Family hatchbacks are some of the biggest sellers in the British new car market, with the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra all common sights on British roads.
Their appeal is obvious - they combine practicality, interior size, good road handling, ride comfort and value for money. It’s not surprising then that this market sector is always crowded and competitive each year. This makes it trickier for car buyers to pick out which is the best for them.
With that in mind, here's our rundown of the ten best hatchbacks you can buy in the new car market right now, including our top pick of the latest models.
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 Ford Focus and BMW 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 and a DAB radio. Also, the Golf’s standard boot capacity of 380 litres beats both the Focus and the Vauxhall Astra.
All of these strong points, combined with the Golf’s relatively competitive pricing and strong residuals, is enough to make this our top pick among all the family hatchbacks on sale now.
Audi A3 Sportback
The Audi A3 is available as a three-door or five-door model, with the latter called Sportback. It offers everything you’d expect from a premium hatchback. Both size and build quality are top notch and the styling is slick all round.
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. In its most frugal state, a combined fuel economy above 70mpg and CO2 emissions under 100g/km are possible.
The Audi A3 performs admirably in terms of handling, comfort or performance. All of these strong points do come at a high price though. There's no escaping the fact that the Audi A3 is one of the more costly choices of family hatchback. It is also, however, unquestionably one of the most sophisticated and easiest to live with.
The Ford Focus frequently takes lead position among the best selling family hatchbacks in the UK market. There are plenty of reasons to justify its success.
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.
In late 2014, 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 and 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, both of which emit less than 100g/km in CO2, meaning free Vehicle Excise Duty. The latest 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in the Focus made this car the first ever non-hybrid petrol-run 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.
The current Mazda3 hatchback, launched at the start of 2014, boasts a very appealing design and will do everything you require of a hatchback quietly and without fuss.
Whereas it use to be based on the Focus, the current 3 uses Mazda’s own chassis and driving technology, which is 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, even if they aren't class-leading. The Mazda3 is still a very likeable hatchback all-round.
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 style of the SEAT Leon looks sufficiently cool and different from the rest of the pack.
With the correct powertrain, the Leon will also provide enjoyment and comfort all in one package. 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 shouldn't be an issue.
You could consider saving a couple of extra grand for a Volkswagen Golf, but it’s unnecessary to be a badge snob around this car. The Leon has all the tools needed to be a decent family car and it looks the part as well.
The UK-built Vauxhall Astra hatchback has been ever-present among the top ten bestselling new cars in Britain for a few decades.
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 many specifications to pick 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 is safe and very well refined, though it does lack in excitement. But its low entry price, plus its smart and spacious design, allows the Astra to keep in touch with the market.
This is one of the much fresher entries in this segment. In recent years, Nissan has been rattling the family hatchback market with its Qashqai and Juke crossovers. The Nissan Pulsar, however, is the Japanese manufacturer’s take on a more direct challenger.
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 a hatchback that's different to the current norm, then this car is a worthy candidate.
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 are the EfficientDynamics models, which can offer sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. At the other end of the spectrum there are some potent petrol units available if you prefere a feisty driving expeirence.
BMW's 1 Series is generally 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 the rivalling Audi A3, you’ll need a larger budget then with most other family hatchbacks in order to get a 1 Series. If it is in your price range though, the BMW should feel like a worthwhile investment.
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. The Greenline III specification emits just 85g/km and the claimed fuel economy is 88.3mpg - a spectacularly high figure.
The drive and ride of the Octavia hatchback is far from spectacular, but the car always feels easy-going behind the wheel. The latter point will probably matter more to most family car buyers anyway.
Skoda's greatest accomplishment with the Octavia hatchback, however, is its 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 connectivity are all welcome standard features too.
The styling and badge appeal of the Octavia is admittedly not as strong as other hatchback alternatives. But there's absolutely nothing shameful from picking a new car from this company nowadays, and family hatchback drivers should find themselves very satisfied with the Octavia.
The previous 308 had an unenviable reputation for mediocrity and dullness but the current generation hatchback, launched in early 2014, represented a huge step forward from Peugeot.
While it’s priced similarly to the likes of the Focus and Astra, its sophisticated looks are even on par with entries from German premium brands. From the outside the prominent front grille pleases the eye, while inside the Peugeot has a deliberately simplistic, easy-going layout.
What’s also eye-catching about the latest 308 is the diverse engine range. If strong pace is a priority, then you have the feisty 156bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit to consider. If running costs are more of a concern, however, then 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 110g/km or less.
The standard boot capacity of 470 litres is also impressive and beats nearly every direct rival. Once you get use to the noticeably small steering wheel, the 308’s drive feels lively, although the likes of the Focus and BMW 1 Series are more fun.
Overall though, the Peugeot 308 is very close to matching the class leaders and represents great value for money.
Frequently asked questions
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.
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.