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Our team's top buys for summer

The Auto Express team list their dream wheels for the warmer months

On those rare few days when the UK basks in the sunshine, there’s no better feeling than a spirited B-road blast or a fully-fledged road trip. The most important part of any sun-drenched drive, though, is deciding on the very best summer car for the job. There’s plenty to choose from, too, ranging from drop-top classic cars to the very latest fully-electric hot hatchbacks.

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So which summer car is best? This is a difficult question to answer with just one car as everyone’s tastes are different. In order to find the very best picks, the Auto Express team has rounded up their top buys for summer right here. There’s a wide range to suit pretty much all tastes and budgets, too.

Abarth 595C

We’re all aware just how tight and narrow UK roads can be, so why not choose something to drive that’s roughly the size (and shape) of a golf ball? If the regular Fiat 500 is a bottle of Sanpellegrino, the Abarth 595 is a can of Monster Energy, with a more powerful 1.4-litre engine and a frankly absurd exhaust note.

Pick the rag-top ‘C’ model and you’ll even be able to get the wind in your hair. The only sacrifice — other than your spinal cord, given the Abarth’s firm ride — is that the convertible’s boot is minute, so you’ll have to pack light.

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Where Tom would drive it

A lot of my family come from the south of England, so a drive through the New Forest is a must for me. While the Abarth’s rorty exhaust is sure to elicit glares from the two and four-legged local community, the long, winding roads and utterly stunning scenery are enough to make you not want to care. 

Alfa Romeo Spider (Type 916)

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The wedge-shaped 916-series Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider looked stunning back in their heyday. And just a few weeks ago, when I parked next to a gleaming black roadster with lush red leather upholstery in a West Country service station, I knew I was looking at another future classic I’d soon wish I’d bought while I could still afford it.

The two-seat Alfa mostly came with a sonorous 3.0-litre V6 or in lighter and more agile 2.0-litre Twin Spark guise. While the more rigid GTV coupe model is a better sporting drive and is a lovely thing to look at, I’d definitely put up with the Spider’s more flexible body and less tenacious front-end grip in exchange for that glamorous roadster style.

Where Chris would drive it

Straight to LeShuttle at Folkestone, followed by a blast down through France and over the Alps to Italy, for a couple of weeks’ touring in the heat, including a stop at the fabulous Alfa Romeo museum in Arese.

Alpine A110

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It may have had a difficult start to life in the UK with a certain TV programme showing it bursting into flames, but get behind the wheel of an Alpine A110 and you’ll instantly fall in love. Although many people overlook it for the likes of the Porsche 718 Cayman or BMW M2, it can more than hold its own against these more powerful coupes.

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Don’t be fooled by the (relatively) small 1.8-litre engine. It only develops 248bhp in entry-level form, but it’s more than enough in a car that only weighs just over 1,000kg. The Alpine also handles better than many supercars, meaning you’ll have plenty of fun as soon as the roads get twisty.

Where Pete would drive it

I love driving in the Cotswolds, just taking it easy and soaking in the gorgeous rolling hills all around you. But for a car like the Alpine A110, you need some roads to really challenge it, and where better than the Black Mountains or the Brecon Beacons? The twists, dips and climbs are a perfect challenge.

Audi TT Roadster (Mk2)

The last word in driving involvement? Don’t make me laugh. But the Audi TT Roadster has been a great choice for summer cruising ever since it first appeared, complete with Bauhaus-inspired styling, back in 1998. I happen to think that the Mk2 soft-top looks great value. It has a reliable roof mechanism, the cabin quality is Audi of its time, which isn’t half bad in anyone’s book, and the bits beneath it all are just glorified Volkswagen Golf, so keeping them on the road isn’t the challenge it could be.

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Where John would drive it

It's not actually a part of the country that I know particularly well, but I quite fancy enjoying a longer cruise up the east coast, taking in stretches of Norfolk and Suffolk. I’m told traffic is light, and I could see myself enjoying many warm summer evenings in the fading light, with the TT’s roof tucked away.

BMW 6 Series (E64)

  • Who: Tom Gumbrell
  • Prices from: £5,000

I think the sunshine’s best enjoyed wafting along with the music up, roof down and engine barely ticking over, which is why the mid-noughties BMW 6 Series is my barge of choice. It was Munich’s two-door flagship in 2004, with room for four, leather everywhere and all the gizmos of the era. Downsizing wasn’t part of the lexicon, so engines range from 3.0-litre straight-sixes up to the burly V10 M6, the latter sounding as good as it goes – and even better with the roof folded away. 

Values hit the floor some time ago, so there are plenty around the £5,000 mark, while excellent examples command double that. There’s little price disparity between six-cylinders and V8s, either.

Where Tom would drive it

This isn’t the tool of choice for attacking Snake Pass or the evo Triangle. I want long stretches of tarmac with good views – perhaps a cruise through the South Downs to Goodwood?

BMW Z4 (E85)

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The BMW Z4 isn’t the most imaginative choice for summer fun, but like its Mazda MX-5 nemesis and indeed premium offerings of the time, such as the Audi TT Roadster and Mercedes SLK, there’s a good reason why it’s so popular.

The first-generation ‘E85’ Z4 has survived pretty well over the years and there are lots of examples to choose from. That means you can afford to be picky and patient, because the ideal specification of Z4 for you is out there somewhere. Coincidentally, I managed to convince my girlfriend to pick up one just last year. 

I knew the Z4’s chassis wasn’t as dynamic as the MX-5’s, but the Chris Bangle design (which has aged wonderfully, in my opinion) and classy cabin were big selling points for her. Instead of going for the 261bhp 3.0-litre, the 170bhp 2.2-litre seemed a better match with its straight six still providing a decent soundtrack with the roof down.

Where Alastair would drive it

Convertibles in the UK don’t make sense for most of the year, but on that rare sunny day a trip to the North Yorkshire Moors is always a good idea, thanks to a roof that’s quick to fold down (and up). The roads are terrific and the scenery is even better. Just watch out for cyclists, ramblers and, of course, the sheep. 

Dacia Jogger

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There are a fair few cars that I might have picked if I’d been a little quicker off the mark. However, if I use my head rather than my heart (and keep an eye on costs) I’d go back to the Dacia Jogger long-term car that I ran a couple of years ago.

With two older boys and two grandchildren, the flexibility of the Jogger would make for the perfect summer car. The ability to throw in buggies, tents, picnics and bikes, plus still fit two ISOFIX car seats and have room for extra passengers would be invaluable. A two-year-old Jogger TCe 110 Comfort brings air-con, Apple CarPlay for navigation, and decent economy; the Dacia is my simple summer fun wagon.

Where Darren would drive it

I would do numerous drives down to the south coast with my wife and grandchildren. From south London, we would head down the A22 through the Ashdown Forest to Bexhill or further along the A259 for days out in Hastings, Rye and Dymchurch with its sandy beaches and steam railway. Early starts provide quieter roads and more driving fun.

Honda S2000

A naturally aspirated Honda VTEC engine that revs up to 9,000rpm, a big red ‘engine start’ button, a dashboard that looks like an LED watch from the eighties, rear-wheel drive and a soft-top. What you’re looking at here is the recipe for proper summer fun, and that’s exactly why I’d choose the Honda S2000.

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Without wishing to sound like a colossal bore, there aren’t many modern cars left where you have to work to get the best out of them, but you do with the S2000 and it’s all the more satisfying as a result. The best part is you don’t need to be too precious about it. Keep up with maintenance, and the VTEC engine will probably outlast civilisation. Just be sure to ease off on damp roads, because this Honda can become rather mischievous.

Where Shane would drive it

A good old-fashioned blast down the A303 to Devon and Cornwall for some sea air. The inevitable traffic chaos around Stonehenge will be a small price to pay for such an enjoyable trip.

Jaguar XKR Convertible (Mk2)

  • Who: George Armitage
  • Prices from: £11,000

The Jaguar XKR offers a captivating experience for summer thrills. It may seem like a left-field choice, but this generation was designed by the same man who penned the Aston Martin DB9 – Ian Callum – and it has to be classed as one of the most beautiful cars of the 2000s.

When the XKR was new, it was competing with the likes of the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage, and you can see why when you look at what’s under the bonnet. The earlier models from the mid-2000s came with a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine which produced 416bhp. There was also a 5.0-litre with 503bhp, although that one’s on the much pricier end of the spectrum.

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My personal favourite is the X150 4.2, which was sold from 2006 until 2014; there’s plenty of choice out there and one with reasonable mileage and full service history should cost around the £11,000 mark.

Where George would drive it

My first trip would be to the Peak District, with some incredible views (when the weather decides to behave) and roads where you can put your foot down and listen to the engine notes bouncing off the hillsides. And when you’ve had enough fun, the Jag is a supremely comfortable cruiser.

Maserati GranCabrio (Mk1)

You can keep your retro GTIs, rev-happy roadsters and track-day weapons, because nothing can out-cool a four-seater Maserati in the sunshine. The GranCabrio has always been a shoo-in as part of my ultimate three-car garage, because aside from its Ferrari-developed V8, gorgeous Pininfarina design and luxury interior, it also offers four usable seats, which means your family will see you as a selfless, automotive hero and rubberstamp the purchase. Hopefully.

Produced between 2010 and 2019, there’s a decent amount of used examples available that will suit a variety of budgets and, while the 4.7-litre V8 petrol unit was originally tuned to produce a muscular 434bhp, there are later editions with 10 or 20bhp extra. It is possible to pick up an early car from a specialist (having covered around 30-40k miles) for somewhere near the £30k mark, although you’ll need iron willpower not to be seduced by the machinery on offer above this price point – you have been warned!

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Where Paul would drive it

Literally anywhere with the top down: school run, no problem. Need a pint of milk? I’ll grab the keys. But in truth, the GranCabrio is a car best suited to wafting around in, so I’d head off to North Devon and take in our very own Atlantic highway – commonly known as the A39 from Minehead to Barnstaple. Long, sweeping bends and the odd chicane for a bit of fun, with bonus points for bringing the family along, too.

Porsche 911 Targa (991)

I’m sure that the last time I contributed to one of these features I picked a Porsche, but there’s a good reason why the 911 continues to tick so many boxes – not least when the hypothetical scenario is targeted summer fun.

The Cabriolet looks a little awkward compared with the Coupe, but the Targa represents the best of both worlds, especially since the 991-generation car was introduced in 2014. The intricate roof mechanism adds to the theatre, while also offering true drop-top driving thrills. The design merely emphasises the addictive sound produced by the naturally aspirated flat-six engine.

Only offered with all-wheel drive and the majority being PDK autos, this isn’t the purist’s 911. But given that I’d want to bring my wife and daughter along for the ride, I’ll trade a little engagement for the comfier configuration. You’ll need £60,000-plus for a low-mileage car.

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Where Richard would drive it

Sunshine isn’t guaranteed anywhere in the UK, but we’ve had some fantastic weather on our summer holidays to Cornwall in recent years – so that’s where I’d take the Targa. Shame it’s such a long way from home, because the Porsche’s pitiful practicality would limit how much luggage we’d be able to take along.

Porsche Boxster (986)

The Porsche Boxster might be another obvious choice for summer motoring, but for very good reason. The first generation of Porsche’s mid-engine sports car is immensely fun to drive, thanks to its precise handling and naturally aspirated flat-six engine. In fact, the exhaust note might be reason enough to buy one of these; mechanical yet sonorous, it’s a quintessential Porsche soundtrack. 

The 986 Boxster, with its teardrop headlights, isn’t going to win any beauty contests, and the cabin has some quirks. But you really can’t complain when you get the fabled Porsche driving experience for not a whole lot of money.

Speaking of which, you can find a good example of the breed with the 2.5 or 2.7-litre engine and a manual gearbox for under £6,000, or the later 986 S with its more powerful 3.2 motor for a few grand more.

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Where Ellis would drive it

The Scottish Highlands, without question. In particular a route I drove last year that took me from Loch Maree, via the Applecross Pass, and onto the Isle of Skye. I’d keep the roof down, whatever the weather, to bask in stunning scenery. The best bit? The Boxster would fit perfectly into the passing places on single-track roads.

Subaru Impreza (RB5)

I’m talking about the late nineties Colin McRae ‘proper’ Subaru Impreza, before it went all bug-eyed. Good ones are quite big money now – north of £15,000 for an RB5, which is the special edition I’ve long hankered for. Mind you, even regular Turbos aren’t far off that if you want one that hasn’t been mistreated or given some unpleasant exhaust upgrade. But look after it and prices aren’t going to drop any further after a summer of driving fun. 

Philistines might say it’s not a summer car, but I’m after something that can take the family, plus the piles of stuff they claim to need for a week away. None of these silly two-seaters can do that, and the Impreza’s cross-country pace and prowess are a match for pretty much anything, even if the car’s now nearly 25 years old. Plus that four-wheel-drive traction is useful when the weather goes all British.

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Where Paul would drive it

I might have to fly the family up to Inverness airport because motorways don’t show the Impreza in the best light. But the scenery and incredible roads across Scotland would get my vote. 

Vauxhall Monaro

When you think of a performance coupe with a thumping V8 under the bonnet, chances are you don’t think of the Vauxhall Monaro. From the land Down Under, the Monaro was a landmark model for Vauxhall when it arrived in the mid-2000s; not only was it a Vauxhall featuring a V8, it was also the most powerful car to wear a griffin badge. 

With the pitch-perfect V8 motor burbling away, power delivery is effortless, making the Monaro a perfect road-trip mile-eater. The seats are spot on, providing sufficient tactical feedback and buckets of comfort, making this the ‘ideal’ summer car. And from around the £10-£12k mark for an early car, you’ll have a great alternative to its German rivals.

Where Ryan would drive it

I’d take a Monaro on the Northumberland 250, which combines some of the best types of scenery the UK has to offer. From remote rolling hills, to picturesque coastline and great skies, there’s a variety of landscapes which could rival Australia, if you squint.  

Volkswagen Grand California

  • Who: Victoria Coquet
  • Prices from: £58,000
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The Volkswagen Grand California is my ultimate summer adventure companion because it would let me immerse myself in nature while enjoying its perfect blend of comfort and practicality.

The VW’s interior is equipped with all the amenities for a glamping experience, including a kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas. And thanks to its diesel engine, I can explore remote destinations without compromising on fuel efficiency. Prices for well equipped models start around £65,000, offering a home-away-from-home for my summer weekends away. 

Where Victoria would drive it

I’d explore the hidden coves of the Jurassic Coast, go surfing or scuba diving, or simply relax on the beach with a good book. The VW’s excellent forward visibility really helps on country roads. And if the roads are too narrow, I could park up and get my bike out, thanks to the VW’s handy bike rack. 

Volkswagen up! GTI

Hot hatches have always been what I turn to for fun, and I can’t think of a small car that would put a bigger smile on my face than this one. Above all, that’s because the Volkswagen up! GTI is such a contrast to the big, heavy EVs that car manufacturers seem to be flooding showrooms with these days. 

Next to them, the VW looks almost comically small, but that’s the key to its appeal. The up! GTI is light, agile and proof that an engaging drive is far more fun than ultimate speed. It may have just 113bhp, a three-cylinder engine, and a 0-62mph time of just under nine seconds, but you can wring its neck on a classic British B-road and still stay on the right side of the law.

Where Andy would drive it

Regular readers will know of my favourite road, round Beachy Head in Sussex; it’s a top pick for our photographers, too. I love it because it has the best of every world: tight turns, sweeping curves and long straights that demand a committed drive. But when you finally stop for a break, you get stunning views over the Channel. Perfect. 

Which car would you pick for your summer road trip? Tell us in the comments section below...

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Shane is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2021, he worked as a radio producer and presenter for outlets such as the BBC.

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