You’ll notice that our top-cars list for 2022 is a little different from previous years. Before, we’ve listed either our top 100 or our top 50 cars for the year, with an absolute number one car at the head of the list. Those lists encompassed every type of car on sale, from city cars to supercars and all comers between.
This year is different. The market for new cars is reshaping itself utterly. We could tell you what the best four-door family saloon is, but no one really buys those any more, so what would be the point? We could also tell you what our favourite sports car is – it’s the Alpine A110, if you’re really wondering – but ... ditto.
So here we have our picks of the cars you’re actually buying and seemingly want to buy if all the market research is correct – electric cars, hybrid and plug-in hybrids, crossovers and SUVs. Call it following market forces if you will, but while conventionally engined hatchbacks and saloons will continue to play their parts, these are the cars you really want to know about, right?
Best electric cars
Best small electric car: Renault Zoe
Still – just – Ireland's most affordable electric car and still one of the best. Good range and decent to drive, though the ride is a little firm. The cabin is a bit narrow, but a solid choice.
Price from €27,550
One-charge range 395km
Also try Peugeot e-208
Best small electric crossover: Hyundai Kona electric
A word of caution here – the headline Kona is the one with the 64kWh battery, and a range of 484km is pricey, at €37,495. The Kona you can afford, the €30,995 one, comes with a 39kWh battery and a range of just 305km. Is that enough? For many it will be, but we'd recommend upgrading if you can afford it.
Price from €30,995
One-charge range 305km-484km
Also try Opel Mokka-e
Best electric family car: Renault Megane E-Tech
A welcome break from boxy crossovers. The Megane's slippery styling makes it one of the best looking electric cars on the market, EV or otherwise. Inside, the Renault revolts against the Tesla trend towards sparse cabins and offers affordable opulence. And a French car boasting an infotainment system with impressive tech? Surely a first. This car delivers crisp steering feel and a chassis that's accurate and engaging. Decent range from a well-engineered EV that's comfortable to travel in and fun to drive, it will slide in between the VW ID.3 and ID.4 and could steal the show.
Price from TBA (est circa €37,000)
One-charge range 300km-470km
Also try Volkswagen ID.3
Best electric executive car: Tesla Model 3
Controversial? Certainly. Built in a tent? Some of them. Self-driving? Most definitely not. You can pick plenty of holes in the Tesla Model 3's case, but it remains the best midsized electric car around. The Performance model is especially good fun, and residual values are, for the moment, pretty amazing.
Price from €49,990
One-charge range 491-580km
Also try BMW i4
Best electric crossover: Hyundai Ioniq 5
Wafer-thin decision here, as the Kia EV6 and Ioniq 5 are basically the same car. The Kia is marginally sweeter to drive; the Hyundai has a more family-friendly cabin. Both feel pretty big on narrow roads, and we don't get the all-wheel-drive options as yet on the Kia, but these are truly impressive electric cars. Hyundai has the edge given the wider price range and the fact it also comes with a more affordable, smaller-battery option that the Kia lacks.
Price from €37,995 (Hyundai)
One-charge range 387km-528km
Also try Kia EV6/Skoda Enyaq
Best electric SUV: Audi Q4 e-tron
The VW Group trio – Audi Q4, Volkswagen ID.4, Skoda Enyaq – all have their strengths, but the Audi wins out by being fractionally nicer to drive and better able to command the circa €50,000 you'd need to spend to get one with decent specification and range (yes, even the Skoda). Not a looker, mind.
Price from €39,788
One-charge range 335km-511km
Also try Ford Mustang Mach-E
Best electric luxury car: BMW iX
This was very nearly another split decision, with the new Tesla Model Y. The Tesla is more sharply priced, and has better range as standard, but its plain Model 3 cabin doesn't feel luxurious enough. Tesla's real rival to the iX is the gullwing-doored Model X and the German has its beating. The BMW's styling is controversial (although softening already) but its cabin is a high-tech masterpiece, a place you'll want to spend time just for the heck of it. Not cheap, but then luxury never is.
Price from €85,815
One-charge range 414km-613km
Also try Tesla Model Y
Best hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars
Pricing on the plug-in hybrids below (asterisked) is correct for December but likely to change from January 1st, 2022, because of the ending of current grants on these cars.
Best small hybrid: Toyota Yaris
Unsurprisingly, this list will be dominated by Toyotas – it is the carmaker with the most hybrid experience, after all. The Yaris is reflective of that – frugal but still quite good fun to drive and beautifully made. Small in the back seats and boot, though.
Price from €23,990
CO2 emissions 88g/km
Also try Renault Clio E-Tech Hybrid
Best hybrid crossover: Toyota Yaris Cross
Need a Yaris with more boot space? Here's the answer, in the shape of the likeable Yaris Cross. A touch slow, but still pleasant to drive and impressively economical. Actually the same size as an original RAV4.
Price from €27,260
CO2 emissions 101-115g/km
Also try Renault Captur E-Tech plug-in hybrid
Best family hybrid: Skoda Octavia PHEV
As sensible as that last pair of Ecco shoes you bought and about as comfortable. The Octavia really takes to its plug-in hybrid conversion, not least because it has boot space to spare, so even with the battery on board, there's plenty of luggage space. Soothing to drive, economical on a long run and a very high-quality cabin.
Price from €42,205*
CO2 emissions 20-22g/km
Electric range 69km
Also try Kia Ceed PHEV
Best executive hybrid: BMW 330e
Is the BMW 330e's reign as the plug-in hybrid of choice coming to an end? Possibly – the new PHEV versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class may well displace it, but for now the Beemer has a hugely effective combo of electric range, open-road performance and handling, and decent all-round economy. Small boot, though.
Price from €48,895*
CO2 emissions 30-32g/km
Electric range 60km
Also try Mercedes-Benz C300e
Best crossover hybrid: Toyota RAV4
Once again, Toyota's hybrid expertise comes to the fore and the RAV4 manages to be distinctive to look at, surprisingly good fun to drive, hugely spacious and well made and massively economical. New and pricey, the plug-in hybrid version can go for 75km on a charge.
Price from €40,010
CO2 emissions 22-131g/km
Electric range 75km (PHEV model only)
Also try Ford Kuga PHEV
Best SUV hybrid: Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV
Big and bluff, with the face from a basking shark, the Hyundai Santa Fe has a hugely broad mix of capabilities. It can slip silently along on electric power for as much as much as 58km, and can do better than 45mpg on a longer run, using its petrol engine. Its cabin is easily as luxurious and well-appointed as any German premium product, and it can seat five in luxurious comfort, seven at a squeeze. Big and heavy? Yes, but that doesn't stop it being good.
Price from €55,945*
CO2 emissions 37g/km
Electric range 58km
Also try Kia Sorento PHEV
Best luxury hybrid: Lexus RX450h
You might think, walking up to it that the big Lexus RX looks a little old-fashioned. That its design has been around for a while. That its V6 petrol engine, even with hybrid assistance, is going to be astronomically thirsty. Actually, none of that is true. The styling we'll leave, subjectively, to you but there's no questioning the big Lexus's comfort, refinement, relative frugality and of course its quality. Best ride quality of almost any car on sale.
Price from €91,245
CO2 emissions 178-185g/km
Also try Land Rover Defender P400e
Best SUVs and crossovers
Best small crossover: Ford Puma
The Puma riffs on a classic Ford name and puts the Fiesta's chassis to good use to create the only small crossover that's actually genuinely good to drive. It's practical, too, thanks to a big boot and the mild-hybrid EcoBoost turbo triple engine is a sweetheart.
Price from €23,114
CO2 emissions 122-155g/km
Also try Peugeot 2008
Best crossover: Hyundai Tucson
Considering how bland the previous Tucson was, the styling of this current version came as something of a major shock. That's faded, just a touch, with familiarity, but the Tucson remains a very good choice – good to drive, and with a roomy and very stylish cabin. Optional hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains make for good choices.
Price from €34,595
CO2 emissions 31-141g/km
Also try Volkswagen Tiguan
Best seven-seat SUV: Skoda Kodiaq
Skoda's big and bluff SUV is possibly one of the most practical cars you can buy, thanks to its gargantuan cabin, seats for seven and ruggedly reliable quality. It's actually pretty good to drive, too, but you can only choose from diesel or petrol power – there's no hybrid nor electric option as yet. Very expensive at the top end – into Audi price territory.
Price from €40,725
Co2 emissions 143-177g/km
Also try Peugeot 5008
Best premium crossover: Mercedes Benz GLC
The GLC is fast taking on the mantle of an old favourite – while rivals renew and refresh their products to try and topple it, the GLC's combination of practicality, quality, restrained styling and impressive on-road manners keep it in the pound seats. New diesel plug-in hybrid version is especially impressive.
Price from €58,615
Co2 emissions 51-191g/km
Also try BMW X3
Best premium SUV: Land Rover Defender
As ever, a recommendation for a Land Rover comes with the caveat "if it all holds together okay. . ." Reliability has never been a Landie strong suit, but the Defender comes with impressive initial quality and it certainly feels well made. Rugged-looking cabin is a thing of beauty and this Defender is as good to drive on-road as it is amid the mud and rocks. Plug-in hybrid P400e model especially impressive.
Price from €71,720
CO2 emissions 74-335g/km
Also try BMW X5
Best luxury SUV: Audi Q8
The Q8 just looks evil. Get it in a dark colour, with the optional alloys, and everyone will assume you're a Russian gangster. Whether that's a good thing or not is kind of up to you, but the Q8 is a genuinely exceptional car to drive, with impressive chassis responses for one so hefty, and a wonderfully well-made cabin. New plug-in hybrid version tones down the aggression, ever so slightly.
Price from €96,000
CO2 emissions 64-308g/km
Also try Porsche Cayenne
NEXT WEEK, WE NAME OUR OVERALL WINNER AND EXPLAIN WHY IT GETS THE TOP SPOT