The internet is awash with patronising articles about “how to choose a car that’s right for you”. Offering analytical gems such as “set your budget” and “make sure there’s enough room for the dog”, these articles do very little to guide readers through the bewildering choice of cars available, nor to address the elephant in the showroom – the fact that we often buy cars with our hearts, not our heads.
That is to say, we buy the car that we want, rather than the one that will suit our needs. If this was a purely pragmatic decision, we’d all be driving Peugeot e-208s, Skoda Octavias or Subaru Foresters. But we don’t – we’re swayed by brand, by advertising, by intangible ideas of status. Whether we say it aloud or not, we buy cars because of how we think they make us look. And we can’t really help it.
As car critics, this is both hugely exciting and deeply demoralising. Exciting because it means we get to drive a 200mph supercar that does 10mpg and recommend it with a straight face; demoralising because we give five-star reviews to brilliant, affordable, well-engineered cars knowing that everybody is going to buy the worse but more fashionable rivals instead.
So instead of trying to unpick the fundamental drivers of human behaviour, I’ll try to distill our new car buying advice into a single principle: buy enough car.
Don’t buy too little, and don’t buy too much. Don’t buy a car that will struggle with what you need it for, and don’t buy a car with capabilities that far exceed your daily routine. If your day begins with a high-speed motorway commute, don’t buy a 35kWh urban EV like the Honda e; if your existence revolves around Waitrose and the school gates then you’re unlikely to need the 90cm wading depth of the new Land Rover Defender.
Everybody – you, us, the marketing departments of car manufacturers – knows that most buyers ignore this incredibly obvious advice, and will continue to crave more powerful, more expensive and larger cars with every passing model year. But this year has forced us to analyse what we do, and how we’ve been doing it; there’s never been a more important time to rethink the way we get about.
£26,000/on sale now
Honda’s electric supermini is one of the most eagerly anticipated cars of the past few years, mainly because of how cute it is. Borrowing heavily from the original Civic of 1972, its round headlights and chunky, cuboid dimensions are a retro-futuristic nod to late 20th century car design. But underneath that adorable exterior it’s far from old-fashioned – a fully-electric powertrain gives the e a claimed range of 137 miles and a punchy 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds. It’s no long-range cruiser, and it only seats four, but this little Japanese hatch could be the perfect suburban runabout.
Fiat 500 electric
£27,000/on sale now
A direct descendant of the original Cinquecento of 1957, the ‘new’ 500 (launched 50 years later in 2007) is one of the most impressive examples of 21st century car design, thanks to its cutesy design, light controls and low running costs. The new electric version expands on this package, delivering the same affordable, characterful, easygoing driving experience, alongside a 200-mile range and none of the tailpipe emissions. It’s also available as a convertible, which is still a rarity on the EV market. Yes, it looks pretty much the same as any other Fiat 500 from the past 13 years – but if it ain’t broken, why fix it?
Toyota Yaris Cross
£23,000 (est)/on sale soon
If somebody had told you ten years ago that they were going to turn the Yaris supermini into an SUV, you’d have laughed. But that’s exactly what Toyota is doing in 2020 – giving the diminutive Yaris jacked-up looks, a four-wheel-drive option and chunky off-road styling. The Yaris Cross has a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain and borrows stylistically from the bigger Rav-4 (itself a slightly unlikely off-roader) and, while a bit peculiar, might just work. Few cars of this size offer meaningful 4x4 ability; the Yaris Cross joins the Suzuki Ignis and the Fiat Panda in this niche segment.
£20,000/on sale now
The new Puma meets the needs of crossover buyers with laser-sharp accuracy. Based on the latest Fiesta (brilliant) the Puma adds funky styling, efficient engines, comfortable seats and a useful hose-down boot with a drain hole in the bottom – perfect for owners of messy dogs. It’s priced competitively, and while the Fiesta will probably continue to be the UK’s bestselling car for another decade, the Puma meets our growing appetite for small, upright cars. If the name rings a bell, it’s because Ford once sold a Fiesta-based coupé with the same badge.
£36,000/on sale now
Volkswagen reckons its new all-electric ID.3 is poised to become another iconic European bestseller, following in the tyre tracks of the Golf and the Beetle. Whether that premonition comes true will depend on how readily VW’s rivals rise to the challenge, because the ID.3 is certainly a formidable new entrant. Different versions offer between 200 and 340 miles of range, with performance likely to reflect that of a modern petrol-powered hatchback. At this price, it’s a compelling combo of practicality and (relative) affordability – just like VW’s iconic ‘people’s cars’ of yore.
£22,000/on sale soon
If you’re bored with all the “crossovers” and just want a car-shaped car, the Skoda Octavia could be for you. You can get it as a hatchback or an estate, with petrol or diesel engines. Simple, right? Okay, the ‘hatchback’ is a bit saloon-like, and one of the petrol engines has a mild hybrid system, but the Octavia is still about the most straightforward car on the road these days – just what Czech manufacturer Skoda is famous for. The 1.5-litre petrol estate is probably the perfect general-use family car, while larger-displacement diesel engines will remain popular with long-distance commuters.
£30,000 (est)/on sale soon
Vauxhall’s Mokka is the latest car to get a fully-electric powertrain and a lowercase ‘e’ added to its name. Just like the new Corsa, you can get the Mokka as a petrol, a diesel or an EV, making it an extremely easy car to recommend to a wide variety of buyers. You’ll get up to 200 miles of range, nimble acceleration and the same family-friendly practicality that made the old Mokka such a firm favourite with British buyers – but with no emissions at the tailpipe. We think it’s more attractive than the old one, too.
£18,000/on sale now
The new Jazz is another clever hatchback from Honda. Its hybrid system uses a 1.5-litre petrol engine and two smaller electric motors to power the front wheels, with claimed fuel economy of over 60mpg and low overall emissions. The Jazz has always been a popular car in the UK, and its reputation for reliability around the world is remarkable; this isn’t an exciting car, particularly, but it’s about as close to perfection as you can get in supermini form. The taller, chunkier, pricier Crosstar version comes with SUV-inspired plastic trim, and is arguably a bit cooler.
£24,000/on sale now
Every four years, a new Golf lands on planet hatchback, leaving a massive impact crater and killing off the older, lesser family cars that once roamed there. 2020 is one of those years, and the eighth-generation Golf – this model has been around for nearly half a century – could prove just as disruptive as its ancestors. Obviously it’s a five-seat, five-door B-segment car, designed to appeal to, well, pretty much everybody. But with family buyers turning their backs on fossil fuels, and with the arrival of the ID.3 all-electric hatch, could this lumbering giant be nearing extinction?
Jeep Renegade 4xe
£23,000/on sale soon
Like a bald eagle going vegan, Jeep is now offering plug-in hybrid systems. The first to receive it will be the Compass and the Renegade, the latter being the more characterful – though arguably less practical – family SUV. It’ll have around 25 miles of zero-emission range once it’s been charged, with the 1.3-litre petrol engine kicking in as required, and is likely to be just as useful off-road as the regular Renegade. A more powerful ‘Trailhawk’ version is also available, pushing Jeep’s yee-haw nomenclature to the absolute limit. It might not be the best plug-in hybrid SUV you can buy, but it’s one of the more interesting.
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