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Best automatic cars 2020

If you’re looking for a list of the best automatic cars you can buy you’re spoiled for choice, as there are literally hundreds of options. Below is a selection of some of the very best, from family hatchbacks and city cars to big SUVs and premium saloons.

Best small automatic cars

Small cars are perfect for the busy streets, narrow gaps and tight parking spaces of city driving. And they’re even better if you specify them with an automatic gearbox, as you’ll save yourself the constant hassle of changing gear when you hit that inevitable stop-start traffic jam. Below you’ll find a shortlist of the best small automatic cars you can currently buy.

Best automatic SUVs

SUVs tend to be big and comfy, which makes them a perfect match for an automatic gearbox that does all the hard work of changing gear for you. So whether you’re negotiating a supermarket car park, a motorway traffic jam or a rutted farm track, there will be an automatic SUV to suit. Read on for a list of the best automatic SUVs.

Best automatic family cars

Family cars are natural all-rounders, but fitting an automatic gearbox makes them even better in town and traffic. Keep reading for our list of the best automatic family cars.

Best automatic family cars

The most economical automatics are likely to be electric or hybrid vehicles these days - especially when a full charge costs buttons compared with the cost of a tank of petrol or diesel. Here are some of the best.

Best medium-sized automatic cars

There’s plenty of choices out there if you want a medium-sized automatic car. From spacious hatchbacks to chunky SUVs and stylish sporty saloons, there’s sure to be something to suit you, whatever your budget and taste – here’s a guide to the best.

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More advice on automatic cars

Frequently asked questions about automatic cars

The basic definition of an automatic car is on whose gearbox changes gears without your input – unlike in a conventional manual car where you need to operate both the clutch and gear lever to change gears. This is useful in busy urban traffic as you don’t have to constantly deal with the clutch and gearstick.

Out on the motorway, the fact that they often have more ratios and a long cruising gear can also make them more efficient on long-distance runs. They do tend to cost a little more than a manual car, so you might need to budget a little more if you’re after an auto model.

In many ways, automatic cars are simpler to drive than ones with manual transmissions. Generally, you’ll need to put the car’s gear lever into ‘P’ or ‘park’ mode and have your foot on the brake to start an automatic car. Next, while keeping your foot on the brake, you can move the gearstick to its ‘D’ or ‘Drive’ position. All you need to do then is to release the foot brake and depress the accelerator.
The DSG or Direct-Shift Gearbox was developed by Volkswagen to give you the best bits of a manual and an automatic gearbox – other manufacturers have since launched their own versions, though.

DSG gearboxes have two clutches – so they can preselect the next gear (if you were in second it would preselect third) – which cuts shift times, making the car accelerate faster than one with a conventional manual or automatic gearbox. For example, a Volkswagen Golf R with a DSG gearbox accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds – two-tenths of a second quicker than a Golf R with a manual gearbox.

Enthusiasts tend to prefer DSG gearboxes (over conventional autos) because their quick changes make them feel more responsive and rewarding to drive and because gears can usually be manually selected using Formula 1 style paddles behind the steering wheel.

DSG gearbox do have some disadvantages, though. The biggest is that they cost more than a manual gearbox, but they also tend to be more complex and heavier. DSG gearboxes can also be a little jerky at low speeds – making parking tricky – and they don’t usually have the ‘crawl’ function you’ll get with a conventional automatic.

Most automatic cars come with an ‘S’ mode, which stands for ‘Sport’. Select Sport with the gear selector and the gearbox will hold onto gears for longer than usual – making the car feel quicker because it doesn’t need to change down a gear when you accelerate. The downside of using Sport mode is that you’ll burn more fuel.
The most common type of automatic gearbox uses what’s called a torque converter system. This is a fluid coupling that, basically, takes the power from the engine and transmits it to the car’s drive wheels by using hydraulic fluid that spins at high speed. This makes torque converter autos smooth, and also creates the ‘creep’ function – which is the way this type of automatic will gently roll forward whenever it is in ‘drive’ unless you keep your foot on the brake. It’s also why torque converter gearboxes tend to be less efficient than conventional manuals, as it’s always trying to move the car forward.

Another popular type of automatic transmission is a dual-clutch or twin-clutch gearbox. These sorts of automatic gearbox, as the name suggests, use two clutches. This means they can pre-select the next gear for you, reducing the time it takes to change gears, and so improving both fuel efficiency and acceleration. Twin-clutch gearboxes can feel less smooth than torque converter autos, though, and they can be jerky at parking speeds, as you can’t balance the clutch as you might with a conventional manual. They can also be more complex, and therefore heavier, than conventional manual gearboxes.

Another type of auto gearbox is the robotised manual. This is essentially a conventional manual gearbox with an automatically operated clutch. It’s not as smooth as most other forms of automatic and can take a little while to get used to.

CVTs – or continuously variable transmissions – are a type of auto gearbox that don’t have traditional ‘ratios’. This means that the engine revs sit at a constant level and the gearbox itself adjusts. This can be a bit disconcerting initially but is theoretically fuel-efficient. Hybrid cars often use CVT transmissions.

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