Sometimes only an automatic will do. Here are five of the best.
An automatic gearbox can be one of life's little luxuries.They help to sooth away the stress of rush hour traffic, simplify the task of driving and some can even improve the performance and economy of your car.
Strictly speaking, the term covers a range of different categories, including conventional automatics, dual clutch transmissions (DCTs), automated manual transmissions (AMTs) and constantly variable transmissions (CVTs).
These days it’s quite common for luxury cars to come with an automatic gearbox as standard. On other models it may be an optional extra that’s only available with certain engines or trim packages.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the running costs can differ quite substantially (for better or for worse) compared to the manual model.
Here are some of the best automatic cars on sale:
Smart ForTwo Twinamic
It’s fair to say that the previous generation Smart ForTwo wasn’t exactly renowned for its automatic gearbox. So, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the new one is actually really rather good.
The six-speed Twinamic DCT may be a £995 option, but it’s worth every penny. It changes gear quickly and smoothly, helping city dwellers to zip around in style.
Also consider: If you don’t fancy shelling out for the Smart, check out the Hyundai i10.
Its automatic four-speed torque converter gearbox may not be the most technologically advanced transmission, but it’s smooth and reliable. The car itself is a gem too.
Volkswagen Polo DSG
Volkswagen is the spiritual home of the direct-shift gearbox (DSG), and the 7-speed DSG in the Polo is up there with the best.
It’s a perfect fit for the Polo, which feels like a Golf in miniature.
Comfortable, refined and well built – it makes a great buy, with plenty of used bargains available on the secondhand market.
Also consider: No other small car can match the Ford Fiesta’s fun factor. The optional Powershift dual clutch transmission is a great gearbox and it makes a fine pairing with the punchy 1-litre Ecoboost model.
SEAT Leon DSG
Remember that Volkswagen advert that talked about cars that were ‘like a Golf’? Well the SEAT Leon shares most of its major componentry with the German model and undercuts it by several thousand pounds.
It can’t quite match the Golf’s refinement, but sharp styling and engaging handling mean the Leon is one of the very best family hatchbacks around at the moment.
Best of all, the 7-speed DSG auto (shared with the Golf) starts at just £18,950.
Also consider: You simply can’t ignore the Ford Focus if you’re looking for a family hatchback. The Golf may have it nailed for quality and the Leon is arguably better value, but the Focus is still the best to drive.
The Powershift gearbox is available on a range of models and well worth the £1,250 premium.
BMW 3 Series automatic
The BMW 3 Series practically defines the compact executive market. As an all-round package it’s hard to beat. With a fantastic range of fast-yet-frugal petrol and diesel engines, great handling and impressive refinement.
An optional eight-speed automatic is available on all models and it’s one of the best in the business, with smooth changes and crisp responses.
Also consider: Jaguar is gunning for the 3 Series’ compact crown with the new XE. It arguably trumps it when it comes to handling. Definitely one to watch.
Land Rover Discovery Sport Auto
Land Rover has packed an impressive nine speeds into the Discovery Sport’s optional automatic gearbox, but you’d be hard pushed to spot it changing from one to another. Shifts are virtually seamless in automatic mode.
You can also take control via a set of steering wheel mounted paddles, although it becomes something of a workout with so many speeds to shuffle.
The secret of the Discovery Sport’s appeal is the fact it does everything well.
It looks good, it oozes quality and it drives with finesse.
Greater practicality means the Land Rover just edges it over its more stylish sibling, the Range Rover Evoque, as the class leader.
Also consider: The BMW X3 is another great all-rounder. It can’t quite match some of its newer rivals dynamically, but it’s still refined, practical and comparatively cheap to run.