There was a time when the world drove British cars. Instead of bemoaning the British car industry’s downturn, we’d say it’s time again. Whether you’re considering that new limousine, the world’s most fashionable small hatchback or your choice of grand tourers and supercars, there’s a huge choice among British brands. Some have storied histories dating back to the dawn of the automobile, while others have sprung from the success of Formula 1. Here’s our pick of the best British car brands.
Best British car brands
Rolls-Royce may now be owned by BMW, but the cars hand-built at the company’s headquarters in Goodwood still claim to be the best in the world. The Spirit of Ecstasy graces the hood of every model, from the “affordable” Ghost through the controversial Cullinan SUV to the super-luxurious Phantom. Custom options extend to your own one-off coach-built Roller. Perfect if you’re a reigning monarch or a billionaire of refined taste.
Norfolk-based Lotus was founded by maverick engineer Colin Chapman, whose Formula 1 cars have won multiple world championships. “Simplify and add lightness” was the motto of Chapman, today’s Elise very much in that vein. Chinese owners Geely have financed the replacement, the Emira, as well as the Eletre, a sleek battery SUV and the extraordinary all-electric Evija supercar.
Really? Yes really. Luton’s best may have produced the archetypal highway repmobile — step forward Insignia — but they were also responsible for the minimalist VX220 and the Lotus Carlton, a 140 mph super saloon before there were super saloons. Corsa and Astra are among the country’s favorites, even if they don’t make the heart beat faster. Remember that Opel has won several touring car championships in real racing. More interesting than you might think.
The original Defender was the four-by-four who ruled the world. The Range Rover was the first luxury SUV. Today’s Land Rovers – from the boxy new Defender, through the Evoque, Discovery and Velar to the now super-luxurious Range Rover – may have a natural habitat on Chelsea’s King’s Road, but are still just as good uphill, downhill and any wading through the stream. Indian-owned Tata Motors has kept production largely in the West Midlands. One of the biggest.
Now part of Jaguar Land Rover, the big cats of the automotive world still live by their famous 1960s slogan of “grace, pace and space”. Who can forget the E-Type, such a symbol of the Swinging Sixties? Its spiritual successor, the F-Type, is a Porsche challenger, while the I-Pace is a leading electric SUV. F-Pace and E-Pace cater to more conventional crossover tastes, while the XE and XF are sports saloons in the grand Jag tradition.
The most fashionable hatchback in the world? We would say that. BMW’s reinvention of the 1959 Alec Issigonis classic was not without its opponents, but its brutal looks, sporty handling and characterful interiors have convinced a new generation of Mini enthusiasts. The electric Mini E is a particular new favourite, while the base Mini hatch can be customized in as many ways as enthusiasts have always done with the original. Still made at Cowley in Oxfordshire, Morris’s original home.
The chassis may now be aluminum and belong to an Italian investment group, but your next Plus Four or Plus Six not only looks like it was made in the 1930s – all wings and long hoods – but has more structural wood than the originals from HFS Morgan. Still hand-built in Malvern, Worcestershire, Morgan can claim to be the archetypal eccentric British sports car. Fast also with BMW engines. Tricycles available – and an electric future beckons.
Crewe proudly remains home to the company founded by WO Bentley, who made a name for themselves five times in the 1920s by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fast super-luxury saloons – think a saloon on wheels and you get the idea – are what Bentley, now part of the VW Group, is great at. Order a Flying Spur for speedy progress to your Monaco penthouse, a Bentayga SUV for the Alpine lodge and a Continental GT to descend the Mulsanne straight to Le Mans in memory of the Bentley Boys.
One of the greats of the Formula 1 world – Ayrton Senna won all three of his world championships in a McLaren – is now also a great sports car maker – even one of the best British car brands. Gordon Murray’s uncompromising F1 was a one-off limited production. Now Woking’s best offers a range of carbon fiber tube supercars, from the – relatively – mundane Artura and 720S to the outlandish Elva roadster that has anything but a windshield. The lightning-fast Senna is a fitting tribute to the world’s greatest F1 driver.
Where would James Bond be without his? Aston Martin’s DB5 remains the company’s best known thanks to 007 behind the wheel. Aston’s blend of hand-built luxury combined with superior handling and speed has resulted in some of the most desirable Grand Tourers ever made. Today’s spies – or just the average affluent enthusiast – can choose from the DB11 or DBS sports cars or, for the more challenging missions, a DBX SUV, more than capable of chasing thugs up the mountains.
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