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Best medium cars of 2021

The impressive new Hyundai Ioniq 5 takes the title, beating one of the traditional top guns of the medium car sector

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The variety of medium-sized cars remains huge and, despite the growing popularity of SUVs, this class is more complex than ever.

Several brands have more than one vehicle in this segment, with a variety of body styles like saloons, hatchbacks, estates and liftbacks. There is also plenty of choice when it comes to power, with petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric vehicles all available.

Electric power is starting to take over in terms of our Expert Rating Index rankings for this segment, with four of the top five cars being EVs. BMW is the leading light for combustion engines, with both the 3 Series and 1 Series achieving competitive scores against the latest generation of electric cars.

Our awards recognise both the best new models to have been launched over the last 12 months, but also the best overall cars in each category – because newer doesn’t always mean better, as you can see below.

The best medium cars of 2021

Best medium cars 2021 – Hyundai Ioniq 5

Best new model + Class champion, overall: 
Hyundai Ioniq 5

Best medium cars 2021 – BMW 3 Series

Class champion, petrol/diesel:
BMW 3 Series

This was a close fight. For a very long time, the BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark for medium-sized cars. But, according to our industry-leading Expert Rating Index, the all-new Hyundai Ioniq has pipped it to the post by 0.25%.

Both of these are excellent cars, with high praise from critics.

Best new model + Class champion: Hyundai Ioniq 5 (85%)

Hyundai Ioniq 5 (2021 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 85%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The new Hyundai Ioniq 5 has been a bit of a sensation since even before it arrived in the UK over summer. With its retro-futuristic design, it has brought a welcome breath of fresh air into car styling and helped to recast opinions on electric cars being boring whitegoods on wheels.

The refreshing style extends inside the cabin, which is also spacious and practical. Further bolstering the practicality angle are the Ioniq 5’s competitive battery range and compatibility with ultra-fast charging points. There are not too many of these around the UK as of yet, but there will be in coming years and that will improve both convenience and resale value for existing owners.

Ride quality isn’t a high point on large wheels, and some critics have noted a lack of refinement compared to some premium-badged rivals, but overall the Hyundai Ioniq 5 is exactly what we need from new electric cars. An Expert Rating score of 85% is exceptionally good, and we can’t wait to see the next new EVs from Hyundai.

Class champion, petrol/diesel: BMW 3 Series (85%)

BMW 3 Series (2019 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 85%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

It’s a testament to how good the Hyundai is that it managed to outscore one of the critics’ favourite models for generations. The BMW 3 Series has long been the dynamic benchmark for small-to-medium saloons, and the latest edition adds additional refinement to match.

The 3 Series holds an Expert Rating of just under 85% as of December 2021, and is only a quarter of a point behind the Ioniq 5. Its score covers petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid versions in both saloon and Touring (estate) body styles, but doesn’t include the M3 super saloon.

If you’re looking for petrol or diesel alternatives to the BMW 3 Series, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is several points behind, while the rest of the field is even further back.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

Neither of these conditions ended up affecting the results for medium cars, but there are a couple of highly rated cars that are awaiting Euro NCAP testing – namely, the Kia EV6 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class – and therefore would not have been eligible if they’d outscored our winners.

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