Each of our top 5 here mixes strong practicality, refinement, performance and desirability with engaging dynamics, but which takes top spot?
As SUV sales continue to reach ever greater heights, the compact saloon has become a slightly less common sight on our roads. That’s a bit of a pity, because for the keener driver, they’re arguably the best type of car to live with on a daily basis – provided you choose the right one.
The top cars in this class don’t just offer that classic three-box shape and a desirable badge on their noses: athletic, engaging handling, a smooth, comfortable ride, a plush, well-built interior, strong performanceand decent fuel economy are all just as important. And with ever-tightening emissions regulations to contend with, the availability of a tax-friendly plug-in hybrid option doesn’t hurt, either.
Regardless, it’s certainly a delicate balancing act – one that can be tricky to successfully pull off. Here, we list the cars that, in our view, offer the most convincing mix of those aforementioned attributes.
- Kia Stinger
Kia’s flagship model got off to a good start in redefining exactly what people should expect from the South Korean automaker.
The Stinger boasts sleek styling, excellent handling and, in the form of a greasy GT-S, a well-powered 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 for a price that will only buy you four cylinders elsewhere. It was previously available with a range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, but a model refresh in early 2022 removed these small engines from sales lists in the USA. A few visual tweaks were also introduced, along with an updated infotainment system and a new color scheme.
The Stinger is not without its faults, however. Interior quality is good, but not quite on par with true top-of-the-line rival cars, and the infotainment system – while performing well in isolation – also lags behind top brands. range. Convenience is excellent, however.
- Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
The second-gen Vauxhall Insignia never really stood out for driver engagement or performance car pedigree, but it remains an attractive choice nonetheless for its value-driven pricing, practicality for big cars. and its smooth and comfortable ride.
It has been updated for 2020, with subtle changes to its exterior design and a more precise infotainment system has been introduced. The engine lineup remains fairly standard, built around a choice of 2.0-liter petrol and diesel engines and a smaller 1.5-liter diesel.
The interior of the Insignia is much more spacious than many cars in this class. The cabin vibe and perceived quality aren’t quite at a premium brand level, but both are good enough to interact every day without grating or disappointing.
The Insignia might not be as crisp as some of its sportier rivals on a rough road, but it’s well suited for long-distance rides and the hot performance derivatives of Vauxhall wearing the GSI badge offer the minus a minimum of driver appeal at an affordable price.
- Volkswagen Passat
The Passat has a lot to offer. It has a neat and well-made interior, a refined and largely accomplished driving experience, a solid standard kit, and a handsome – albeit a little understated – exterior styling.
A range of economical four-cylinder diesel engines deliver commendable refinement, performance and economy, while the Passat GTE plug-in hybrid offers buyers the ability to cut CO2 emissions and drive electric in a limited range. VW’s 2019 car facelift added a larger drive battery for the GTE, increasing the zero-emission range by around 40% to 43 miles.
While the Passat is a comfortable and relaxed highway cruiser, it cannot compete with the likes of the Giulia or XE in terms of dynamism, instead taking a more laid-back and functional approach to its driving experience. If you are looking for a car to soothe the rigors of everyday driving with the minimum of intrusion and hassle, look no further.
- Audi A4
The A4 stands out for the clever material richness of its interior, the impeccable exterior design, its refined and economical engines and its brilliant infotainment systems.
The A4 is a bit disappointed with a no-engagement driving experience that favors high-speed stability rather than driver engagement. However, he excels as a long-distance highway tourer – a trait that is further enhanced by a range of refined and smooth petrol and diesel engines. Plenty of passenger space on board is also offered and Audi’s financing agreements offer excellent value for money. It was once a favorite with company car drivers, but that status has been eroded recently by the lack of a plug-in hybrid model.
- Volvo S60
Volvo is propelling itself straight to the sharp end of the compact sedan class with this third-generation S60 sedan – and the first to be built outside of Europe, in Ridgeville, South Carolina.
Superb, fun to travel, relaxing to drive, and quite practical with it, the S60 will appeal to people who aren’t satisfied with the sportier mission statements of other cars in this class – and it should be very successful in doing so. It has good powertrain refinement, good handling up front, and a well-balanced, comfortable ride – although it’s advisable to avoid Volvo’s larger sizes of optional alloy wheels if you want to. the last word in driving refinement.
There are now only two powertrains to choose from and, as is the case with Volvo’s wider lineup, both have some form of electrification. The 247bhp Mild Hybrid B5 petrol represents entry level, but those who want a little more grunts can turn to the four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid T8 models. The standard Recharge model packs a hefty 385bhp, while the flagship Polestar Engineered model takes it to 400bhp.
The top of the line has impressive body control and a high sporting pace, but doesn’t have enough performance credibility or driver appeal to rank as a bona fide super sedan.