The family’s traditional trunk, as we knew it before, no longer exists. Once a humble daily transporter of people and their luggage, these cars have been turned into five-door vacuum machines that offer something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a frugal diesel, a small turbocharged gasoline engine, cheap transport or something with a sophisticated taste or a sports cadence.
1. Volkswagen Golf
With the launch of the Mk8 Golf, Volkswagen has regained what many would consider its rightful place at the top of the family’s tailgate class. Mechanically speaking, the updates introduced on the latest Golf are relatively lightweight: it still sits on the same MQB platform as its predecessor and, except for the introduction of mild 48V hybrid technology, uses largely the same engine lineup.
But the sum of all these little tweaks makes for a seriously impressive car. When it comes to handling refinement, handling balance and performance, the Golf maintains its identity as the class’s standout all-rounder – and does so despite a slightly stiffer suspension setup that would now dissuade us from opting for torsion-models. equipped with beams. The interior space has also been improved and a high-tech infotainment offering will attract many. That said, not everyone will be convinced by its new exterior, and the cabin doesn’t promote the material softness levels we’ve been used to on previous Golfs.
The latest version of the GTI has proven to be an effective and engaging hot hatch, but with a sharper, more focused setup than ever, it has lost some of the everyday ease of use that so successfully marked its predecessors. The GTE version, however, is considerably stronger, too, and now looks more like a genuine hot hatch plug-in than ever before. And while we haven’t tried the 315bhp R in the UK yet, the first drives of VW’s latest full-footed mega-hatch are very promising. It may very well be the best performing incubator on the market overall.
2. Ford Focus
Ford’s new Focus may have lost its place at the top of the Autocar family’s body pile for the newest Mk8 Golf, but its excellent handling and superbly flexible and well-resolved handling means it’s still one of the best. Having arguably suffered a slight decline since the death of the Focus Mk1, the best-handling family hatchback in history is undoubtedly back to its best driver appeal.
There’s plenty of room inside, while an all-new platform and exterior have given the Ford a new lease of life. Your cabin still doesn’t offer the same levels of fit and finish as a Golf or Seat Leon.
This fourth-generation model is available with both gasoline and diesel engines, while entry-level models use a torsion bar rear suspension configuration and passive dampers instead of the multi-link arrangement, optionally partnered with adaptive dampers, from more powerful models. . Even the car’s simplest and least sporty configurations are far from their rivals in terms of handling dynamism.
The excellent 2.3 liter ST represents the sportiest offering in the range. Unfortunately, Ford has ruled out a full-bore RS for this model generation.
3. Seat Leon
Seat’s fourth-generation Leon remains closely related to the class-leading Golf as always, building on the same MQB platform and making effective use of the same engine lineup.
This last Leon is perhaps not as visually appealing as its immediate predecessor and this perhaps erodes part of its identity compared to their Golf and Skoda Octavia relationships. Be that as it may, however, it arguably remains the sharpest and funniest family hatching in the VW Group’s portfolio – even if it doesn’t quite match Focus for dealing with zest. Its interior is closely related to that of the Golf, it has an elegant appearance and offers a level of space and practicality among the best in class.
The Leon’s lower price is another advantage it has over the Golf, although it’s important to note that the 148 hp models don’t come with the more sophisticated rear suspension you get on the Golf. However, the last Leon remains a perfectly commendable incubation.
With the arrival of a plug-in hybrid model, tax-conscious business users can now step into a Leon that also falls in the 6% cash benefit range. Meanwhile, the sportier Cupra model is also available in plug-in form and will be joined by traditional petrol models in due course.
4. Audi A3 Sportback
The fourth-generation version of the Audi A3 builds on the features that have historically made it a hit in the two-family car market: it’s elegant, refined, comfortable, beautiful to look at, and extremely safe and stable to handle. It represents a calculated and sensible evolution of the existing formula rather than a dramatic revolution – and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.
Like its brothers Seat, Volkswagen and Skoda, the latest A3 is based on an evolved version of the VW Group’s MQB architecture, with these changes being introduced to make way for a more diverse powertrain lineup that includes mild hybrid and plug-in in variants. For now, the 306bhp S3 with all-wheel drive crowns the range, but an all-new 396bhp RS3 is due to arrive later in 2021 and will take the fight to the Mercedes-AMG A45 S when it does.
The more gasoline- and diesel-sensitive versions of the A3 can’t handle the same sense of enthusiasm and vigor as those of the BMW 1 Series, but their refinement and superior performance help make the A3 the most attractive all-rounder. The cabin has lost some of the material impact factor of its immediate predecessor, but the A3 is nevertheless our choice of the premium brand hatchback bunch.
5. BMW 1 Series
Making the top half of this list is something of a result for BMW, whose 1 Series hatchback – notoriously the only car in the class to attempt to wield a rear-wheel-drive chassis in the modern era – has what we might call a dynamically troubled past.
Suffice it to say that now that it has adopted the mechanical convention for engine layout and axle transmission, the last Series 1 has lost little and gained a lot. A front-wheel drive layout (four-wheel drive options are offered in conjunction with the more powerful engines) suits the car well and handling is clean and safe, with body control and driver engagement good enough to distinguish the car from the most of its rivals. The interior packaging, however, is much better than the rear-wheel-drive predecessor, with noticeably improved second-row space and luggage capacity.
A good choice of impressive gasoline and diesel engines, combined for the most part with sleek and efficient transmissions, and equally impressive in-flight infotainment technology, all make the 1 Series an easily recommended choice in the highly sought after premium family hatchery market . The new 128ti variant is shaping up to be a highly effective and exciting challenger for the Mk8 Golf GTI, and the four-wheel drive M135i is a seriously effective all-weather hot hatch.
6. Mazda 3
The fourth-generation Mazda 3 may very well be the prettiest family hatch currently on sale. And, joy of joy, it retains all the qualities that made its predecessor such an attractive candidate in this highly competitive class: strong value for money, agile handling and a choice of gasoline-powered atmospheric engines.
Inside, it’s more competitive with premium offerings in the hatchback class, thanks to higher levels of perceived quality than before. It also has levels of driver attractiveness that rival the Ford Focus, thanks to its fast, direct steering, an elegant, precise manual gearbox and fine body control.
The car’s 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine doesn’t provide enough power to allow it to take down the best in class, but the next-gen SkyActiv-X alternative is more torque and more efficient cruising. A slight reluctance to spin and a certain roughness under load are its only disappointments.
7. Skoda Octavia
The latest Octavia remains true to its roots, maintaining its traditional strengths: practicality and affordability.
In real estate, the Octavia simply trumps all its rivals in luggage space, while the liftback version isn’t exactly without space either. For driving, it may not offer the kind of engagement you get from a Leon or the same levels of sophisticated driving refinement as the Golf, but it certainly isn’t far off.
As always, it remains the pragmatist’s choice among his VW Group brethren. Those simply looking for an affordable family car, with acres of passenger space and storage, will be seriously impressed by what’s on offer here. At the same time, anyone leaving a Focus can be a bit put off by its comparatively calm character. The new vRS models – which are available in petrol, diesel and plug-in versions – do much to rectify these complaints.
8. Kia Ceed
It’s the third luck for the South Korean manufacturer, as this third generation Ceed is the most convincing so far.
Handling and steering have found a greater level of sophistication than ever before, and the cabin offers plenty of room for four adults, though it still lacks some of the classy material appeal of higher-end competitors. Its diesel engines are smooth and refined and can offer impressive economy.
The Ceed is still a bit out of the class leader position, but it’s still a worthy competitor in an incredibly competitive segment. Meanwhile, the Proceed compact fire brake has design appeal, and no small amount of driver appeal, to increase the Kia family’s hatchback range.
9. Honda Civic
Over the course of 10 models, the Honda Civic has gone through a multitude of changes from the mundane to the divisive. This new generation car is the biggest that ever lived and is just as impressive as its predecessors, albeit in a more conventional way. Dynamically, the car runs better than before.
Honda’s new gasoline engines are impressive, even if the triple isn’t quite able to match Ford’s 1.0 liter unit for high-revving driver engagement. The hot hatchback version of the latest generation Civic Type R, in turn, is excellent.
10. Mercedes-Benz Class A
The latest version of Mercedes in the compact family trunk is a more conventional car than A-Class regulars may be used to, but in ways that count for most owners, it’s certainly no worse for the commerce.
Having grown significantly since the latest generation version, the A-Class is now among the biggest hatchbacks in the segment. A sophisticated, tech-rich interior is the car’s main selling point. It can be obtained, in more expensive finishes, with a pair of widescreen instruments and infotainment screens and Merc’s latest MBUX voice recognition software, which works consistently well.
The inner packaging isn’t perfect, with oddly protruding inner knobs stealing knee space on both lines, but even so, there’s decent space on offer.
The driving experience, however, is generally smooth and quiet and can be quite energetic, depending on which engine you choose. Mercedes’ more powerful options are worth the extra expense; likewise, the rear suspension is independent of its more expensive derivatives, which makes the A-Class a dynamic combination for most cars in the class. The plug-in A250e model, meanwhile, offers an electrical range of more than 40 miles, allowing it to fit into the attractive 6% cash benefit bracket.