With so much choice, how do you pick your ideal family car? Simple: you whittle it down to the half-dozen that really matter
In this era of segment-defying SUV-cum-coupes and trackday-ready people carriers, it’s easy to forget that most people still buy something traditional. Something like a five-door hatchback – a form of vehicle which still accounts for major sales volumes.
There are literally dozens of car makers with offerings in this segment. So there’s a lot of choice – which can all too easily put your head in a bit of a spin.
To help pull you out of it, here’s our selection of the six best. You might see a slight theme running through it, but what matters most is that each of these cars will do a fine job of looking after you and your family. Each has its own merits, but all are strong across the board.
1: BMW 1 Series
If your idea of a family car is one that’s fun to drive, you’ll struggle to see past the 1 Series. With a range of strong engines driving the rear wheels, entertainment is never far away – yet despite its agile handling, it rides with stress-free suppleness. It’s a winner for running costs, too, thanks to low emissions and fuel consumption – other hatchbacks beat it for practicality, but if you can live with that it’s a bit of a star.
Best buy: 116d SE
2: Seat Leon
Basically, the Leon is a Volkswagen Golf in a different set of clothes. There’s more to it than that, but as a bottom line it gives you an idea of what it is – and why you should take it seriously. It’s a practical family motor with plenty of kit, and Seat’s sporty nature means it’s actually more involving to steer than its illustrious relative. You can see where they’ve saved money on some of the cabin materials, however, and not being a Golf it depreciates faster.
Best buy: 1.4 TSI 150 FR
3: Vauxhall Astra
If you’ve experienced earlier Astras and been less than impressed, don’t dismiss the new one out of hand. It’s not the reigning European Car of the Year for nothing. If it has weak points, they’d be in its comfort and refinement – but its strengths include excellent practicality, lots of kit and a better all-round driving experience than you’d ever imagine. We’d go as far as to say that it might finally have got the better of the Ford Focus.
Best buy: 1.4T SRi
4: Volkswagen Golf
We’ve had the Seat Leon, and now here’s the real thing – the Golf is a legend of a car, and without doing anything clever-clever it just manages to be a cut above. You do pay for the reputation VW knows it has, but it’ll hold its value strongly too, so whole-life costs are manageable – and with good, frugal engines and decent kit lists (the Match model is best for this), the current Golf is the best car ever to bear its illustrious name.
Best buy: 1.4 TSI 125 Match
5: Audi A3 Sportback
Yet another entry from the VW Group, the A3 Sportback has a good range of engines and extremely tidy road manners to go with its classy, spacious and impeccably made cabin. This is the premium choice in the family car market – it has an air of class that permeates everything it does.
Best buy: 1.4 TFSI SE
6: Skoda Octavia
Saving the best for last, and making it four out of six for VW and its fellow brands, the Octavia is a Golf-based car that feels more like the progeny of a Passat. It’s not the one to choose if you want to make a big entrance, but for comfort, practicality and sheer space it takes some beating. It feels classier in the cabin than you might expect, too, and very well made – despite having prices that make its competitors weep.
Best buy: 1.0 TSI 115 SE