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The gearbox, also known as the ‘transmission’, changes gears automatically as you increase or lower your speed. This makes automatic cars easier to drive than manual ones. And while they are more expensive to buy and fix, newer models are more efficient, hold their value very well and are ideal for urban driving – you won’t need to have your foot on the clutch all the time anymore.

Automatic cars come in a range of styles, such as standard automatic and then semi-automatic ones such as DSG and CVT – these combine manual and automatic gearboxes and have no clutch pedal – leaving you more headspace while driving to focus on getting to your destination. You can find automatic transmissions on a variety of cars, from the humble Volkswagen Golf through to BMWs and Jaguars, all making the drive a breeze for their owners.

How to drive an automatic car

Driving an automatic car is simpler than a manual one. Possibly that is why they used to be quite popular with the elderly or people who couldn’t hack a manual gearbox car. Now they’re much more the norm and not only because they are a lot easier to drive.

When you get behind the wheel of an automatic car you can concentrate more on driving and give your left knee a break – you won’t have to deal with the gear stick  until you need to park or reverse. The ride is smoother and stalling becomes a thing of the past. If for some reason you need to learn to drive quickly, it tends to be easier to get an automatic-only license. Although that means you won’t be able to drive manual cars.

Automatic cars tend to have four main modes: P — park; R— reverse; N—neutral; and D—drive. There is no clutch pedal, which can confuse drivers used to manual gear transmission. But once you get used to that, driving an automatic is as simple as these three basic steps:

  1. Push down on the brake, keeping your foot on it while you start the engine.
  2. Move the gear shifter to ‘D’ if you want to drive forward or ‘R’ if you want to reverse. When you start moving, the gearbox will automatically start moving up or down to the correct gear for you.
  3. When you stop driving, push down on the brake and move the gear shifter to ‘P’.

Best automatic cars

Got your automatic transmission nailed? Ready for some behind-the-wheel cruising with ease? Below are 10 of the best automatic cars out there.

1. BMW 3 Series

Cars in the BMW 3 series look the part: smart and modern and they’re a dream to drive. Fit a model with a twin turbo engine and it will deliver a handsome torque of 457 lb ft (620 Nm) and a generous horsepower of 245 (248 PS). An entry-level xDrive 20i M Sport with a petrol engine will give you 184 hp and 0 to 62 mph in 8.3 seconds, although we all know a BMW can go much quicker than that if we spend the money.

Three different driving settings allow you drive to comfortably and confidently. The ride is smooth, courtesy of an optional adaptive M-suspension and an engine that is content on most roads. These are spacious sets of wheels, too, with lots of rear leg space and room in the boot, so they’re a good choice if you have a family.

Best features:

  • Spacious
  • Good for families
  • Perfect dashboard setup for drivers

Used prices from £6,995

2. Volkswagen Polo GTI DSG automatic

The five-door Volkswagen Polo GTI features a 6-speed ‘direct shift gearbox’ (DSG) — also known as ‘dual clutch transmission (DCT) – which, in a nutshell, predicts your next gear change and prepares the car for it so you can shift more smoothly between gears. This 2.0 L petrol-powered bundle of goodness houses a horsepower of 197 (200 PS) and 236 lb ft (320 Nm) to see it through and will zip from 0 to 62 mph in 6.7 seconds. Top speed: 148 mph.

Really, it’s a supermini, but it feels bigger, partly because it’s so spacious inside. The car performs solidly, handling with finesse and endearing itself more and more to you as you drive. The suspension does what you ask of it, keeping the ride relatively bump-free and the engine goes about its business quietly — and we all like a car that just gets on with things.

Best features:

  • Supermini with a big-car feel
  • Elegant handling
  • Fun to drive

Used prices from £6,500

3. Porsche 911 PDK

‘PDK’ is Porsche’s equivalent of Volkswagen’s DSG and this 8-speed automatic transmission within the company’s iconic 911 range is exceptionally fast and smooth. The car needs just 4.7 seconds to hit 62 mph, and, depending on the model, the 3 litre engine rewards you with between 380 and 641 hp (385 to 650 PS) and torque of 332 lb ft (450 Nm) or more to pull it. We’re talking turbos for 641 hp here, though, so unless you’re planning to hit the motorways at warp speed, you’ll not need such a powerful model.

The vehicle handles excellently, of course, with the steering feeling quick and natural. The wheels gain exceptional purchase on the road and the car feels stable and inspires confidence as you turn corners. For such a powerful vehicle, the ride is relaxing, rather than sharp, and you won’t feel giddy with adrenaline when you step out of it, which doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the ride either.

Best features:

  • Fast and powerful
  • Exceptionally fast, smooth gearshifts
  • Natural feel while driving

Used prices from £10,995

4. Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI

The Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI is a five-seater SUV — seven seaters are available further up the range — and offers good value for money. It’s immensely spacious inside, refusing to sacrifice boot space, and is excellent for road tripping with the family or friends.

This well-rounded 4×4 spoils you with a DSG transmission, hits 0 to 62 mph in 9.4 seconds, which is quicker than some smaller vehicles, and reaches a top speed of 122 mph. The diesel engine is more powerful than its petrol-fuelled counterpart and is equipped with a respectable 150 hp (152 PS) and 457 lb ft (650 Nm) of torque pulling power.

The steering is light, making easy work of city driving, and the ride feels firm. You can always mix things up by changing the drive mode to tailor the car more to how you wish to drive. The cosy interior also takes any discomfort out of driving.

Best features:

  • Good value for money
  • Well-rounded vehicle good for road trippers
  • Quicker than some small vehicles

Used prices from £14,290

5. Peugeot 208

The Peugeot 208 is a sporty city hatchback with 8-speed automatic transmission and a 1.2 L petrol engine that offers 99 hp (100 PS) and 151 lb ft (205 Nm) of torque pulling power. The top speed is 117 mph and the car accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in a leisurely 10.8 seconds.

This sporty five-door vehicle isn’t one of those cars that’s all fluff and no substance. The steering is agile and the whole car generally feels quite spritely and peppy while you drive it. In fact, if you were looking for your first automatic, this vehicle would be both a stylish and a practical choice. Top job.

Best features:

  • A good choice for a first automatic
  • Nice to drive around the city
  • Peppy feel while driving

Used prices from £2,800

6. Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz is something of a darling amongst car enthusiasts. The car comes in the standard and the Crosstar models and has four different trims— S, SE, EX and Crosstar Ex. The 1.5 L, four-cylinder petrol engine operates as part of a hybrid with two electric motors. The result is an agile vehicle that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds, the 96 hp (97 PS) and 97 lb ft (131 Nm) of torque pulling power providing the helping hand.

The handling is as nice as the acceleration and the car isn’t too fussy on the roads, stopping and starting when you ask it to but without making itself felt too heavily.  The Jazz’s continuous variable transmission (CVT), a single-speed automatic gearbox, removes the complications of changing gears and aids the smoothness of the ride, just in case you hadn’t fallen in love with the car already.

Best features:

  • Agile vehicle
  • Good handling
  • Gentle stops and starts

Used prices from £1,190

7. Ford Focus

Like Honda, Ford have gone down the hybrid engine route, with 1.0 and 1.5 L, three-cylinder petrol engines teaming up with electric motors to provide the power and greater fuel efficiency.  The gears come in the form of an 8-speed automatic transmission and replaces the traditional gearstick with a rotary mounted dial, contributing to the car’s modern interior. The engine itself offers 123 hp (125 PS) and 125 lb ft (170 Nm) and can 62 mph in 11.1 seconds. Top speed: 121 mph.

The ride is comfortable whether you’re the driver or a passenger, with lots of legroom in the front and back. Driving the vehicle is engaging and the car steers well round bends. There’s a sportiness about the vehicle, too, which gives you a feel-good factor as you drive and, overall, you heart will generally skip a beat at the thought of getting behind its wheel… it’s that enjoyable.

Best features:

  • Immense legroom
  • Steers well around bends
  • Feel-good factor while driving

Used prices from £630

8. BMW X7

The BMW X7 is a big, beautiful SUV. This powerful seven seater — although you can choose six seats instead if you wish— boasts 340 hp and can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds. Upgrade to an M50i Dark Shadow model and you have the extra oomph of 530 hp (537 PS). The engine is a 3 litre affair, comes in petrol and diesel versions, and the transmission is an 8-speed automatic.

Inside, the vehicle is comfortable and spoils front and back passengers with space. The ride is steady and when you’re at the wheel, you’ll feel the vehicle command respect from your higher vantage point. This SUV holds the ground well and stays consistent regardless of the terrain so that the ride is pleasant no matter how much the terrain resists.

Best features:

  • Commanding presence
  • Spacious
  • Handles terrain consistently

Used prices from £60,495

9. Jaguar F-Pace

The Jaguar F-Pace is an automatic SUV but has a sports car feel, despite weighing some 1.8 tonnes. The variety of trims means a variety of engines, starting with 2.0 L, four cylinder petrol engines and culminating in the monstrous 5.0 L V8 of the SVR trim. You can certainly whip up speed in the vehicle, accelerating from 0 to 62 mph in around 6 seconds, and hit a top speed of around 156 mph.

The steering is smooth, precise and inspires confidence as the vehicle’s weight gives it extra grip around bends. Jaguar have also been working on their vehicles’ suspensions, it seems, so you’ll feel bumps and potholes in the road much less. The vehicle is as comfortable on country lanes as it is in the city and, overall, an F-Pace will deliver you the high performance and efficiency for which the world knows and loves Jaguar.

Best features:

  • Improved suspension
  • Confident steering
  • Sports car-like feel

Used prices from £18,500

10. Toyota Corolla 1.8 L Hatchback

The Toyota Corolla is another automatic that takes the hassle out of changing gears, with a CVT, which suits small cars like this one. The basic trim model with a 1.8 L hybrid petrol engine has a respectable horsepower of 122 (124 PS) for a car of its size, plus 105 lb ft of torque pulling power. The car will deliver 0 to 62 mph in 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 111 mph.

This isn’t a zippy car, but it certainly looks the part with its front spoilers and 17” black alloy wheels. The car is also comfortable, with the driver’s seat dropped slightly for a more sporty feel, and, overall, the drive is relaxing.

Best features:

  • Excellent fuel efficiency
  • Simple CVT transmission
  • Good-looking everyday car

Used prices from £1,450

Looking for a car that’s convenient and easy to drive? Have a look at our favourite automatic cars at Motors.co.uk 

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