firmer ride - large wheels and low-profile tyres, not to mention sports-tuned suspension, may not give an experience your passengers would call comfortable.
And before you get too carried away, make sure that if you need to use child seats or baby carriers that these will be compatible with the heavily sculpted sports seats that are often fitted to performance models.
Alternatively, if you've got the money to spare, you can buy yourself a sports car as a second car. See our best sports cars.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations. And because Which? is independent and doesn't accept advertising or freebies, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.
Each car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs
To tell you which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.
To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, join Which? and you'll receive access to all our expert reviews and advice.