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Top ten best family hatchbacks

Last Edited: 16/12/2014
In this guide:

    Family hatchbacks are some of the biggest sellers in the UK car market, with the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra all common sights on British roads.

    These cars, also known in the industry as C-segment models, mix together practicality, interior size, good road handling, ride comfort and value for money. They are the undoubted all-rounder in European markets, with their popularity guaranteed to continue.

    It’s not surprising then that there’s an ever-growing list of hatchbacks on the market, making it tricky to know which manufacturers make the best options. 

    With that in mind, we've compiled a list of what we think are the best small family hatchbacks on the market.

    Check out our rundown of the top ten best hatchbacks below, including our top pick down below.

     

    Audi A3 Sportback

    The Audi A3, available as a three-door or five-door model, offers everything you’d expect from a premium hatchback. Both size and build quality are top notch and the styling is slick all round.

    The larger and more practical five-door version is called Sportback, a term Audi uses for all of its five-door hatchbacks. There’s lots of room in the back for seating adults and boot space is handy at 380 litres as standard.

    Engines consist of a mixture of punchy petrol units and low-cost diesels, including a 178bhp 1.8-litre TFSI unit and a 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI. The latter records 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km.

    The Audi A3 shouldn’t disappoint in terms of handling, comfort or performance. 

    All of these strong points do come at a high price though. The Audi A3 is certainly one of the more costly choices of family hatchback. It is also, however, unquestionably one of the best and easiest to live with.

     

    Ford Focus

    The Focus frequently takes lead position among the best selling family hatchbacks in the UK market.

    There are plenty of reasons to justify its evident popularity. The latest Focus hatchback boasts class-leading handling, huge interior space and several wallet-friendly engines. The Focus does it all, and it generally does it better than competitors.

    Not that long ago, the Focus range received a facelift and some technical updates to give it a more premium feel and boost efficiency.

    Engines options include an 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel, which delivers 74.3mpg and emits just 98g/km.

    The Focus also offers the outstanding 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, with outputs of 99bhp or 123bhp and CO2 emissions from just 99g/km. The EcoBoost engine in fact made the Focus the first ever non-hybrid petrol family car in Europe to offer sub-100g/km CO2 emissions.

    Some competitors may have an edge in practicality or luxury, but that doesn’t stop the Focus from being an outstanding car overall.

     

    Mazda3

    The current Mazda3 hatchback, launched at the start of 2014, boasts the brand’s latest and attractive Kodo body language. This car will also do everything you require of a hatchback quietly and without fuss.

    Whereas it use to be based on the Focus, the latest 3 uses Mazda’s own chassis and driving technology branded as Skyactiv. This combination of lightweight components from Mazda allows the 3 to deliver potent performance, low running costs, a comfortable ride and sharp handling.

    The powertrain selection includes a 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit and a 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel. CO2 emissions range between just 107g/km and 135g/km for the hatchback.

    The Mazda3’s space and equipment levels are reasonable, but it does fall short next to its most illustrious rivals in these areas. That doesn’t stop the Mazda3 from being a very likeable hatchback though.

     

    SEAT Leon

    Since it has Volkswagen Golf underpinnings, the Leon should always be a competent car, but it's also fun to drive, comfortable and well-built too.

    In the right trim, the SEAT Leon looks sufficiently cool and different from the rest of the pack.

    With the correct powertrain, the Leon will provide enjoyment and comfort all in one, too. For example, there’s the 2.0-litre TDI diesel which boasts 148bhp or 181bhp and keeps CO2 output below 110g/km. The 109bhp 1.6-litre TDI Ecomotive offers decent grunt yet it emits just 87g/km in CO2.

    All current Leon hatchbacks are five-door and have a big cabin, so practicality worries aren't an issue.

    You could always save a couple of extra grand for a Volkswagen Golf, but it’s unnecessary to be a badge snob. The Leon has all the tools needed to be a decent family car and it looks smart as well.

     

    Vauxhall Astra

    The UK-built Vauxhall Astra hatchback has been ever-present among the top ten bestselling new cars in Britain for a few decades. It regularly tussles with the Focus and the Golf to attract the latest family car buyers.

    Helping this car keep with up its illustrious rivals is its very competitive price and the diverse specification line-up. Also welcome is the plentiful head and legroom for passengers both front and rear.

    There are a huge number of models present in the Astra hatchback range to suit different priorities, whether its speed or running costs. If the latter is your main concern, then units like the 129bhp 1.7-litre CDTi diesel, with a CO2 output of just 99g/km, should tick the relevant box.

    The driving experience of the Astra ultimately falls short next to its main rivals. But its low entry price, plus the smart and spacious design, allows the Astra to keep in touch with the market.

     

    Nissan Pulsar

    This is one of the much fresher entries in this segment. For over five years, Nissan has been rattling the family hatchback market with its Qashqai crossover SUV.

    The Pulsar, however, is the Japanese manufacturer’s take on a more direct hatchback rival.

    The lengthy wheelbase of the Pulsar allows it to offer plentiful legroom for front and rear passengers. The standard boot capacity of 385 litres is also very good for a hatchback.

    Trim levels are appealing, with even basic models including air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and a five-inch colour screen.

    In other areas the Pulsar performs competently, if not outstandingly. In a market sector which is always difficult to crack, the Pulsar is overall a very respectable first effort from Nissan.

    If you’re after something different to the current norm, this car is worthy of your consideration.

     

    BMW 1-Series

    The 1-Series hatchback, available with three or five doors, features powerful and fun petrol engines and some very efficient diesels as well.

    Particularly impressive is the 120d model, which has an 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel that averages 62.8mpg and records CO2 emissions from just 114g/km. For even lower running costs there’s the 116d EfficientDynamics model, which offers 114bhp and a CO2 output of just 99g/km.

    The BMW is also fun to drive and one key reason for this is that, unlike with other family hatchbacks, the 1-Series utilises rear-wheel drive. There’s equal weight distribution across the car and it feels well-poised through corners.

    The 1-Series also has a luxurious interior with loads of equipment as standard. Included is air conditioning, a radio and CD player, a leather steering wheel and stop-start engine technology.

    In a similar vain to its rival Audi A3, you’ll need a larger budget then with most other family hatchbacks to get a 1-Series. If it is in your price range though, the BMW should feel like a worthwhile investment.

     

    Skoda Octavia

    The Skoda Octavia hatchback is a very competent family car which benefits extensively from Volkswagen’s high-quality engineering.

    All specifications offer low running costs, particularly those that use the 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine. For several models this engine delivers 109bhp and a 99g/km CO2 output. For the Greenline III specification, the CO2 output is cut to just 85g/km and the claimed fuel economy is 88.3mpg.

    The drive and ride of the Octavia hatchback is far from spectacular, but the car always feels easy behind the wheel.

    Where the Octavia hatchback really excels is in practicality. The cabin feels all-round spacious and well-designed. The standard boot capacity of 590 litres easily beats what’s offered from any of the Octavia’s direct rivals. Air conditioning, a DAB radio and Bluetooth are all welcome standard features.

    The styling and badge appeal of the Octavia is admittedly not as strong as other hatchback alternatives. If you can overlook that though, then the Skoda can prove to be a useful and comfortable mode of family transport.

     

    Peugeot 308

    The previous 308 had an unenviable reputation for mediocrity and dullness but the latest hatchback, launched in early 2014, represents a huge step forward for Peugeot.

    While it’s priced similarly to the likes of the Focus and Astra, its sophisticated looks are comparable even to entries from German premium brands. From the outside the prominent front grille pleases the eye, while inside the Peugeot has a deliberately simplistic layout.

    What’s also eye-catching about the latest 308 is the engine range. At one end of the spectrum you have the feisty 156bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit. Then at the other end there’s options like the 118bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel that emits a mere 82g/km in CO2.

    Other engines available including a 128bhp 1.2-litre petrol and 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which emit just 110g/km or less.

    The standard boot capacity of 470 litres is also impressive and beats almost every direct rival. Once you get use to the small steering wheel, the 308’s drive feels lively, although the likes of the Focus and BMW 1-Series are more fun.

    Overall, the Peugeot 308 is edged out by the class leaders but it isn’t far off them and still represents great value for money.

     

    Volkswagen Golf – top pick

    An evergreen sight on roads, the latest Volkswagen Golf is one of the strongest yet. 

    Engines and suspension set-ups are mostly carried over from the previous Volkswagen Golf model, but some tweaks ensure it’s still up to the job. The latest Golf is a little bigger and wider than its predecessor, while the steering is also more precise.

    Happily, the Golf offers a huge amount of front-end grip and there’s minimal bodyroll through the corners. While the likes of the Focus and 1-Series feel less artificial, the Golf is still very good to drive. The car is also outstanding in terms of build quality and reliability.

    The Golf is pricier than its main rivals but not so much that it feels out of reach to many family car buyers. Its classy interior and generous equipment list helps to make the extra cost feel worthwhile. Standard kit includes air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and a 5.8-inch touchscreen.

    The Golf’s boot capacity of 380 litres beats both the Focus and the Astra.

    All of these strong points, combined with the Golf’s relatively competitive pricing and strong residuals, means it’s our top pick among all the family hatchbacks on sale now.

    Frequently asked questions

    What does hatchback mean?

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    The term hatchback can be used for any car which is designed with a door across the full width at the back end that opens upwards – this is typically called the boot door.

    What hatchback has the biggest boot?

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    Out of all the new family hatchbacks currently on sale in the UK, the Skoda Octavia offers the biggest standard boot capacity. With all the seats up, the Octavia’s boot measures at 590 litres, which is more than even what some saloons offer.  With the rear seats down, the Octavia’s total load capacity goes up to 1,580 litres.

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