10 Best Automatic Cars to Buy in 2024
Cars with engines need gears so that the power the engine is producing, and the speed it is turning at, translates to the speed required of the car, achieved by the speeds its wheels turn.
In a car with a manual gearbox, drivers select the gear ratio themselves, depressing the clutch to disengage the gearbox temporarily, allowing them to select a different gear, before releasing the clutch pedal and re-engaging the engine and gearbox.
All that can get a bit wearing, particularly in heavy traffic, and an automatic gearbox comes into play here, as this will select a gear itself with no need for the manual use of a clutch, or the moving of a gearlever. Automatic gearboxes have improved enormously over recent years, and are now roughly as efficient as a manual, while the software and hardware behind gear choice and selection is, in many instances, better than what can be achieved by a human driver.
If you’re in the market for an automatic car then you’re in luck, as there are hundreds of great choices out there. So many in fact that it can all seem a bit overwhelming, which is why we’ve picked some of the best ones for you to look at, including everything from hatchbacks to family cars and SUVs.
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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.
This is the term used for cars with automatic gearboxes that offer some form of manual control, usually in the form of steering-wheel mounted paddles or a manual mode on the shifter itself. The gearbox will still be an automatic, but the manual override will let you select a gear and hold onto it until you hit the rev limiter – although some cars will change up for you regardless of the mode you are in. The same applies to downshifts where the computer will change down for you as your speed decreases even if you are in manual mode.
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.
A traditional torque-converter automatic does not have a clutch although most of the modern variants have what is called a lock-up feature which incorporates a mechanical clutch into the system.
A CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission does not have a clutch as it uses a set of cone-shaped pulleys and drive belts to provide an almost infinite number of gear ratios.
A single-clutch transmission is essentially a manual gearbox where a computer takes over the operation of the clutch. The more modern and smoother version is called a DCT or dual-clutch transmission and it uses a set of clutches and two gearsets to provide very quick and seamless gear changes.
Yes. Driving an automatic requires less skill than a manual so if you passed your drivers test in a manual transmission car you are ‘automatically’ allowed to drive an automatic as well. This does not work the other way around, so if you have passed your test with an automatic transmission car you will need to retake your test in a manual car to be allowed to drive both.
The Honda CR-Z used to be the only manual transmission hybrid car when it was on sale a few years ago but that model is no longer available. Just about all modern hybrids and EVs have automatic transmissions due to the complex nature of their drivetrains.
Mild hybrids, which incorporate a small 48-volt electric motor with an internal combustion engine, can be paired with manual transmissions and these include models like the Hyundai Tucson MHEV and Kia Stonic MHEV.
In general, a car with an automatic transmission will cost more than the same car with a manual gearbox as the manufacturing costs are higher. You will also find that more upmarket or luxurious cars tend to be fitted with automatic transmissions as very few people want a Mercedes S-Class fitted with a manual gearbox.
If you want one, absolutely. Modern autos are so smooth, efficient and convenient that it's tough to recommend a manual transmission in many instances, unless you're after a sports car and want to feel more engaged with the driving experience.
No, not really. With automatics being available on almost every car on the market (indeed, some brands no longer offer manuals at all), the question should be which car to buy in general, rather than which automatic car should I avoid. Our comprehensive suite of car reviews can help you here.
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