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Best Motability cars to buy in 2020

Published: 07 February 2020

► Independence for those most in need
► Motability's range is remarkably diverse
► Enjoyable cars to choose in 2020

Car enthusiasts probably don’t spent much time thinking about Motability, given the necessary image of wheelchair adaptations and automatic base-spec transport – but as the largest fleet provider in the UK it’s a lifeline for people who need independence the most; and it’s not just for permanent conditions – circumstances with an extended recovery time can qualify for PIP (Personal Independence Payment).

This means that if you’ve encountered life-changing injuries that prevent you from driving your manual Porsche or classic Land Rover, don’t leap (however carefully) immediately to losing a cherished car or, indeed, losing the freedom (and enjoyment) that driving delivers. It may make sense to store your car while you need support, and you might be surprised by the variety of cars covered by that vital PIP award.

What is Motability? 

Although usually seen as just exchanging the independence payment for a car, you can spend more up front for premium models. Unlike a typical personal lease or PCP, maintenance, tyres and emergency cover are all included, as is insurance, with an assumption of 20,000 miles per year. For those most in need, and for people in long-term recovery, that overall bundle of costs covered – and the additional mobility support - can mean the difference between stress and isolation, or freedom.

Family cars and MPVs

The range of practical cars offered on Motability is, naturally, quite extensive. Over 1,000 medium to large cars and MPVs are available, many of which are without advance payment.

Kia Niro 1.6 GDI Hybrid 2

Kia Niro GDI Hybrid 2

Out of 107 typical family cars without advance payment, there are just eight automatic options – and the Niro is by far the most practical for the widest range of users, with a high driving position, 382-litre boot and environmentally-friendly hybrid petrol power. Producing 139bhp, it’s quick enough for the fleeting opportunities of city traffic, and Motability’s impressive levels of support are in addition to a class-leading seven-year warranty.

Although equipped with a hybrid powertrain, it’s not capable of a silent pure EV mode; on the other hand, the dual-clutch transmission is much more intuitive than most rival’s CVTs, so it feels very familiar to drive. The mid-specification 2 avoids the harsh ride of the top-spec models, and overall equipment is still generous.

BMW 218i Active Tourer

BMW 218 Active Tourer - premium MPV from £99 up front on Motability

Easily overlooked, the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer should, in theory, be the ideal car for almost everyone. Just £99 deposit gets you into the SE, with higher specifications and options packs still within three figures. A high driving position with expansive views inspires confidence, and front-wheel drive handling is secure and safe, but still engaging. As you’d expect from a BMW, you can get practical cloth, or luxury wood and leather trim.

Boot space, at 468 litres, is helped further by the wide tailgate opening and can also be adjusted by sliding the rear seats. There’s room for five adults, with generous rear legroom, yet it’ll fit easily into most car park spaces – automatically if you have the parking assistance pack. Add the appeal of a premium brand, and it’s a mystery why you don’t see more Active Tourers on the road.

Ford Focus Active Estate

Ford Focus Active Estate

You’ll find the Ford Focus Active available from £195 initial payment – in EcoBlue 120 automatic form. Go to the Focus Active Estate, and the cost rises to £395, but you get a truly practical car that looks great. This is one of those cars where less is more, too – as the Active, rather than the X, allows ordering as a cost option Ford’s impressive 18-way comfort seats. Going for the Focus Estate also means you get the most sophisticated suspension, and the Active’s taller ride height and less aggressive setup is impressive on neglected roads.

Traditional Ford convenience features complete a car that’s immensely easy to live with, from hands-free tailgate opening to the excellent heated windscreen. This is a tough section of the market – and the Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Hyundai Ioniq are competing for your attention too – but the Focus Active is a particularly effective, and attractive, blend.

Skoda Superb Estate

Skoda Superb Estate

Common-sense, versatile estate cars seem to be falling out of favour with buyers; when you consider cramped lifestyle models like a 3 Series Touring, it makes sense, too. Skoda's argument for the traditional five-door, relatively low box on wheels is very difficult to counter - the Superb's immense rear passenger space, comfortable interior and capacious boot are merely the opening statements; decent build quality, attractive style and 'simply clever' touches complete an immensely capable and well-made car that's impossible to overlook.

A manual version, with the 1.5 TSI petrol engine, will cost £845 up front; choose the very effective seven-speed DSG auto and that rises to £1245. For larger/grown up families or regularly carrying adults in the rear seats, long motorway runs and hard-working daily life the Superb is aptly named, and thoroughly competent.

Four-wheel-drive cars

If you’re in a remote or rural location with poor public transport, it’s easy to feel isolated if the weather closes services or means a conventional car will struggle. Most of the time in Britain, it’s just a few drivers who cause the hold-ups – but the confidence of all-wheel drive can help get around or use roads less-travelled.

Winter tyres on a two-wheel drive car are usually enough for Britain's short cold snaps, but are an expense (and storage requirement) that Motability does not cover. If you’re concerned about snow or roads that are less likely to be cleared, taking a 4x4 in the first place makes a lot of sense.

Suzuki Swift SZ5 4Grip

Suzuki Swift SZ5 4Grip

It’s small, it’s fun, it’s got a clever and capable four-wheel drive system – and it’s available with no deposit. The mild-hybrid 1.2-litre engine is well matched to this clever supermini, but the only transmission available is manual, which may limit appeal. However, it’s ideal for maintaining independence in rural areas without incurring high running costs.

As a supermini, the Swift’s relatively small luggage space and rear seats are offset by a good driving position and cheerful ambiance inside. The all-wheel drive technology should prove very capable when combined with the relatively light weight of this Suzuki.

Fiat Panda 4x4

Fiat Panda 4x4 driving on snow

The original Panda 4x4 was legendary for its mountain-goat abilities off-road, and charming supermini manners on-road. The latest version is more refined and sophisticated, but to keep rural Italian and Alpine buyers happy, still has a lot to offer in bad weather or on unpaved tracks and bridleways.

Ideal for gentle off-roading to get into the country, like the Suzuki it’s only available with a manual gearbox. It needs no deposit, has a lot of character and a touch of SUV attitude with a more upright cabin and good visibility.

Automatic 4x4s?

Automatic options with all-wheel drive are, inevitably, quite expensive. The most affordable is the Mitsubishi ASX 4x4 CVT, with a £799 initial payment, but we don’t recommend this – it’s poor to drive and cheaply finished inside. Move up to £1299 to £1499 and the variety expands dramatically, with the SEAT Ateca by far the most sensible and enjoyable choice (two-wheel drive models are much cheaper).

Seat Ateca - 4x4 costs more for Motability users, but it's still great value

Premium SUVs start at £1999 for the BMW X1, and £2,399 for the Volvo XC40; both of which are cheaper than run-of-the-mill cars such as the Nissan Qashqai.

Something a little sportier?

There’s absolutely no reason why your vital car shouldn’t also be fun; though the selection is smaller than with SUVs or family cars, there are a couple of cars that stand out for their character, looks or driving appeal.

Fiat 500C

Fiat 500C - four seater convertible available on Motability with no extra payment

For four seats, an open-top and the option of an automatic gearbox, the Fiat 500C is the only option available without an advance payment. It’s more of a large sunroof than a traditional cabriolet, but that has the advantage of decent refinement and the option to open at motorway speeds like a sunroof.

With a manual transmission the 500C’s fun and nippy, with light steering – the Dualogic automatic ‘box is an automated manual, so can feel just as effective, but it's less mooth and refined than a conventional setup. It's available with no upfront payment, making it one of the few self-shifting options you can get that way.

The Fiat 500's large doors help with access, but the boot’s got limited space and a small aperture, which means carrying any mobility equipment may need the rear seats to be folded and some faffing to fit it through the boot or front doors. On the other hand, this is a great value small city car, so if you don’t need bulky equipment at your destination it’s a very versatile choice.

Related to the 500C, but as a regular hardtop, you’ll find the exciting Abarth 595 70th Anniversary in Motability’s catalogue too.

BMW 2 Series Convertible

BMW 2 Series Convertible

It will cost you over £2299 up front – but that’s pretty good value given the ongoing costs and benefits. For that, you’ll get a 218 SE, with a 335-litre boot and room for four at a pinch. Although small, it’s better than a MINI Convertible (£1249), and has the benefit of rear-wheel drive if you want a genuinely sporty feel on the open road.

Convenience equipment is also impressive, though BMW’s best tech – such as the ability to drive the car out of a parking space using the key – is reserved for higher-end models. As with any lease, you can delve into the BMW options list to find the best kit, but you’ll have to pay for it up front and won’t see any extra return at the end.

Electric cars

Motability has supported electric vehicles for longer than most fleet operators – perhaps that’s why it’s offered EVs since 2013, starting with the Nissan Leaf. Choosing from over 30 battery electric and plug-in hybrid models covers everything from city cars to 4x4s.

Smart Fortwo EQ

The Smart Fortwo EQ has plenty of interior space for one, plus a passenger, and zero emissions

Nothing to pay up front, and a remarkably convenient short car with decent driver and passenger comfort, the Smart Fortwo is ideal for city life. Range from the 17kWh pack is limited to less than 100 miles per charge, but with big car safety and quick charging it’s the, er, smart-est option if you don’t need to go far. You can get a Cabrio version too.

Boot space, at 350 litres, is quite impressive – but remember there are no back seats. For that, you’ll want to look at the 17kWh Forfour EQ from £399 up front, and there are better four-door EVs, such as the…

Hyundai Ioniq 38kWh Premium

Hyundai Ioniq Electric - a practical electric car for Motability users

Still a little short on range, but at £749 one of the better value large EVs on offer, the Ioniq’s practical large five-door body has found favour with taxi drivers around London, thanks to low running costs and easy accessibility. Range is relatively short, given the relatively small battery for the size of car; it also reduces the bootspace a little.

Despite those shortcomings, for real-world use the Ioniq is a very effective set of compromises, with enough space, enough range for many drivers, and an affordable price. Overshadowed outside of Motability’s range by cars like the Tesla Model 3 or Nissan Leaf (not available at the time of writing), the Hyundai doesn’t broadcast its environmentally-friendly credentials, while getting on with the job effectively.

BMW i3

2019 BMW i3 with doors open

What does broadcast its futuristic, electric nature is the BMW i3. It’s relatively expensive, coming in at £1799 for the entry-level model, but what you get for that is a purpose-built electric car that goes further than even Tesla in the pursuit of optimised design. It’s one of the few mainstream cars you can buy that uses a carbon-fibre bodyshell, for a start – and the innovations don’t stop there. Like the Mazda RX8, the rear doors incorporate the B-pillar, making access to the rear space incredibly easy, and there are natural materials throughout the cabin.

Performance is brisk – particularly in the i3 S – and the latest 42kWh models have a 182-188 mile range, while also having the potential to reach 60mph in less than 7.0 seconds, depending on specification. A fraction over four metres long, it’s arguably the ultimate electric car for the city, with an artistic approach to styling and a premium brand that for the technology offered, isn’t charging a premium.

Further information about Motability

Motability leases run for three years for most cars, and five years for wheelchair adapted vehicles, with an allowance of 20,000 miles per year and 5p per mile excess charge. Business use isn’t the default for insurance, but it is available. If you don’t qualify for PIP and therefore, Motability, but have a long-term condition that requires support with transport, Access to Work may be able to help.

For more information about the charity, fleet operations and history of the organisation, read our guide to Motability. Prices quoted apply at the time of writing, and don't include options - but as Motability cars are provided by normal dealers, polite negotiation may get some optional items included. It's also worth noting that grants may be available to cover the up front payment in appropriate circumstances.

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By Richard Kilpatrick

Technology writer and photographer since the early '90s, now car-obsessed, too

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