The car business is a fast-moving industry and our notion of what constitutes the best cars is constantly being challenged. Cycles of technological change have sped up, new models are taking the market in a storm only to disappear from sight again within the blink of an eye. Staying ‘up to date’ has become next to impossible, even for true car aficionados. And let’s be honest: Why should you even try? Expensive new cars may look more fashionable and they may be more efficient when it comes to fuel consumption. But that’s not to say that you couldn’t drive a ten year old model or a cheap brand and be perfectly happy with it.
Increasingly, car reviewers are adapting to this sensible approach. Which is why we’ve taken a look at various ‘best cars’ selections to find out which model experts and everyday users prefer. We can promise you this: Apart from a few obvious classics, there are many surprises to be found on these lists.
What, exactly, defines the best cars? What defines a great car?
That question is as old as the car industry and it is still being passionately debated today. For many decades, superior technology and progressive design used to be the most important signifiers of excellence. Cars like the Mercedes SLS, with its futuristic gull-wing doors, the commercially disappointing, but technologically superior RO-80 or the spectacular, almost otherworldly Citroëns of the 80s are prime examples for this perspective.
As ecologic and economic concerns have become more relevant, however, so has the vocabulary for discussing excellence. Today, you’ll find words like ‘space’ and ‘practicality’ in almost every single car review and ‘value for money’ has turned from being a necessary evil into a decisive factor. Clearly, a lot has changed for the better, from a consumer’s point of view.
To give you an idea of just how much has changed, take a look at this three criteria system for determining the best cars by car magazine Car and Driver:
- Functionality test – as Car and Driver put it, “we expect sports cars to be fast and exhilarating, while we presume a family sedan will be practical.”
- Engagement – this essentially translates to remarkable features of any kind that make the car stand out and award it an emotionally compelling quality.
- Price – contrary to many other car magazines, Car and Driver have always favoured good value for money. As a result, you will find no Ferraris in their list, but plenty of smaller, seemingly less sexy models.
These three criteria may once have been a novelty, but they are very much in line with what most buyers would expect from the best cars in the UK today. So let’s now take a closer look at what some of the leading UK car review publications consider the best cars currently available on the market..
Best cars in the UK
The ‘“What Car?“ award 2015 is a good example for the aforementioned shift in perspective. Its car of the year is the Skoda Fabia, which even the jury refers to as “not the most exciting car in the world”. However, it is described as “quite possibly the most sensible one” and praised for the fact that on a tightly contested market, it has next to no weaknesses. Skoda also takes first spot in the ‘family car’ category, with the experts applauding its user-friendliness, hard-to-beat price as well as the ‘sheer space’ available to passengers and luggage.
Things get really interesting, meanwhile, when comparing these assessments from an expert jury with other polls conducted by polling actual drivers. Here’s a compiled overview from two major driver surveys on the best cars in 2015, conducted by newspaper The Telegraph and specialised car magazine Auto Express respectively of the cars ranking high on both lists:
- Skoda Yeti (ranked #1 and #2 respectively)
- Ford Focus
- Toyota Prius
- BMW 5 series
Although a Lexus secures top position in the Auto Express poll, the trend towards more affordable, easy to use, practical and, for lack of a better word, ‘fun’ cars is obvious, both on the critics’ end of things as the consumers’. A Skoda Yeti as the best car currently available on the market? It seems too good to be true, but it definitely is.
Best Cars of the decade(s)
To put this current development into perspective, it is extremely interesting to investigate the yearly list compiled by Car and Driver since 1983. It has become a welcome tradition for the publication to compile an editorial selection of the best cars at the end of each year, adding up to a total of 220 vehicles with the publication’s seal of excellence. Although these selections are made from a US perspective, they are remarkably similar to comparable results in the UK. market. The list of previous winners, although containing a few expected classics, seems remarkably familiar – you will probably have seen quite a few of these models driving through town over the past decades:
- Volkswagen Rabbit GTI (still legendary for its power)
- Audi 5000S / Turbo (The Audi even makes multiple appearances over the years)
- Honda Accord (‘no one has yet matched the Accord’s combination of poise, performance, and price.’)
- BMW 325i (“a BMW you can actually afford.”)
- Nissan 300ZX Turbo (The Nissan 300 is another multiple entry champion and one of the most successful vehicles ever in the Car and Driver poll)
- Porsche Boxster (this eternal classic needs no further explanation)
- Subaru Impreza WRX (“Everyone who drives this car always gets out with a smile.”)
- Toyota Prius (fuel-saving genius)
- Ford Focus (“Never confuse cheapness with value”)
- Mazda 3 (highest technology combined with intuitive usage)
With the exception of Skoda, which hasn’t managed to capture the imagination of US customers quite the same way as it has in Europe and the UK, these results are remarkably similar to the UK lists for best cars. Clearly, there is a global trend at work here.
Expensive is not always best
It’s pretty easy to narrow this trend down to a simple slogan: Expensive is not always best! Obviously, dream cars like the Porsche Boxter and the Chevrolet Corvette will remain outside of the budget of mere mortals. However, it is quite remarkable how many of the best cars of the decade you can find in our Manchester showroom. Do come round – we’re looking forward to your visit!