I've built up a table of all the ships, separated into the same price range brackets as used in the post, but I've ranked each with a score from 1 to 10 for each of the main activities commonly done in Elite. The best ships in the game get a 10 and the worst get a 1. Bigger ships have more space for modules so tend to have higher performance across the board. I have now flown almost all of these ships in a variety of roles for hours at a time now so should have a fairly objective viewpoint on their performance.
For Combat, a ship must be able to dish out damage or be capable of surviving for a long time. Elite combat against NPC's tends to favour the faster more manoeuvrable ships, though a heavy tank can work well too. My ratings here are for mainly PVE combat in RES sites or combat zones, though I have taken into account a ship's PVP capabilities as well.
Trade ships are almost entirely based on their capacity to move cargo or passengers. As such, large storage space is the primary concern. A good jump range will boost this rating. Luxury cabins, only available to Dolphin, Orca and Beluga make such little difference to the money earned they are not a factor.
Exploration ships favour Jump range over all other considerations, but need a decent selection of internal slots to carry the preferred equipment. The Diamondback Explorer, Asp Explorer and Anaconda are the clear class winners here, but other ships are viable as well. Combat ships lose out here due to generally abysmal jump ranges.
The Missions category is for how a ship performs in a variety of different roles. This lumps together all missions that are not exclusively combat (Mainly assassination and massacre mission types), so a flexible load out and decent cargo space are important. So called "Multi - Role" ships suit this category well, but they tend to emphasise combat more heavily than needed for most mission types.
Mining heavily favours the bigger ships as there is a need to have many large internal modules for all the equipment and storage space for the resulting ores. Small ships just cant cope very well in this category.
The Total column simply adds the results of the other columns. Highest total in a price bracket may be considered the "best" ship, and lowest considered the worst, but this is not the total picture.
|Federal Assault Ship||8||5||4||6||5||28|
|Type 9 Heavy||3||8||4||5||8||28|
The 0-100k range has some interesting ships. They are all really cheap with few internal slots so can't really compete with later ships but can be a load of fun regardless. The Sidewinder is actually probably the best ship in this range because it comes free and is somewhat useful in all activities. You will usually earn enough money quickly in the sidewinder to get out of this price bracket long before you would consider upgrading these ships to their full potential. Worst ship of this bunch is probably Hauler. It is the worst ship in the game for combat and is outclassed in almost everything else by the Adder. It is however a pretty good cheap taxi and explorer with one of the highest jump ranges in the game. The Eagle is only good at fighting and only has marginally better firepower than the sidewinder but it is an absolute blast to fly and is awesome to take planetside for canyon runs. The Adder, despite scoring "best" in this bunch is actually my least favourite.
Ships in the 100k - 1m price range are still limited by size and therefore lack flexibility compared to their bigger counterparts. All of these ships have a combat rather than trade focus though some are better considered as Multi -role. The clear leader in the bunch is the Cobra Mk III, probably the most flexible ship in the game. It is slightly worse in combat than its peers but has better jump range than the combat ships and a lot more options for internal compartments. Yamiks calls this ship the "Space Jesus" and he's not wrong! Viper mk 3 is a great combat ship, one of the fastest and most manoeuvrable in the game but it cant really do anything else except shoot. The Mk 4 versions of Viper and Cobra are fatter, slower and more bulky variants of ships that excel due to speed, so I rate these significantly worse than the original version. The Cobra Mk4 was exclusive to those of us who pre-ordered Horizons or bought the lifetime pass, so only a handful of players can use it. In my opinion, its frankly terrible! Many people dislike the Diamondback Scout, as its not really suited for exploration but I quite like it for combat or missions at this level. It also has some PvP use.
The 1m-10m price range includes some really nice ships. On points, the two explorers, Diamondback and Asp, win out. These are clearly amongst the best exploration ships in the game. They also have flexible load outs so perform great for mission running and do pretty well at trade or combat as well. Both are excellent ships! The Type 6 is great at trade, a pretty decent explorer but not much good for anything else. The dolphin is also good at trade and exploration but probably outclassed by its peers. It does however win on good looks and sound! The vulture does one thing only - kill stuff. No smaller ship can match it in combat and it will give any bigger ship a real fight. If all you want is a killing machine, then look no further as it is AWESOME at that. The Asp Scout is actually a pretty good ship, average in everything but it is outclassed everywhere by other ships in this price range and is noticeably worse than its big brother Asp Explorer. It is just Mr Average in a school of exceptional students. The Imperial Courier is a nice ship to fly. It loses out in this bunch due to lacking cargo space but if you are combat, or more military mission focused its a great ride. The Keelback is probably the hardest ship in the game to rate fairly. It can do almost anything but does not have the flexibility needed to do anything particularly well. As the first ship in the game to be able to fit a Ship Launched Fighter it scores well in combat - but the mother-ship turns like a slug and isn't particularly well armed or armoured. Its jump range and cargo capacity limit its usefulness in other roles and you are nearly always forced to give up the SLF - in which case you should fly a different ship. It can be very fun to fly and the SLF makes it awesome.
By the time you have 10m-50m to spend on ships you probably have a fair idea of what activities you enjoy and probably a fleet of ships to do things in. You probably specialise your ships for one role at a time and will fly another ship or re-fit for a different task. In this price range, the Federal Dropship and Imperial Clipper are probably best for general mission running but both are behind rank grinds to access. The type 7 is good trader or miner but pretty much useless for anything else, though should get a buff in the next game patch. The Federal Assault Ship is a brilliant fighter and can be used for most other tasks, as can the Federal Gunship. The Orca is pretty good at most things but has the speed other trade ships lack for Smuggling and has some humorous uses in combat when specially outfit. My numbers say the Clipper is the best and Type 7 the worst of this price bracket but I'd struggle to pick one either way. No ship in this range isn't outclassed by ships in other price ranges.
The 50m-100m price bracket is dominated by the "best" multi-role ship and mission runner in the game - the Python. Its only weaknesses are the lack of a SLF and a below average jump range. There is pretty much nothing this ship cannot do and do well, often without needing to refit. The Fer-de-lance is probably the best fighter in the game but like many other combat ships, combat is all it can do. FDL and FAS are the best PvP ships available and are awesome at PvE as well. The Type 9 and Beluga round out this category. Both are good traders, but not a lot of use elsewhere. The Type 9 is being buffed in the next update which should improve its trade and mining capabilities further.
The final category is the most expensive ships in the game, above 100m. The Anaconda is made from unicorn farts and spider web thread and has almost magical abilities in most areas. As a miner/trader, this ship has enough space for everything you need and has a great laden jump range as well. As an explorer, it has the best jump range available in almost any configuration yet still has room for all the essentials and fun stuff as well. The Anaconda scores 44/50 in my rating system and is clearly the best overall ship in the game but is definitely not perfect. The Corvette and Cutter are the two end-game ships only available after an immense rank grind for fed or imperial factions as well as being hideously expensive. The Corvette is more combat oriented and the Cutter more trade/multi-role. They excel in these tasks but I feel they miss out somewhat on the fun aspect that smaller ships bring. The Type 10 is new to the game and doesn't score particularly well here against the other big ships but it is actually designed to be a Thargoid killer - something this rating system isn't really set up for.
Is there an overall best/worst? I'm not sure really. I'd probably pick the Python as best and Cobra Mk 4 as worst, regardless of the numbers. The ships I have flown the most are probably the DBS and the Type 7, for RES farming and trade/passengers respectively. DBS is a fun ship, the Type 7 - well its useful but that's damning it with faint praise!
I flew the Alliance Chieftain in the recent Beta for a while. It seems like a bunch of fun for combat, perhaps on par with the Vulture. I have no idea how it handles in other roles.
All ships have their uses. I often enjoy dropping back to my smaller ships after spending time in the big slow ones. I also like dinking about in a pimped out Sidewinder just for fun. Not everything is about the best way to make money fast!