New car reviews: six of the best you can buy right now

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Essential Six car reviews May and June; Mini Electric

Looking for a new car to take you on your post-lockdown adventures? Here, BBC Top Gear expert Paul Horrell rounds up the best new launches from Land Rover, Kia, Renault and more

Whether you're looking to buy an SUV or an estate, a petrol or an electric vehicle, you're sure to find some inspiration in our pick of the best new cars.

1. 4WD: Land Rover Defender

Essential Six car reviews; Land Rover

The old Defender, “the Land Rover” to most of us, easily entered our Most Iconic Cars Ever feature in the last issue. It was vastly capable as an off-road tool, if a drudge to drive. The all-new one cleverly riffs off the old model’s looks, and can get even further into – and out of – wildly dramatic terrain. It’s superb at towing too. But it’s also wholly civilised and rather charming in daily on-road travel.

It lopes along with a soft, relaxed gait. The power is smoothly delivered, the steering and brakes progressive, the suspension cushy. It’s also got the connectivity and driver-assistance of your usual premium estate car. Inside, you’ll find rugged life-proof materials, and loads of room (5+2 seats available) and storage. It’s a near-genius blend of comfort and adventure.

The spec: 110 First Edition D240

Engine: 1999cc 4cyl petrol, 4WD, eight-speed auto

Power & torque: 240hp, 430Nm

0-62mph: 8.7 seconds

Top speed: 111mph

Fuel economy: 29.6-31.7mpg (WLTP)

CO2: 234g-251g/km (WLTP)

Price: £59,180 (range starts at £40,290)

2. EV supermini: Mini Electric 

Essential Six car reviews May and June; Mini Electric 2

BMW took a Mini and evicted the engine, gearbox, exhaust and fuel tank, inserting instead a motor and battery. Those replacement parts aren’t the same shape, so there’s room for only a smallish battery. Meaning that even though its motor is efficient per se, it won’t go far before needing a charge. Probably only 110 miles in winter.

So it’s a runabout. But a terrifically fun one because the normal Mini’s nature is intact – in fact only amplified by the instantaneous reactions and vivacity of the electric motor. Its darty steering is full of life, involving you in the action. The seating position is low and comfortable. The cabin design is distinctive. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the back seat and boot are as poky as ever; it’s really a baby sports coupe, not a supermini hatch.

The spec: Level Two

Engine: Electric motor, FWD, single-speed

Power & torque: 184hp, 270Nm

0-62mph: 7.3 seconds

Top speed: 93mph

Range: 145 miles (WLTP)

CO2: 0g/km

Price: £26,400 inc grant (range starts at £24,400 inc grant)

3. Crossover: Renault Captur

Essential Six car reviews May and June; Renault

The second-generation Captur has grown by 11cm, so it’s just big enough to be a proper family car but still usefully compact for city life. It has the high eyepoint kids love, and they’re well catered for in the back. Tallish teenagers can fit but, if it’s just toddlers, you can slide the rear bench forward, swelling the boot and making it easier to pass them carrot sticks. Sat in front, you’re placed comfortably, facing the smartly finished dash. It’s well-equipped, with large screens and lots of safety aids. 

The engines are quiet if not madly eager, so you want to avoid the least-powerful petrol and diesel models. The suspension is supple and comfy, quite different from the sharp-steering but firm-riding Clio to which the Captur is closely related. It’s a good-looking car with a calming spirit.

The spec: S Edition TCE 130

Engine: 1333cc 4cyl petrol, FWD, six-speed manual 

Power & torque: 130hp, 240Nm

0-62mph: 10.6 seconds

Top speed: 121mph

Fuel economy: 42.8-44.1mpg (WLTP)

CO2: 144-148g/km (WLPT)

Price: £21,795 (range starts at £17,595)

4. EV crossover: Kia Soul EV

Essential Six car reviews May and June; Kia

Kia’s e-Niro electric crossover established a great reputation for providing a long real-world range at a decent price. But it looks a bit drab. Here’s a remedy: the Soul EV has the same battery and motor, but stuffed into a bodyshell the ad copy writers will doubtless be calling ‘funky’ or ‘iconic’. That’s stretching things but inside and out the rounded-corner blockiness is cohesive, if a little cartoonish.

It makes super-efficient use of the electrical energy, with a real-world 250 miles easily possible for people who are good with speed limits. It’s settled on the motorway but can get bouncy on brisk bumpy roads. Acceleration is keen enough, if not rapid. Inside there’s loads of equipment and room for a family, though they’ll need to pack carefully as the boot’s rather petite.

The spec: First Edition

Engine: Electric motor, FWD, single-speed

Power & torque: 201hp, 395Nm

0-62mph: 7.6 seconds

Top speed: 104mph

Range: 280 miles (WLTP)

CO2: 0g/km

Price: £33,795 inc grant (range starts at £33,795 inc grant)

5. SUV: Vauxhall Grandland Hybrid4

Essential Six car reviews May and June; Vauxhall

As a plug-in hybrid, this version of the Grandland swerves almost all company-car BIK tax. Charging it nightly at home, a 25-mile commute might never wake the engine – and on long trips you can use petrol, rather than searching for electric chargers. The front engine and electric motors at front and rear shuffle the work smoothly between themselves. All-out it’s fast, and there’s four-wheel-drive. Its family-crossover interior is fine, if a mite dull.

But to be honest, it’s not the car for frequent long trips as economy isn’t great in that mode. A diesel would be better. So: do you commute across minor roads with occasional snow and mud, and do you drive a company car? This is admittedly a bit of a niche but, if it fits your circumstances, it’s a real find.

The spec: Business Edition 

Engine: 1598cc 4cyl petrol plus two electric motors, 4WD, eight-speed auto 

Power & torque: 300hp, 520Nm

0-62mph: 5.9 seconds

Top speed: 146mph

Fuel economy: 204mpg (WLTP)

CO2: 34g/km (NEDC)

Price: £36,790 (range starts at £36,790)

6. Estate: BMW 3-Series Touring

Essential Six car reviews May and June; BMW

What’s the best car in the world? At any social gathering, I’m more likely to be asked this question than an off-duty doctor is to be quizzed about stiff joints or a recurring headache. It’s tempting to pitch my answer in Ferrari/Porsche territory, but for years the truth has been the BMW 3-Series Touring.

It’s just got bigger and better. It has all the driver-centricity of the 3-Series saloon: lovely steering and handling, superb engines, great controls and infotainment. The Touring’s long roof and tapered glass are stylish, and enclose reasonable room and some really neat storage ideas. If you don’t mind plugging in overnight and losing a bit of boot space to the battery, there’s also an economical PHEV version.

The spec: 330D XDrive Touring M Sport

Engine: 2993cc 6cyl diesel, 4WD, eight-speed auto 

Power & torque: 265hp, 580Nm

0-62mph: 5.4 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 42.8-43.5mpg (WLTP)

CO2: 141g/km (NEDC)

Price: £44,565 (range starts at £34,065)

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