The best new cars for summer 2021

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Best new cars you can buy this summer Mercedes Benz

Top Gear expert Paul Horrell gives you the lowdown on some of the latest vehicle launches to help you make the right purchase

Summer's here, the sun is out and most restrictions have now been lifted. What better time to buy a new set of wheels and head out on a road trip.

To help you with your search for a new car, Top Gear motoring expert Paul Horrell is here to round up some of the latest and greatest vehicle launches. With everything from electric crossovers to hot hatches on his list, there's something for everyone...

1. Best electric crossover: Mercedes-Benz EQA

From £43,495

Best new cars you can buy this summer Mercedes Benz rear

The Mercedes GLA crossover is a popular car. This is the electric version. It keeps the well-finished high-tech dashboard and interior, and most of the exterior styling, but the front end wears a new, smoother face mask.

Now, the fact that it’s an adapted combustion car does bring compromises: it loses on foot-space in the back and on boot room, because the rear floor is raised to make space for the battery beneath. Not ideal if you have lanky teenagers in the back.

Still, it’s a beautifully refined car, and it’s quiet, even compared with other electrically propelled rivals. It’s the opposite of ‘sporty’: suspension comfort, acceleration and cornering are all finessed for smooth progress, whatever the roads.

The car we tested:

EQA 250 AMG Line (£44,995)

Engine: Electric motor, FWD, single-speed

Power & torque: 190hp, 375Nm

0–62mph: 8.9 seconds

Top speed: 99mph

Range*: 263 miles

CO₂: 0g/km

2. Best supermini: Dacia Sandero 

From £7,995

Best new cars you can buy this summer Dacia Sandero

The Sandero was always a ridiculously cheap car. It still is, but hardly feels it now. Dacia is part of the Renault Group, and so the all-new Sandero can share critical engines, suspension parts and crash-protection structure with the Clio.

It has competitive space inside for a supermini, with a comfy driving position and well-organised dash. All but the very cheapest versions have air-con and central locking, and let you connect your phone for media and navigation via the car’s built-in screen. Even the decor does better than grim austerity.

The base-model engine is puny, so for driving beyond the suburbs I’d want the turbo engine tested. It gets along well enough without fuss, and the suspension has lots of spring for lumpy roads, but on a motorway it feels grown-up and secure.

The car we tested:

TCe 90 Essential (£9,995)

Engine: 999cc 3cyl petrol, FWD, 6-speed manual

Power & torque: 90hp, 160Nm

0–62mph: 11.7 seconds

Top speed: 111mph

Fuel economy*: 53.3mpg

CO₂*: 120g/km

3. Best small crossover: Vauxhall Mokka 

From £20,735

Best new cars you can buy this summer Vauxhall Mokka

Small families love compact crossovers. But the Mokka is more compact again – a notable 15cm shorter than the mechanically related Peugeot 2008. (Both are now in the same corporation.) That makes it handy in cities, at the expense of a teenager-capable back seat or a pushchair-friendly boot. Inside, if many cars’ display-screen gimmicks drive you potty, you’ll find its screens and controls a soothing change.

You can have it driven by petrol, diesel or battery. The tested petrol is decently economical, quiet and sprightly enough for hills and motorways. Its automatic is a bit jerky in traffic, so I’d get the DIY gearbox. The suspension traverses bumps in leggy, almost floating comfort. Even so, the steering is decisive enough.

The car we tested:

Elite Nav Premium 1.2 Auto (£27,095)

Engine: 1199cc 3cyl petrol, FWD, 8-speed auto

Power & torque: 130hp, 230Nm

0–62mph: 9.2 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Fuel economy*: 47.1mpg

CO2*: 137g/km

4. Best hot hatch: Volkswagen Golf GTI

From £33,510

Best new cars you can buy this summer VW Golf

The Golf GTI is the grandaddy hot hatch, constantly evolving since the 1970s. But the eighth generation feels a little out of focus for its driving-enthusiast fans. The new Clubsport version, tested here, is the cure. A GTI with extra spice. The engine gives more power, for scintillating forward lunge. Revised steering and traction make it react more vividly, and improve the grip and resolution when you’ve got the accelerator flattened. The Clubsport’s driving smarts match all but the most harum-scarum hot hatches. 

Yet when it’s not flexing its sporty moves, the Clubsport remains absolutely a Golf. Even the body’s aerodynamic aids are relatively subtle. It’s practical, comfortable, quiet: a solid choice for workaday family use or long hauls.

The car we tested:

GTI Clubsport (£37,215)

Engine: 1984cc 4cyl petrol, FWD, 7-speed automatic

Power & torque: 300hp, 400Nm

0–62mph: 5.6 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy*: 38.2mpg 

CO₂*: 167g/km

5. Best compact crossover: Jaguar E-PACE 

From £32,575

Best new cars you can buy this summer Jaguar E Pace

Prima facie, this is a tweak to the styling of a car that’s been around for three years. Move along now, nothing to see…? No, wait. Under the skin it’s largely new.

The one I’m in has a new three-cylinder engine, augmented by a rear electric motor and battery – a PHEV. Charge up and it gives silent electric commuting, but long-trip high-performance driving waits in the wings when you need it. And it really is smooth and quiet. Expensive to buy, though, if light on tax for company-car drivers. Cheaper conventional engines are available.

The new underbody and suspension give engagingly fluent steering and ride, where many crossovers are a bit lead-footed. Inside, vastly improved screens, navigation and connectivity bring it bang up to date.

The car we tested:

P300e R-Dynamic S (£45,995) 

Engine: 1498cc 3cyl petrol plus e-motor, AWD, 8-speed automatic

Power & torque: 309hp, 540Nm

0–62mph: 6.5 seconds

Top speed: 134mph

Fuel economy*: 141mpg 

CO₂*: 44g/km 

6. Best electric compact crossover: LEXUS UX300e 

From £43,900

Best new cars you can buy this summer Lexus

Lexus crossovers usually come with hybrid drive. So does the UX, actually, but this is the electric version. It looks almost exactly the same as the hybrid: angular. It drives very similarly too. 

So, it has the placid nature that is Lexus’s signature dish. It glides along, accelerating gently unless you press the pedal hard, largely unbothered by bumps or potholes. But as the smallest car they make, it’s also reasonably nimble in bends.

Lexus says its size makes it an ‘urban’ car. It’s happy on motorways, but its range – 150 miles at that speed – isn’t really enough for frequent long hauls. Lexus hybrids always show up superbly in reliability surveys. An EV is basically a hybrid without the engine, so it’s vanishingly unlikely this one would let you down.

The car we tested:

Premium Plus (£47,400)

Engine: Electric motor, FWD, single-speed

Power & torque: 201hp, 300Nm

0–62mph: 7.5 seconds

Top speed: 100mph

Range*: 196 miles 

CO₂: 0g/km

*Measurememts are WLTP unless otherwise noted. For further details, click here. 

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