Best long-term car tests 2023: the cars we lived with day-to-day
We’ve run numerous cars this year and been here, there, and everywhere in them. Here are our favourite moments
First drives and group tests make up a big part of what we do at Auto Express, but we also think it’s really important to put some of the most important new makes and models through long-term testing. After all, what better way is there to find out whether a new car is worth your money than by living with it on a daily basis?
Over the last 12 months, we’ve been in everything from sports cars to vans, and we’ve even had a broad mix of traditional petrol and diesel cars, as well as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric cars. Most of our test fleet has come through with a clean report card, although some have given us grief, and one was even crashed into! So what do our long-term testers think of their cars over the last year? Read on to find out.
Steve Fowler, Editor-in-Chief
- Mileage: 16,078 miles
- MPG: 36.2mpg
In the 30 years that he’s been writing about cars, Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler has been lucky enough to run three Range Rovers – not bad considering there have only been five generations. It was at another milestone – Auto Express’s 1,800th issue – that he said a sad farewell to his latest, an L460-generation D350 HSE in Fuji White. Steve’s Range Rover impressed him hugely with its quality, comfort and design. He covered huge distances, and it averaged 36.2mpg – just above the official figure. It was especially capable on numerous trips to Liverpool, when its long-distance ability and adaptive cruise control shrank the miles and the mpg rose above 40mpg.
However, old habits die hard, and Steve was sorry to report a couple of issues that required a call out to Land Rover Assistance – although neither problem left him stranded, and both were dealt with quickly and efficiently.
But the highlight of Steve’s six months with the Rangie was lining it up alongside an L405, an L322, a P38 and an original Range Rover – and taking a drive in a perfect example of one of his dream cars, a third-generation L322 model that used to belong to the Royal Household.
Citroen C4 X
Paul Adam, Executive-Editor
- Mileage: 2,106 miles
- MPG: 48.6mpg
There was a family-related reason for the trip, because he was off to test the bonkers Citroen Ami Buggy, a car (well, quadricycle) that couldn’t be further removed from the comfort and relative refinement of the C4 X. Bouncing along the seaside lanes in the Buggy was good fun, but slipping back behind the wheel of its more civilised bigger brother merely highlighted the qualities that Citroen has become famous for.
The Comfort seats mean you finish any journey as fresh as when you started, while the PureTech 130 petrol model is at its best when unhurried and just wafting along. What comes as more of a surprise is the Citroen’s excellent fuel economy; more than 50mpg is easily achievable in real-world conditions, helping to make the C4 X an instant hit as a family car.
Pete Baiden, Web producer
- Mileage: 5,002 miles
- MPG: 35.8mpg
On a recent family trip to Poland, web producer Pete Baiden had to do a double take – were there really Dacia Dusters everywhere or was he imagining it? Often when you have something, you tend to notice it more in the real world than you otherwise would. But that certainly wasn’t the case with the Dusters, because a quick search online revealed that the budget SUV actually was one of the best-selling cars in the country.
Pete was so surprised at just how many he saw, that he started to take pictures of them. When he went on a tram, there was a Duster behind him. Walking down the road, yep, you guessed it, Dusters parked on driveway after driveway. Having spent the best part of five months with a Duster on our fleet, Pete can appreciate why they are so popular. What’s not to like about a car that drives well, has plenty of space and is – for want of a better word – cheap?
Steve Walker, Head of Digital Content
- Mileage: 3,539 miles
- MPG: 37.0mpg
You couldn’t call it a highlight, but it was certainly memorable. A mystery motorist decided to cave-in both passenger-side doors on our Peugeot 408 while it was minding its own business in a car park, and flee the scene. That kickstarted a chain of events that sent our head of digital content, Steve Walker, back to Peugeot HQ for a pair of shiny new doors.
Apart from that fairly major mishap, the 408 has proven itself to be a good all-round proposition. The 1.2-litre turbocharged engine had us worried at the start, but as long as you aren’t expecting anything too lively performance-wise, it’s perfectly adequate – even with a full complement of passengers and luggage. A better option than the pricey plug-in hybrid in our eyes.
Peugeot has tried to give the 408 a sporty feel on the road to go with its bold looks. But given the modest 128bhp engine and occasionally slow-witted auto ’box, a slightly softer ride may have been preferable.
Otherwise, there’s lots here to like: the large flat boot area, the plentiful rear legroom, the big shortcut keys for the infotainment system and that adventurous design inside and out. The 408 might not have the high-set driving position of an SUV, but don’t discount Peugeot’s big hatchback until you’ve tried it.
Pete Gibson, Senior staff photographer
- Mileage: 18,293 miles
- MPG: 48.6mpg
As most readers know, the test cars run by Senior staff photographer Pete Gibson cover many thousands of miles each year. Pete’s day job involves lots of travel to photograph cars in various far-flung locations, such as Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire.
Normally Pete would pick one of these trips as his highlight of the year – or perhaps the New Car Awards, which give the creative team a chance to do something a little different. This year, though, his favourite journey was down to Cornwall. It’s certainly a beautiful place, but it’s not somewhere Pete would usually choose.
First, it’s not a viable location for car photography because the roads are too small and busy. Plus, it’s an awfully long way down the M5 and beyond. But this trip was about visiting his brother, who has relocated to Cornwall, and Pete’s Skoda Karoq was perfectly suited to the trip. Even fully loaded with his wife, kids, dog, and a few days’ supplies, it proved to be ideal for exploring the southwest.
Chris Rosamond, Current affairs editor
- Mileage: 10,480 miles
- MPG: 53.2mpg
Six months spent with the latest Corolla reinforced the faith of Current affairs editor Chris Rosamond in Toyota’s conviction that hybrid tech is, and will remain for some time, the right solution for many people looking to take part in a low-carbon future.
In recent months the company has been pilloried in some quarters – thank you, EV evangelists and social media warriors – for failing to make a swift transition to pure electric/battery power. But really, for anyone needing to make a pragmatic choice about what kind of powertrain they might responsibly run in these eco-aware times, Chris says the 90mpg-plus he regularly saw on the trip commuter while doing local mileage, and the fact that you can fill up the Corolla’s small fuel tank for relative peanuts anywhere in minutes, makes a compelling argument for hybrid over pure-EV tech.
The Corolla also has swoopy styling, and impressive infotainment and safety tech, not to mention entertaining performance and handling – at least up to the point appropriate for a mainstream hatch. But Chris was a little bit disappointed with the five-door’s packaging; limited boot space and tight rear legroom made it less of a family workhorse than he’d hoped.
Volvo XC40 Recharge
Richard Ingram, Deputy editor
- Mileage: 4,761 miles
- Efficiency: 3.1mi/kWh
Practicality is extremely important to deputy editor Richard Ingram. These days, he’s more concerned about boot capacity than blistering acceleration, so a roomy interior and plenty of places to store his daughter’s odds and ends are prerequisites for any long-term test car.
He had no complaints when his Volvo XC40 Recharge turned up towards the back end of last year, then. It’s spacious inside for its overall size, and even has a compartment under the bonnet for the charging cables. What the XC40 couldn’t do, however, was carry his road bike alongside his nearest and dearest, so when he unwittingly signed up for a 100-mile ride through the Essex countryside back in May, something had to give.
Or did it? Instead of leaving his wife and toddler at home while training every weekend, Rich decided to fire up the Volvo accessories brochure and order a roof-mounted bike rack. With the hardware fitted, he was able to travel the length and breadth of the country, taking scenic routes while his friends and family explored the local area. The easy-to-load bike carrier meant everyone in the Ingram household could get out and enjoy the summer sunshine.
Volkswagen Transporter SWB
Dean Gibson, Senior test editor
- Mileage: 11,233 miles
- MPG: 35.4mpg
Our senior test editor, Dean Gibson, has always thought the Volkswagen Golf R is too understated – there’s not much to differentiate it from R-Line trim – and lining one up next to his VW Transporter only helped to emphasise this.
Maybe it’s because Sportline spec is very different from the rest of the line-up, but our van’s Ravenna blue paint certainly helped it stand out, while the subtle bodykit, black alloys, tailgate spoiler and red stripe across the nose gave it plenty of visual appeal. It certainly attracted plenty of attention from Transporter enthusiasts – modded van owners always gave Dean a wave when he was driving our factory-stock machine – but fortunately, our van could also deliver performance, as well as packages.
With 201bhp from its 2.0 TDI diesel engine, a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds is quoted by VW, while the mid-range torque means the slow-shifting DSG gearbox wasn’t as much of a hindrance as it could have been.
Audi TT Roadster
Steve Sutcliffe, Special contributor
- Mileage: 2,235 miles
- MPG: 36.2mpg
Steve Sutcliffe has a thing about alloy wheels. He cleans them at any given opportunity, then just looks at them once they are sparkling. He rather likes the matt grey diamond-cut ones on our Audi TT Roadster Final Edition, so when someone from Maple Parking at Gatwick airport put a dent in one of them, he was not best pleased.
However, when our man caused a fuss about this with the powers that be at Maple, they surprised him with their response – which was to offer to fix the damage with no questions asked. This, says Steve, has been the surprising highlight of the year – mainly because you hear stories about being left out in the cold when things like this happen, but in this case, the exact opposite occurred.
Oh yes, and he quite likes the rest of the TT Roadster, too.
Dawn Grant, Picture editor
- Mileage: 13,264 miles
- MPG: 42.8mpg
Picture editor Dawn Grant wasn’t sure what to expect when she got the keys to the DS4 PHEV. She’d driven earlier models that seemed to be trying too hard, and knew the brand could divide opinion.
She was quickly won over by the car’s charm, though, particularly its slightly jacked-up appearance and the diamond pattern in the rear lights. But during her six months with the car, its comfort proved the real winner.
The sporty front seats looked and felt great; both Dawn and her taller husband found them comfortable. The DS4 was calming to drive too, thanks to its smooth automatic transmission and light steering. DS certainly got the balance right here, providing a relaxing and soothing ride as a contrast to the dynamic exterior look.
Kim Adams, Product editor
- Mileage: 3,361 miles
- MPG: 42.7mpg
Surprisingly, the VW T-Roc proved to be an ideal companion for tackling the hillclimb school at the UK’s oldest motorsport venue, Shelsley Walsh.
Products editor Kim Adams had planned to use one of his own track cars when the invite to a day at the school came through from venue partner Motul. But logistics and complications meant the T-Roc was pressed in to service. It certainly stood out among the rest of the school’s sports and performance cars, but it proved remarkably well-suited to the format of the day.
Once Kim had turned off various electronic ‘assistance’ modes, the big-selling T-Roc was quick enough to ensure the climb wasn’t a simple foot-flat-to-the-floor exercise, but not so fast that he needed to be wary of it getting out of shape.
The combination allowed Kim to focus on learning the nuances of the hill without worrying the T-Roc was going to head for the nearest bank or barrier. It was an unlikely track tool, but ultimately perfect for the job.
Andy Pringle, Chief-sub-editor
- Mileage: 2,891 miles
- Efficiency: 3.1mi/kWh
As highlights go, this may all sound rather modest, but Chief sub-editor Andy Pringle is a man of simple needs. And although he readily admits he has much to learn about running an EV, what he liked most about the latest Volkswagen ID.3 when it arrived in October was just how quickly and easily it slotted into his family life.
In particular, the all-electric Volkswagen has taken to its role as Mum and Dad’s Taxi like a duck to water. Andy and his wife seem to spend much of their ‘free’ time taking their daughter to an apparently endless succession of Brownies meetings, swimming lessons, drama rehearsals, football training sessions and matches; so having a five-door hatch that they can just jump in and go is a godsend.
The fact that the ID.3 is a relatively compact car is also a blessed relief around suburban London, where parking spaces tend to be equally compact. And the fact that Andy can park the car on his drive and get in and out without damaging his neighbour’s low hedge is a welcome bonus.
Cut a long story short, Andy just likes things that work – and the Volkswagen works perfectly. Long may it continue.
Citroen C5 X
Darren Wilson, Creative director
- Mileage: 1,790 miles
- MPG: 35.9mpg
Creative director Darren Wilson was lucky enough to have three different test cars in 2023. He started out with the multi-award-winning Dacia Jogger and more recently had the luxurious, hi-tech all-electric Lexus RZ. So it might be a surprise that he chose the Citroen C5 X as his long-term car of the year, with his highlight being a drive down to Somerset for a family holiday.
The Citroen sits firmly in Darren’s ‘Goldilocks zone’: somewhere between budget and premium, between simple and hi-tech, and between practical and comfortable. In fact, he rated it so highly that he asked Citroen to extend the loan specifically so he could use it on the holiday.
Darren found the jacked-up cross between an estate and an SUV supremely comfortable and an absolute pleasure to drive. He loved the generous space and sensible in-car tech that managed to be safe and useful without being complex and intrusive. The Citroen remains a much-missed car.
BYD Atto 3
John Mcllroy, Editor-at-large
- Mileage: 5,673 miles
- Efficiency: 4.0mi/kWh
The idea was simple: Ed-at-large John McIlroy would take his BYD Atto 3 to one of the brand’s first UK dealers, to chart the network’s expansion and see how buyers are interacting with a major new brand.
Jon met Stratstone’s BYD rep, Julie Fearnley, who explained how the firm attracted Chinese customers to start with, but was now bringing in a wider cross-section of buyer, curious to see what it could offer.
In the course of the conversation, he happened to mention that our Atto 3 had a tendency to mist up all too easily – even on what was a perfectly fine morning. John had played with the various ventilation settings on the car’s central touchscreen, but hadn’t been able to find a solution for the problem.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Fearnley replied in an instant. “It’s a recall. Would you like us to sort it for you now?” And within two minutes, a senior technician, who happened to be at the Milton Keynes site for training, had plugged his laptop into the Atto 3’s OBD port and was flashing its system software.
In all of his time running long-term test vehicles, John can’t ever recall a double whammy like this one – seeing a new operation take off, at the same time as fixing one of the precious few niggles that he’d managed to find with the vehicle in question. Result.
How much is your car worth? Find out with our free valuation tool...