Best family cars
Finding the best family car can be tough. Our top 10 rundown does the hard work for you
It's been rumoured that the humble family hatchback's days are numbered and will go the same way of the once hugely popular large family car. This looks, for now, like an overstatement, as even with the explosion in popularity of SUVs and crossovers, the list of the best-selling new cars in the UK is still often dominated by cars like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
So what’s the enduring appeal of hatchbacks? Well, on the crowded streets of this little island, they make a great deal of sense. They don’t take up a huge amount of room on the outside, so are quite easy to park, but offer decent practicality and enough boot space to haul around your kids’ paraphernalia as well as the weekly shop.
They’re also spacious enough to endure the occasional trip to flatpack furniture stores while even larger children will have enough space in the back to withstand long journeys without going into full tantrum mode.
You’ll also find that the best family hatchbacks cost significantly less to run than larger, heavier and bulkier SUVs and MPVs. A normal diesel family hatch should offer at least 55mpg, while official figures of 45mpg should be the norm for petrol versions too. Family hatchbacks’ smaller dimensions and lighter weight also mean they’re often much better to drive than the equivalent tall, heavy and high-riding SUV, without any compromises in ride comfort, either.
Naturally, safety is a key consideration when it comes to family cars and no car on this list was awarded less than the maximum five stars for safety from Euro NCAP, which makes them just as safe as a larger MPV or SUV.
Need more ISOFIX mountings? Read our best cars with three ISOFIX points feature. Looking for something bigger? Discover our best large family cars article. Or read on for what we think are the best family cars on sale in the UK right now.
The Skoda Octavia is one of the largest cars available in the family hatchback class and the latest model offers even more practicality, with a new ‘digital’ interior, plus a refined and enjoyable drive. The Octavia is still classed as a standard sized family car because it shares its platform with the eighth-generation VW Golf, but maximises available interior space while offering a huge boot that dwarfs those of some bigger cars.
We think the best engine is the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, which provides decent performance and returns over 50mpg. For those doing more miles, the most frugal diesel engine can return over 65mpg. As a close relation of the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3, the Octavia’s interior quality is now better than ever before with more of a hi-tech feel to it, and although this new model is slightly more expensive than the old car, it still undercuts many of its rivals.
If you want more space, the Octavia estate offers a formidable boot, and with the sporty vRS models and a plug-in hybrid Octavia iV also on sale, the Octavia lineup has a wide variety of models to suit nearly every requirement.
The Skoda Scala replaced the Skoda Rapid in the family hatchback class, and while its predecessor was rather mediocre, the Scala is anything but. Slotting into the Skoda lineup between the Fabia and larger Octavia, the new Scala is one of the best in the Skoda range and among our favourite family cars. It’s a testament to just what a great all-rounder it is that it features so highly in a list that contains such strong competition.
Compared to its nearest rivals, it's cheaper to buy and generously equipped, even in entry-level trim, and it comes with a tried-and-tested engine range that makes it efficient and affordable to run. Sure, it’s not the plushest car on this list, and it may be a bit ordinary to drive, but the Scala is yet another example of a quality Skoda product that is keenly priced and full of clever touches. Last but not least, the Scala has an outstanding Euro NCAP crash test result and has plenty of active safety features to keep passengers and other road users safe.
Are you one of those drivers who’s still surprised to hear a Kia hatchback mentioned in the same breath as the main competition? Go and drive the latest Kia Ceed and you’ll quickly appreciate the appeal of this Korean family-car contender. It looks impressive, with a sporty grille lifted from the Kia Stinger now part of a pleasing overall style. New chassis engineering brings with it more responsive steering and a ride that’s firmer than some rivals, but which also means you’ll have more fun tackling twisty tarmac than in most of the Ceed’s class rivals. A decent engine line-up provides plenty of choice, and there’s no longer a weedy entry-level engine either.
Interior quality is another Ceed strength, with design and feel of materials genuinely matching premium rivals. It's spacious and comfortable inside, too, with room for grown-ups in the back and a large boot that beats some of its big rivals for space. With plenty of safety kit and Kia’s impressive seven-year warranty, the Ceed’s good value is even more assured.
The BMW 1 Series is our favourite premium small hatchback, as it offers many of the luxuries and the high-quality feel of more expensive cars without costing a fortune in monthly PCP payments. It’s still great to drive but the switch from rear- to front-wheel drive has freed up extra space inside and allowed a bigger boot, which now matches its main rivals.
The 1 Series delivers on efficiency and performance - no model is slow or uneconomical - while its interior features all the tech buyers have come to expect.
Another VW Golf derivative, the latest Audi A3 is a marked improvement over the old model, which was starting to feel rather dated by the end of its life. The new one welcomes the biggest styling refresh in the model’s history, and it’s a similar story inside; besides the Audi badge, almost everything else is brand-new and very hi-tech.
There’s a broader range of engines, including both mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid options, and, like before, it’s a very refined car to drive. It emphasises comfort over sportiness, so keen drivers will be more at home behind the wheel of the 1 Series.
Spend the extra cash on the Golf over the Octavia and you’ll get a plusher interior, a slightly better driving experience, as well as the all-important VW badge and image. This new model is crammed with the latest technology, and Volkswagen has replaced buttons with touch panels wherever possible.
VW will continue to offer economical diesel models, a Golf Estate as well as halo performance models with GTI and R badges. Why is the Golf beaten by the Octavia, aside from price? Well, the Octavia is significantly more spacious; in fact, the standard Octavia hatchback’s boot is only a whisker smaller than the Golf Estate’s.
As a means of transporting families, the Ford Focus hasn't always had the measure of its rivals. The latest version, though, replaces the cramped rear seats of previous models with a truly spacious passenger compartment in which three adults can sit in comfort. The boot's bigger and more practical than before, too; it’s now almost identical in size to its main competitors.
There's more good news elsewhere – fuel economy is impressive, whether you choose the three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol or four-cylinder EcoBlue diesel engines, and there's loads of standard safety equipment – autonomous emergency braking on every model should make it as safe as family cars come. And, when you're finished with the school run, the latest Focus will make you smile on a favourite country road. If you’re a keen driver, the Focus is the best hatchback in this regard, even if you don’t go for the fast Focus ST. It's not quite the classiest family hatch, but it's a very impressive all-rounder.
The SEAT Leon is now an established contender in the family hatchback class, thanks in part to the high standards set by the previous model. Naturally, SEAT is aiming to continue that success with the latest version, so the looks haven’t changed dramatically. Instead, SEAT addressed criticisms of the interior, with the new Leon gaining more rear legroom and better quality materials and design.
The Volkswagen Group provides SEAT with some excellent petrol and diesel engines, plus a new 201bhp plug-in hybrid powertrain that’s capable of an electric range of 38 miles. While the Leon is related to the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT has worked hard to give it a more engaging driving experience and offer this within a sharply styled, practical and safe package.
Each generation of Honda Civic looks more radical than the last, but despite the space-age looks, it’s still a practical five-door hatchback at heart. The boot is massive and features a novel roll-out luggage cover, plus there’s loads of interior storage. The Civic feels very well built – Honda has a solid reputation in this regard – and there’s plenty of equipment fitted as standard
It’s very good to drive, too, with a wide range of engines, including a powerful 1.0-litre petrol that's our pick of the range - the Honda Civic Type R sits at the top of the tree and is great fun to drive. On the downside, the styling may not appeal to everyone, the infotainment system isn’t the best around, plus the sloping roofline means headroom is slightly restricted. Otherwise the Civic is hard to fault.
The latest Hyundai i30 is a stylish family hatchback that scores particularly well for safety. Impressive technology like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is fitted as standard, along with lane-keeping assistance and headlights that dip automatically. The i30 is comfortable and quiet on the move, while interior quality feels good, even if the dashboard design itself is a little conservative.
A 1.0-litre petrol engine with 118bhp is a good all-rounder, returning up to 45mpg, while the near-60mpg 1.6-litre diesel can be worth upgrading to if you have high annual mileage. The boot is a generous 395 litres, making it bigger than most rivals, and every i30 gets equipment like DAB radio, alloy wheels and Bluetooth as standard. Reliability seems to be good, and the i30 comes with a reassuring five-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard.