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Cars & travel.

15 September 2021

Best cars for 2021

Want to know which car you should buy in 2021? To make it easier for you to make the right choice and buy the best car for your needs, we’ve rounded up our top-scoring cars by class.
Daljinder Nagra
Car-guide-2

Buying a car is one of the biggest decisions you can make. It will sit outside your home for years and, for many of us, a car is an essential part of everyday life. The best cars will be reliable, easy to drive, spacious, practical and capable of keeping your loved ones safe in the event of an accident.

But choose the wrong model and you could end up with a fault-prone car that will spend as much time with a mechanic as it does outside your home.

A new car is an important purchase, and an expensive one, so you need to make the right decision. At Which?, we understand the importance of buying a car that perfectly suits your budget and needs. That’s why every car we review goes through hundreds of extensive tests and why we drive them for hundreds of miles on real roads.

Our mixture of scientific lab-controlled tests, real-world driving and unique survey data means our reviews are the most informative and accurate around.

  • 120 The number of new cars we test every year on average
  • 320 The number of tests and checks we conduct on each car we review
  • 500 The number of miles we drive every car we test
  • 47,000 The number of UK car owners we survey to get our reliability data
  • 98% The percentage of cars that don’t meet their manufacturer claimed mpg in our tests

Which car class is right for you?

To make it as easy as possible to find the perfect vehicle, we’ve rounded up the best cars in each class.

Already know which type of car you want? Click the links below to see our round-up of the very best. Otherwise, read on to find out more about each class.

Best electric cars for 2021

  • Best for: electric cars are worth considering if you’re aiming for zero exhaust emissions and low running costs.
  • Best on test: boasts brilliant range and dazzling efficiency.
  • Worst on test: plagued by imprecise steering and fault rates too high to ignore.

Being exempt from car tax has made electric cars more popular than ever. Top-rated models will have a good range while offering the same functionality and practicality as their petrol and diesel counterparts.

The chief drawback for many would-be electric-car buyers is the range. More and more manufacturers are claiming their cars can travel over 200 miles, but our own tests have found electric cars that fall well short of the claimed figures.

Our Which? Car Survey asks tens of thousands of owners how reliable their cars are. The information we collect informs our reviews; if a car is known to break down often or require a lot of costly repairs, it can’t be a Best Buy.

Popular models include the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Kia E-Niro, Hyundai Ioniq and Volkswagen ID.4.

Best hybrid cars for 2021

  • Best for: hybrid cars are an option if you want to save money on fuel but aren’t ready to commit to a fully electric car.
  • Best on test: a real gem, pairing good looks with dependability.
  • Worst on test: completely unexceptional in almost every way – not a quality you want in a new car.

Drivers looking to save on fuel costs often turn to hybrid cars. Where hybrid cars can really come alive is in urban driving - pick the right model and they'll easily best the average petrol or diesel for urban mpg.

However, their traditional Achilles’ Heel is poor motorway mpg - although some of the best hybrid cars can be exceptions to this trend. Our realistic mpg tests reveal which hybrid cars are truly economical, and which aren't.

If you’re thinking of choosing a plug-in hybrid model as your next car, you’ll want to regularly  charge the battery to make the most of its electric range. Otherwise, you’ll be facing higher fuel costs.

Popular models include the Toyota Prius, Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Hyundai Kona Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 and Honda Jazz.

Best city cars

  • Best for: shop for a city car if you’re a buyer on a budget searching for a car that’s a breeze to park.
  • Best on test: a charming little car that’s surprisingly cheap to run.
  • Worst on test: one to avoid at all costs – it looks cheap and let us down with a choppy ride.

Every car we test in our lab is driven for hundreds of miles on UK roads, so we can say, with authority, whether or not the car is easy to drive.

Our in-depth reviews have shown that many city cars struggle to stick to pollutant limits in our high-intensity motorway test. In other words, pick the wrong vehicle and you might be disappointed by the vehicle’s fuel consumption at high speeds.

City cars are competitively priced. While our testing has found some cheap and cheerful models, we’ve also found Don’t Buys with puny engines, poor handling, and a lack of active safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

Popular models include the Toyota Aygo, Fiat 500 (below) and VW Up.

Best small cars

  • Best for: small cars are more spacious than city cars but are just as simple to drive.
  • Best on test: low on running costs, a pleasure to drive and reliable.
  • Worst on test: ruined by a terrible safety rating, poor brakes and unresponsive handling.

We determine how quickly a car accelerates from 37-62mph, rather than 0-60, so you know how well smaller cars will cope with overtaking and changing lanes.

One small car has the dubious honour of being our lowest-rated car.

Popular models include the Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Vauxhall Corsa, Mini hatch and VW Polo.

Best medium cars

  • Best for: medium cars are comfortable, efficient, spacious and reliable.
  • Best on test: adapts to the conditions on the road to deliver the best economy.
  • Worst on test: way behind the times and failed to impress in Euro NCAP safety tests.

The best medium cars are consummate all-rounders that aren’t difficult to drive or park.

We found that 98% of cars can’t meet their official mpg. This is why we perform our own fuel-economy tests, so you will know how often you’ll really need to fill up and how much your car will cost you over time.

Popular models include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30, VW Golf and Mazda 3.

Best large cars

  • Best for: large cars put comfort first with supportive seats and smooth suspension.
  • Best on test: oozes class and is fantastically reliable.
  • Worst on test: dangerously sub par when it comes to safety credentials.

As you’d expect, interior space in a large car won’t be an issue, and sizeable engines mean the extra weight won’t make for sluggish performance.

But although you’d expect all ‘large’ cars to have plenty of boot space, not all of them deliver on their promise. Unlike car manufacturers, our own expert tests measure usable boot space to help you compare the cars on your shortlist.

We test to see how well each seat is padded, looking in depth at lumbar, thigh and head support, so you know whether a car will give you back ache after a long drive.

We’ve found cars that don’t give nearly enough consideration to passenger comfort and, coupled with poor suspension, your lower back will feel every pothole.

Popular models include the Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Tesla Model 3, BMW 3 Series and VW Passat.

Best small SUVs and crossovers

  • Best for: small SUVs and crossovers sit between medium hatchbacks and full-sized SUVs.
  • Best on test: ideal if you’re shopping for an eco-friendly family car.
  • Worst on test: a major letdown – safety and reliability issues make it a nailed-on Which? Don't Buy.

The best small SUVs have bundles of cabin space. They should be easy to drive, despite their size, and offer a commanding view of the road.

To make sure visibility is good, we use a 360-degree rotating camera to measure exactly how much the driver can see. Huge door pillars and small rear windows can make parking a nightmare. Sensors that help guide you into a space are becoming more common, but these pricey extras shouldn’t come at the expense of a well-designed cabin.

Don’t be wooed by some of the low-cost crossovers, because sometimes you really do get what you pay for. We’ve found Don’t Buy small SUVs that are light on in-car tech and safety equipment. There’s no excuse for manufacturers making unsafe cars, and all our reviews show the Euro NCAP test results as well as the results of our own avoidance tests. Unsafe cars put everyone at risk in the event of a crash.

Popular models include the Citroen C4 Cactus, Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai, Nissan Juke and Kia Niro.

Best large SUVs and 4x4s 

  • Best for: hulking 4x4s and large SUVs shouldn’t be short of space, whether that’s in the boot or the cabin.
  • Best on test: extremely well made and packed with whizzy tech.
  • Worst on test: deeply flawed with a shameful reliability rating.

When determining the amount of interior space we don’t just get in and stretch our legs. We use dummies to work out exactly how much head, leg and knee space each occupant will have.

Sometimes the back seats are more cramped than the front, particularly when it comes to coupé SUVs – the sloping roofs can significantly diminish rear headroom. So unless you're never planning on having anyone in the back, spare a thought for your passengers and read our reviews before you buy.

Popular models include the Honda CR-V, Volvo XC90, Mercedes GLE, BMW X5 and Peugeot 3008.

Best estate cars

  • Best for: estate cars are known for boot space and comfort.
  • Best on test: costs a pretty penny, but you’ll be rewarded with a luxury estate that few cars can compete with.
  • Worst on test: we have a long list of gripes, including awkward seat controls, a poorly designed handbrake and restricted visibility when parking.

Some manufacturers remove carpets and include the space designated for a spare tyre when measuring and reporting boot capacity. We use foam blocks, which ignore the small nooks that nothing practical can fit into, to give a realistic figure for boot space.

There’s more to consider than just a large boot. If an estate car is high off the ground or has a raised lip at the base of the boot, it can be difficult to load, especially if you’re carting heavy items around.

Popular models include the Mercedes C-Class estate, Skoda Superb estate, Volvo V90 and BMW 5 Series Touring.

Best MPVs

  • Best for: quintessential family cars with plenty of space and safety features.
  • Best on test: comfortable, practical and kitted out with safety-focused technology.
  • Worst on test: way off the pace and not up to scratch on safety features.

We check to see how well every car copes with last-minute avoidance. We swerve around objects at 56mph to make sure the car remains stable and grips the road.

If the front wheels lock, then the car can’t be a Best Buy. Our testing has found cars that can’t handle sharp turns at high speeds. Locked wheels mean you’ve effectively lost control of the car, which can lead to serious accidents.

Popular models include the Citroen C4 Picasso, Ford S-Max and Renault Scenic.

Best 7 seater cars

The best 7-seaters should still have a sizeable boot and not be cramped, even when all the seats are in use.

Seven seats is all well and good, but if the car is cramped and hard to get into, then those extra seats aren’t much use. We check to see how easy it is to enter any car, so you’ll know if the car you’re considering is suitable for older or disabled passengers.

Sliding doors can make it easier to get in and out of a car, particularly in cramped parking spaces, but we’ve found that some large MPVs have heavy sliding doors that some passengers may find difficult to open and close.

Popular models include the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, Ford Galaxy, VW Touran and Ford S-Max.

Best sports cars

  • Best for: it’s all about the look, the drive and the engine on a sports car.
  • Best on test: hits the mark in almost every category, impressing with strong performance and precise handling.
  • Worst on test: one of the highest emitters of carbon monoxide (CO) we've ever had in the Which? test lab.

We understand what people want from a sports car, and that is reflected in our testing. The final score will be based more on how well the car handles and how fun it is to drive, rather than practicality – no one ever bought a sports car for its boot capacity.

The best models will look fast and go even faster, thanks to state-of-the-art engines kicking out enough bhp to power four small cars. But any car that has high emissions in our tough tests, which are stricter than many manufacturer’s own tests, isn’t worthy of a Which? Best Buy title.

The high price means we often have higher expectations for how a sports car should perform on the road. Handling is paramount for an enjoyable driving experience, but some sports cars we’ve driven aren’t nearly responsive enough. The last thing you want is to be tens of thousands of pounds worse off, with only a boring car to show for it.

Popular models include the Mazda MX-5, Porsche 91, Audi TT and BMW Z4 (below).

Best luxury cars

  • Best for: take a closer look if you’re after superb ride quality and comfort, mixed with every piece of in-car tech you can think of.
  • Best on test: top of the class for refinement and comfort.
  • Worst on test: cursed with extremely poor brand-level reliability.

Expectations of luxury cars are understandably high – the top-rated models we’ve uncovered in our tough tests meet them.

We drive every car we test over a test track with more than enough lumps, bumps and potholes to replicate a British road. If the suspension isn’t up to scratch, we have the sore bums to prove it.

A second-hand luxury car might catch your eye, but be careful – we’ve found that some older models are a major disappointment when it comes to reliability. In fact, luxury cars are among the least reliable car types that we test. Buying used could save you a sizeable chunk of cash, but make sure you consult our expert reviews before you part with your hard-earned money. We survey thousands of car owners so we can reveal which models stand the test of time.

Popular models include the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Mercedes S-Class and BMW 5 Series.