New car reviews: six of the best for summer 2019

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Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: Toyota Corolla Excel

Thinking ahead to the autumn's new car registrations? We've reviewed six new models, including Toyota's most stylish Corolla to date and a new EV from Mercedes

Discover six of the best new cars on sale now, reviewed on performance, ride, handling and emissions by our motoring expert, Paul Horrell from Top Gear.

Hatchback: Toyota Corolla

In 1973, my parents bought what was in Britain an almost unheard-of new car. It went on to become the world’s best seller. It brought a huge innovation over our previous family cars, a Vauxhall Viva and an Austin Maxi: it never broke down.

Toyota has sold more than 45 million faithful Corollas worldwide, across 12 generations and multiple body styles. Many were dull, but not this new one. Its arrowhead styling and two-tone paint stand out among rivals. Inside, a sharp-looking modern dashboard and rich upholstery materials continue the story.

Under the hood, Toyota has entirely abandoned diesel. Instead there’s a choice of a small but lively petrol engine with manual transmission, or two automatic hybrids. One is the 1.8-litre system from the company’s saintly Prius, the other a more performance-oriented two-litre. That’s the one we tested.

If buying a car for its style is anathema to your rational self, try these advantages. First, the hybrid system means this is a petrol car that can match an equivalent-power diesel for fuel economy, while bettering it for CO2. That means low VED cost, and very low benefit-in-kind tax if it’s a company car. In town its local emissions are less toxic too. My test resulted in 45mpg. Not great, but I’m heavy-footed and many of my miles were on free-running motorways where hybrid isn’t much advantage – its biggest fuel saving is in gentle suburban driving.

It’s also smooth and mostly whisper-quiet unless you accelerate flat-out, and corners well. It has good seats and a huge suite of electronic safety aids that might save your skin, or someone else’s.

Downsides: the two-litre has a tiny boot, and all Corollas have a cramped back seat. It couldn’t supplant the Prius as a taxi. If you aren’t on a company car scheme or don’t tend to do all your mileage in cities, the cheaper 1.2-litre manual is the one to have.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: Toyota Corolla hybrid

The spec: Toyota Corolla Excel 5dr 2.0 Hybrid

Engine: 1987cc 4cyl petrol hybrid, FWD, electric CVT auto

Power & torque: 178hp (whole hybrid system), 190Nm (petrol engine)

0-62mph: 7.9 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

Fuel economy: 50.43-60.62mpg (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 89g/km

Price: £29,075 (range starts at £21,305)

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Small Crossover: DS 3 Crossback

It’s not just the outside that is striking. Inside, the DS 3 Crossback is like a luxury French handbag, all fancy stitching and glinting metal accents. As a bag, it’s more clutch than tote, mind, as the back seat is cramped and dark.

For a compact crossover, it has a placid ride over bumps. It reacts pleasantly on corners too, provided you drive smoothly, but yank the wheel and there is a bit of a lean. Options include several handy driver assistance features. The petrol engine is small but plucky and willing.

An electric option arrives late this year. DS says total ownership costs will match the petrol one, its higher buy/lease price being offset by cheaper energy cost.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: DS 3 Crossback

The spec: DS 3 Crossback Prestige with PureTech 130 automatic

Engine: 1119cc 3cyl turbo petrol, FWD, 8spd auto

Power & torque: 130hp, 230Nm

0-62mph: 9.2 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Fuel economy: Combined drive cycle: 42.2-47.1mpg (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 109-117g/km

Price: £27,955 (range starts at £21,550)

Family crossover: Seat Tarraco

Here’s a family crossover adaptable enough to take five people sprawled out, six satisfactorily, or seven at a pinch, with little luggage. On-board tech meets modern family demands, the exterior design is stylish without being bullish, and you don’t pay extra for metallic paint or LED headlights.It’s a VW Group car and eerily similar, bar the styling, to the Skoda Kodiaq and VW Tiguan Allspace.

But be aware the Tarraco is the sportiest of the trio, meaning its suspension sends a lot of road roughness up to the seats. The payoff is taut cornering if you’re going swiftly, taking advantage of the test car’s lively two-litre petrol engine, where the AWD is useful in the wet.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: Seat Tarraco

The spec: Seat Tarraco Xcellence 2.0 TSi DSG 4-drive

Engine: 1984cc 4cyl turbo petrol, 4WD, 7spd auto

Power & torque: 190hp, 320Nm

0-62mph: 8 seconds

Top speed: 131mph

Fuel economy: 29.7-31mpg (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 166g/km

Price: £34,845 (range starts at £28,335)

Small crossover: Volkswagen T-Cross

Small crossovers keep tumbling into the market, and this Volkswagen is a cheaper but more family-friendly choice than the DS. It’s a roomy car given its easily parked overall shortness, and its versatile sliding rear seat means the big boot can be made even more pushchair-ready.

The engine, a one-litre job, feels like it’s working hard but performance when empty is enough for anyone but the impatient. The gearshift isn’t that pleasant, so for city use you might opt for the automatic. The suspension can get pretty lumpy, but it’s a confident car in bends or roundabouts.

While VW’s Golf is a paragon of plush cabin quality, the T-Cross’s dash and door linings look and feel cheap. Ah well, good seats and connectivity make up for it.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: VW T Cross

The spec: Volkswagen T-Cross SEL 1.0 TSI 115

Engine: 999cc 3cyl turbo petrol, FWD, 6spd manual

Power & torque: 115hp, 200Nm

0-62mph: 10.2 seconds

Top speed: 120mph

Fuel economy: 48.2mpg (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 112g/km

Price: £21,655 (range starts at £16,995)

Electric car: Mercedes-Benz EQC

Mercedes SUVs are in demand, but like its rivals, are heavy and unkind to the planet. The EQC, with its electric motors, is the guilt-reduced version. You can recognise it from its new lower-drag exterior shape.

EVs are quiet and smooth to drive, the EQC almost magically so, and it kicks up little tyre or wind noise, either. The suspension is eminently supple. This relaxed set-up helps electric range by discouraging lively driving, although it’ll accelerate startlingly. Mercedes has paid its usual diligent attention to safety – both in a crash and to avoid one.

But the fact that this is an adapted ‘normal’ SUV does show through. Other big EVs have roomier, airier interiors, and more radical proportions outside.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: Mercedes Benz EQC

The spec: Mercedes-Benz EQC EQC400 AMG Line Premium

Engine: Two electric motors, 4WD, single-speed auto

Power & torque: 408hp, 760Nm

0-62mph: 5.1 seconds

Top speed: 112mph

Electric range: 231-259 miles (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 0g/km

Price: £72,280 (range starts at £65,640)

Hatchback: Mazda 3

Mazda has morphed a five-door hatchback’s outline into a sassier simplicity, devoid of the usual creases, the windows a shallow swoosh. It looks great. One immediate hitch – to sit in the back is to feel a dark claustrophobia creeping in. But if you’re driving, it’s a happy car. Clear and straightforward controls and displays sit in a luxuriously padded dash. There’s even a head-up display so you won’t miss a junction or accidentally speed.

The petrol engine has clever economy tech, and a smooth hum as it works. Unusually, it eschews a turbocharger so to find decent shove you’re kept busy shifting down. The steering has an engaging urgency. It loves corners, but the price is you do feel the bumps.

Best new cars reviewed summer 2019: Mazda 3

The spec: Mazda 3 Skyactiv-G GT Sport

Engine: 1998cc 4cyl petrol, FWD, 6spd manual

Power & torque: 122hp, 213Nm

0-62mph: 10.4 seconds

Top speed: 122mph

Fuel economy: 44.8mpg (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 119g/km

Price: £24,595 (range starts at £20,595)

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