Best long-term cars 2019: why our cars have been the stars
We had a huge variety of cars on our long-term fleet in 2019, but these were our highlights of the year
A huge variety of cars visit our office throughout the year, but only a select few get to spend some extra time on our long-term fleet. Every year members of the Auto Express team get behind the wheel of cars for an extended period of time, covering thousands of miles to truly see how they would cope with daily life.
In 2019 we had an eclectic mix of long termers, everything from camper vans to hot hatchbacks and electric cars to pick-up trucks, but what were the cars that we really enjoyed testing? We've picked out our highlights below, so scroll down to see which long termers will really be missed...
Best long-term cars 2019
BMW 3 Series
Sean Carson, Chief reviewer
Sean rediscovered a long-lost hobby this year: golf. Having not played for around 15 years he remembers what the club car park used to look like – full of executive saloons – before the SUV craze took over. On his return, he found things were a bit different, with off-roaders littering the club car parks he visited.
But this also brought a few points to the fore. Sean thought a junior exec saloon was still all you needed and that his 320d M Sport represented that perfectly; that’s thanks in part to how well the BMW fits in with another of Sean’s favourite pastimes: driving.
It is so good to drive. The ride is controlled, the steering nicely weighted and although there’s not lots of feedback, on his country-road route to the course he could easily sense the BMW’s balance through the seat. It’s also more refined than ever and laden with tech that’s easy and intuitive to use.
Having driven a pre-production 3 Series in the summer of 2018, attended the launch this time last year, and conducted our first group test back in January before taking delivery of his car in April, Sean followed this car’s journey from start to finish – and what a journey. Six months and 6,000 miles behind the wheel have proved it’s close to the best car on sale in the UK.
Richard Ingram, Reviews and features editor
We couldn’t let our time with the VW California pass without a proper European road trip, so as soon as the keys landed in the office, reviews and features editor Richard Ingram set about planning an epic drive around France.
Rich and his wife are seasoned campers, so the prospect of two weeks on the road didn’t faze them. Plus they could pack for every eventuality; the VW’s myriad cupboards and clever storage swallowed everything they could throw at it.
The pair’s route took them through Fontainebleau, Chablis, Uzes, Avignon and Gordes, before stopping in Annecy, Colmar and Champagne on the way home.
While the VW was far from five-star luxury, our man loved its flexibility, and being able to pull over for a steaming hot cuppa whenever they chose made their 2,000-mile journey a pleasure rather than a chore. Take him to one side and Rich will tell anyone that this is the best car he’s ever run.
Renault Megane R.S.
Jonathan Burn, News editor
As 2019 draws to a close, so does news editor Johnny Burn’s time with our lurid yellow Megane R.S. Look out for his final report on the car soon, because it’s due to leave the fleet early in 2020.
The current Megane R.S. comes from a long line of brilliantly engineered, addictive Renault hot hatches, but Johnny wondered if the Trophy was the pick of the current bunch. To find out, he compared our yellow model to this red Megane R.S. – a standard model.
Above our Trophy is the Trophy-R, the high-spec track-focused model with no rear seats. But after trying both of these other options, Johnny reckoned that the Trophy is the sweet spot: it brings a little more excitement than the basic model, but without the compromise of the Trophy-R. He also found that each one is fun in its own way, though.
Dawn Grant, Picture editor
Our favourite chocolate bars and sweets have been shrinking, but cars have been getting bigger – and Dawn said our Polo proved that point. If the famous mint with a hole had followed its namesake, it would be giant, because the car is so much bigger than it used to be.
During the Polo’s time on our fleet, Dawn found it really easy to live with. All the controls were light and simple to use, there was plenty of space for all her needs (even managing to carry four adults in comfort on a few trips) and the boot was easily big enough too. This is one of the reasons that cars like this have been getting bigger: it really improves their practicality.
Despite the larger size, the Polo was still perfect for a mainly urban lifestyle, because it’s not so big that it won’t fit in car parks and through width restrictors.
When it was taken for longer journeys it coped well on the motorway as well, which was proven by the many times colleagues grabbed the keys for trips around the country. Overall, it was a sweet car!
Vicky Parrot, Associate editor of DrivingElectric
The Kia e-Niro proved to sceptics – both within and outside Auto Express HQ – that electric cars are no longer a niche, oddball choice; and they’re not awkward to live with if you have a home charger. Quite the opposite.
Vicky Parrott’s e-Niro was a popular choice on the fleet given that it returned a real-world range of some 260 miles fairly routinely in the summer, even on motorway journeys. It was the cheapest option for anyone looking to save a bit of cash on a long run. But for all its penny-pinching merits, the Kia also stood out for how good it was from behind the wheel. Punchy performance, a smooth drive and great semi-autonomous mode made for fun and relaxing progress.
The ultimate win was to see the UK motorway charging network catching up with the incredible progress in electric vehicles. With electric cars as good as the e-Niro out there, and with new standards of public-charger speeds, reliability and payment methods starting to bolster the infrastructure, our time in the Kia really highlighted how the transition to electric power is something to embrace rather than fear.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
James Batchelor, Head of motoring video
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” shouted our man Batch from the roof of Goodwood’s pit lane. James ran an Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce in the first half of 2019, but the experience was similar to one of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The story began way back in May 2017, when our order for a Veloce was sent off to Italy. But come January the following year, it turned out the factory had lost the order, and by April we discovered the car had been built but lost. Finally, in July 2018, our car arrived and Batch spent a happy 12 months behind the wheel; the wait was totally worthwhile.
James loved the car’s revvy, responsive engine – he even claimed it was the nicest-sounding 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in production – and the car’s beautiful styling (the £695 paint and £995 alloys helped). But most of all it was the agile chassis and super-sharp steering which really won him over.
There were a few niggles, however, including some poor interior build quality and the car having the wrong instrument binnacle fitted. But overall it was a fun and interesting experience.
James Brodie, Senior staff writer
It was a tale of two superminis for senior staff writer James Brodie in 2019. While our man started the year by saying goodbye to his beloved bright orange MINI Cooper, he was soon driving a similarly colourful, bright blue Skoda Fabia SE L.
If Brodie fell for the MINI because of its form, the appeal of the Fabia lay more in its function. So what better way to bid farewell to the Skoda than by throwing a graduation ceremony for the ‘simply clever’ supermini?
The Fabia lacked a little flair, but the surroundings chosen for its send-off didn’t disappoint. The winding streets of Oxford, its world-renowned university and the stunning Bridge of Sighs provided a perfect location.
Ultimately, the Skoda passed our examination with distinction. During its six-month spell on our fleet, staff writer Luke Wilkinson found it handy for long journeys to Cumbria, while James found it a useful little car for getting around London, thanks to its refreshingly straightforward nature, good visibility and lightweight controls.
Stuart Milne, Managing editor
It was a case of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ for Stuart Milne back in the summer. As a three-time Ford Focus owner, he was delighted to get to grips with Ford’s latest incarnation. Stuart has owned the car you see on the left for more than six years, and there’s little it can’t handle.
And over more than 4,000 miles, Stuart found the same is true of the latest model. The biggest change is that the latest Focus’ myriad talents are wrapped up in an altogether more premium package.
It’s a package you’ll have to dig deep for, with a £28,000 price tag as tested, but Stuart reckons it’s a price worth paying even in the face of competition from more upmarket brands.
The interior felt plush, the tech proved brilliant, and Stuart loved the optional B&O Play audio upgrade – but not has much as he enjoyed the way the Focus drives. Indeed, not even a blast in the brilliant ST could dull Stuart’s enthusiasm for his more workaday diesel model.
Pete Baiden, Web producer
Although the SEAT Tarraco has seven seats, Pete spent most of his time with the rear bench folded down so he could take advantage of the huge boot. And he certainly made the most of it by constantly loading it up, usually taking new furniture home from IKEA or ferrying unwanted items to the local tip.
In fact, he spent so much time loading heavy stuff in and out of the Tarraco that it often felt like he’d been to the gym. Still, Pete says the Tarraco was almost flawless in every aspect of daily family life. And not just for its practicality.
He said the handling was really impressive for such a large SUV and the 2.0-litre diesel engine provided the perfect blend of performance and efficiency.
Alex Ingram, Staff writer
Alex’s Kia Ceed took a while to totally reveal its charms, but he was fully hooked by the time he waved goodbye to it. For a start, he believed it to be one of the most handsome five-door hatches on the market today.
Meanwhile inside, the seats stood out for Alex. Seat comfort is a subjective thing that completely depends on your body size and shape. Nevertheless, everyone who tried the Ceed loved the style and support they offered. The steering wheel was lovely, too.
It was really quite fun to drive too, which made it even more of a shame that the dual-clutch gearbox was such a let-down. This stopped it being a perfect everyday car.
Steve Sutcliffe, Special contributor
It’s quite a journey from Steve’s place in Hove up to Anglesey circuit in north Wales. You can take motorways pretty much the whole way, or you can go cross country – easily more fun in the right car.
Steve did the trip three times in the Jaguar XE, and each time he went cross-country, simply because the journey brought out the car’s good sides. Not just its lovely steering feel and superb ride and handling but also its brilliant matrix LED lights, its fine seats, strong engine and general ease of use.
If you think Steve really liked the XE, you’d be totally right. In fact, he even reckoned he’d have one over the equivalent BMW 3 Series, which is saying something.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Steve Walker, Group web editor
Whatever you think of SUVs, you can’t deny that they play the family car role as expertly as Robert De Niro does sinister Mafia bosses. Steve Walker had our Santa Fe from spring to autumn and it delighted on a couple of levels.
First, for delivering the family from A to B smoothly and efficiently, the Santa Fe was a star. Its size helped, but so did the sensible, unfussy layout, and lots of USB charging points!
Second, the Santa Fe majored on quality and value. It was solidly built, high quality and designed with a flourish that lots of the European alternatives could learn from.
The whole package came together on an August family holiday to the south west, where the big blue Hyundai excelled. It really is a family SUV to be reckoned with.
Pete Gibson, Senior staff photographer
At the start of 2019, Pete ran an Audi A6 Avant, and after six months behind the wheel, he decided that it was unmatched as transport for an Auto Express photographer.
In his role he spends many long hours on the motorway, and the A6 had this covered easily. Its comfortable ride and incredible infotainment set-up meant he was always relaxed and ready to shoot whenever he arrived, and it was no issue getting his favourite radio station switched on and set to the loudest possible volume for the duration of the trip.
There were never any complaints from his kids, because there was endless rear legroom and enough USB ports to keep them happy. Indeed, the interior space was a big part of why the A6 Avant was so perfect for Pete, who has to cart around lights, tripods, stands, battery storage and cameras – plus the odd stepladder on occasion.
The icing on the cake was the 2.0-litre diesel engine, which averaged more than 50mpg in the six months he drove it for.
Honda CR-V Hybrid
Darren Wilson, Group art director
If you can’t trust your family’s opinion, then whose can you trust? That was what art director Darren Wilson thought when he enlisted his mum Tina and stepfather Peter to assess his Honda CR-V Hybrid.
Peter has owned four CR-Vs, plus a Honda-engined Rover and a Honda Accord over the years, so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about Honda’s product line. When asked why he’s so loyal to the brand, Peter singles out the reliability of its engines, saying: “All these years I’ve been driving and they’ve never let me down.”
The hybrid turned out to be a winner too, with Peter loving the push-button auto gear set-up and near silence when pulling away.
Most importantly, the lack of boot lip on the current CR-V makes loading the golf clubs easier. Darren was delighted to have their opinions.
Steve Fowler, Editor-in-chief
It was the latter that provided one of the highlights of Steve’s year – for the attention it got when Steve took part in the Chalfont St Giles Village Show back in September.
When he was parked up in the showground, Steve was inundated with people wanting to take pictures – of the car, not him. There were plenty of attendees interested in electric cars and even a few who were either on the waiting list for an I-Pace, or seriously considering one.
Steve got more than 200 miles out of a full charge of the 93kWh battery, while the way the I-Pace rode and handled always put a smile on his face.
And in an even greater irony, the Jag matched the G63’s 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds, while running costs, not to mention emissions, were much more in the I-Pace’s favour.
Kim Adams, Products editor
There’s nothing like a long road trip to reveal whether a car is the one for you, and for products editor Kim Adams it was on a 500-mile, week-long trip to the Isle of Man for the three-hillclimb Manx Classic that the Mercedes X-Class 350 d truly won him over.
When it comes to ride comfort, the X-Class sets new standards for pick-ups and it made the four-hour trek to Liverpool for the ferry crossing a breeze.
Even with his Mk1 Ford Escort on a trailer behind, plus tools, tyres and a week’s luggage for three, the 254bhp V6 diesel was not troubled. It easily coped with everything.
Otis Clay, Staff photographer
“Another one drives a Duster,” was this year’s marketing slogan, which set Queen fan Otis up for a photo opportunity he couldn’t miss. In fact, there’s a lesser-known song by the band titled “I’m in love with my car”, which seemed to perfectly fit Otis and his feelings about the Duster.
Dacia’s SUV may be one of the cheapest new models you can buy, especially if you limit that just to off-roaders, but the Duster’s blend of abilities suited photographer Otis down to the ground (much like his Freddie Mercury costume).
Otis reported that his car rode very smoothly on British roads, which was great because he spends a lot of time behind the wheel. It was also able to swallow all of his photography kit with ease, including car-cleaning kit and more, so there were no issues with practicality. There was even room for a wedding’s worth of wine in crates.
The Dacia’s simplicity was its trump card. The tech it has is the stuff you need: sat-nav, DAB and Bluetooth, and barely anything more. It is all about cutting costs, making it one of the best-value cars around as a result.
Hugo Griffiths, Consumer editor
It may seem strange to choose a photoshoot as being the main highlight after months of custodianship, but Hugo found taking the Berlingo to the Groucho Club in central London best encapsulated his feelings towards the car.
Why? Well, because it was its ability to charm the driver that shone through most, with its character and capabilities being far greater than its style quotient. And with the Groucho club being on a narrow street, having to quickly and repeatedly move the Berlingo during our shoot highlighted how manoeuvrable it is, and how good visibility is.
The Berlingo was in high demand among the Auto Express team. Some colleagues borrowed it to help friends move house, others for trips to the dump, or transporting bulky items like sofas. But whatever the journey, those who used it raved about its charm.
Hyundai Kona Electric
John McIlroy, Deputy editor
The Hyundai Kona was already our Affordable Electric Car of the Year when we added it to our long-term test fleet at the start of this year. So for the EV’s farewell feature, John McIlroy decided to canvas the views of real-world owners to see whether their experiences matched his own.
And so an Oxfordshire hotel car park was taken over by pure-electric small SUVs, as eight examples of the Kona gathered on a sunny March morning. What struck John during the meeting was how clued-up EV buyers are. Many had solar power, and lots of them knew every software version and update version number, not only of their cars’ systems but also on their home smart meters.
Plus John noticed how this bunch of buyers seemed less inclined to be swayed by brand or image. The vast majority of the Kona owners had never owned a Hyundai before, showing how this car’s blend of more than 250 miles of range and a price of around £35,000 has introduced a whole new demographic to the Korean manufacturer.
What cars would you like to see on our fleet in 2020? Let us know in the comments section below...
Review of the Year 2019
• Best car news stories of 2019• Best car reviews of 2019• Best car group tests of 2019• Best long-term tests of 2019• Best motoring features of 2019• Best car videos of 2019• Best motorsport stories of 2019• Our highlights of 2019