Best new cars by class: Driver Power 2021 results

Our Driver Power survey covers 13 sectors of the new-car market, and there’s a star buy in every one. Here are your class winners

Whether you’re shopping for a particular class of new car or you’re browsing across a wider range of bodystyles and price points, it helps to know which of the many models on the market are the leaders in their respective classes.

This is especially the case with ultra-competitive categories featuring a large number of different models that sell in huge quantities. Other classes may have a smaller number of entrants, but if those models are all competent and comparable, we can tell you which one has the edge over its rivals.

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Drivers looking for something practical and cheap to run with back seats that can be used occasionally may be tempted by a city car or supermini. Those who want more space, meanwhile, will be every bit as likely to look at compact family cars as they will small or mid-size SUVs.

There are also cars that cater to more specific needs – compact executive models often make sense for those who are racking up miles on business, while sports cars cater to thrill-seeking motorists.

Here, we’ve set out which cars take the gold medal in a range of popular classes in the UK’s new car market, allowing you to compare across as many as you want and see which of the best is right for you.

Best new cars by class

Best city carKia Picanto
Best superminiKia Rio
Best premium superminiMINI Hatch
Best compact family carKia Ceed
Best premium compact family carMercedes A-Class
Best compact executive carTesla Model 3
Best executive carMercedes E-Class
Best small SUVHyundai Kona
Best mid-size SUVMazda CX-5
Best premium small SUVVolvo XC40
Best premium mid-size SUVLexus NX
Best sports carBMW 2 Series
Best electric carHyundai Kona Electric

Best city car: Kia Picanto

Once again, the Kia Picanto tops the city car table in our survey. The Korean brand’s smallest car earned an impressive top-10 score in our new-for-2021 value category, illustrating the belief among owners that it offers a lot in exchange for its price tag.

Kias and Hyundais tend to receive high scores for their infotainment systems, but the Picanto’s beat that of its sister car, the i10, by some margin. Crucially for a city car, you say the Picanto is also cheap to run, reliable and – despite its size – has impressive safety systems. You’re also fans of the Picanto’s exterior design and say it drives better than rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and Toyota Aygo, too.

Best supermini: Kia Rio

This is a fascinating result in what could be the most competitive Driver Power class, because the Kia Rio that’s been with us since 2017 sees off competition from a large selection of newer and better-selling models; this goes to show just how good the ownership experience of this Korean hatchback is.

In fact, the Rio finished second overall in the survey, with top-10 scores for exterior, practicality & boot space, ride & handling, MPG & running costs, reliability, and infotainment.

Interestingly, the Ford Fiesta – which has long been the best-selling car in Britain – only managed to finish in eighth position in this class, while the Vauxhall Corsa that has been topping the sales charts so far this year was third – beaten to the silver medal by Toyota’s Yaris – and the previous-generation Peugeot 208 finished seventh in class.

Best premium supermini: MINI Hatch

Now in its third generation since being rebooted by BMW, the MINI is at the top of the premium supermini class in our 2021 survey. Its best score came in the infotainment category – owners said their smartphones connect easily, the audio quality is good and the sat-nav is simple to use.

The MINI beat its nearest rival – the Audi A1 – in many key categories, including ride & handling, safety features, reliability and value. On this latter point, respondents noted that while the MINI is quite expensive, you get what you pay for and there are no major disappointments overall. Some Cooper S model owners remarked their cars gave impressive performance, too.

Best compact family car: Kia Ceed

The Toyota Corolla that won this class last year has fallen to third place in 2021, with the Kia Ceed taking the crown this year. Owners have fallen in love with the Korean hatchback’s exterior design and finish, plus the Ceed earned a good score for value for money compared with its rivals.

Although the Kia didn’t lead the class in every category, it did have a broad spectrum of solid scores. Its infotainment system was another highlight, plus owners say it’s a very practical car for its size.

Ceed owners also feel their cars are more reliable than other models in this class, with a better selection of safety features and a nicer interior as well.

Best premium compact family car: Mercedes A-Class

The Mercedes A-Class is the model to go for this year if you want a family hatchback with an extra layer of luxury to it. Owners are particularly impressed with its interior looks and quality, as well as the high-tech infotainment system this model boasts.

The A-Class is also the best-ranked premium compact family car to drive, beating arch rivals the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 in both the ride & handling and engine & gearbox categories.

Despite the A-Class being a premium model, owners still feel it’s good value for money according to our survey, and it’s rather a practical car, too.

This junior Mercedes also earns reasonable scores for its running costs, as well as the standard of its exterior finish, plus its range of safety features.

Best compact executive car: Tesla Model 3

In a class usually dominated by well established brands, it’s fascinating to see an electric car from a younger firm – the Tesla Model 3 – take the win.

Not only did it win our engine & gearbox category thanks to its smooth and powerful electric powertrain, it also bagged a second place overall for MPG and running costs, which make all the difference to the nation’s company car drivers.

The Model 3 was ranked better than the BMW 3 Series for practicality and boot space, as well as its range of advanced safety features. The massive tablet-style infotainment screen may be controversial, but Tesla buyers were generally positive about that, too.

Best executive car: Mercedes E-Class

The big German brands have always done well in this class, and this year it’s the Mercedes E-Class that wins. Owners say it’s brilliantly practical, with a large boot, and also praise its reliability and build quality.

You told us the E-Class has a better exterior and interior finish than last year’s winner, the BMW 5 Series – front seat comfort is one big factor in this, along with the quality of the materials and the rear seat legroom.

You also feel safe behind the wheel thanks to the Merc’s driver-assistance features, and you’re fairly impressed by its infotainment system, with the effectiveness of the heating and air-conditioning being a highlight.

Best small SUV: Hyundai Kona

As the overall winner of the new-car survey, it should come as no surprise that the Hyundai Kona won its class, and by a decent margin. No car earned a better score for ride & handling, plus there were seven further top-10 rankings in other categories.

Although much of the powertrain praise was for the electric version of the Kona, petrol editions were also viewed positively in this light. The Korean SUV’s nearest class rivals – the Peugeot 2008 and Ford Puma – finished 12th and 14th respectively, showing by just how far the Kona manages to beat models that are a fair bit newer to market, even if the Hyundai did get a facelift last year.

Best mid-size SUV: Mazda CX-5

With more SUVs than ever for sale, this is an incredibly competitive class, with many entrants finishing in the top 25 in the overall rankings. The Mazda CX-5 managed to nab victory here – its best score coming in the exterior category, which it won thanks to sleek looks and strong build quality.

The CX-5 also came second for its interior, which again looks and feels of good quality according to owners. Despite stiff competition, the Mazda also saw off its closest rivals – the Toyota C-HR and Skoda Karoq – in key criteria such as reliability, infotainment and value for money. Plus, praise was heaped on the CX-5 for its comfortable ride and excellent handling.

Best premium small SUV: Volvo XC40

It may be one of the smaller SUVs, but the Volvo XC40 was ranked second overall for practicality & boot space in this survey – beating the Audi Q3 that had a top-five score, too. The XC40 also received a very high score for its interior, showing how adept Volvo is at making premium cars nowadays.

The Swedish brand’s reputation for safety shone through as well – again, the XC40 narrowly saw off competition from the Q3 in this category, while also beating its German rival with solid scores for engine & gearbox, ride & handling and reliability.

XC40 owners were also fans of their cars’ infotainment system, noting how well the built-in sat-nav works.

Best premium mid-size SUV: Lexus NX

The Lexus NX wins its class this year by a significant margin, racking up several impressive category scores. The car from Toyota’s luxury division had the most highly rated interior and safety features of any car in the survey, and very high scores for its exterior, ride and handling.

Owners rated it as more practical than the Mercedes GLC and BMW X3, as well as being cheaper to run. Not only is build quality a strong point for the Lexus, but respondents reckoned it was massively reliable as well.

Interestingly, the hybrid NX got a pretty high score for its engine note – but rather than a boisterous exhaust noise, owners liked its quietness.

Best sports car: BMW 2 Series

BMW’s old ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tag seems to have proven itself here, with the brand’s 2 Series rated as the top sports car. Interestingly, the car’s best scores were in the reliability, and safety features categories, showing the 2 Series has a sensible side.

It’s still fun to drive, though, with scores for engine & gearbox and ride & handling that beat its nearest rival, which incidentally was its more senior relation, the 4 Series. Owners of the 2 Series noted that its steering adapts well to different driving speeds and styles, and that the engine makes a fantastic sound. Some also mentioned that the ride isn’t too firm for the UK’s pitted roads despite its sporty set-up.

Best electric car: Hyundai Kona Electric

The Hyundai Kona has already proven itself as a great all-rounder by winning the overall Driver Power new-car survey this year, but special praise has to be given to the Electric variant, which has been crowned the best EV.

In fact, the Kona Electric demolished the competition. It was the highest-ranked EV for its engine & gearbox, exterior, interior, ride & handling, safety features, MPG & running costs, infotainment, and value for money.

And with no EV category scores outside the top three, the data suggests that if you are thinking of buying Britain’s favourite new car based on our survey, the electric version is probably the one to go for.

Is your car listed in our 2021 Driver Power survey? Let us know what you think of it in the comments section below and take the survey here...

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