Best and worst – small family cars

  • What is the only five-star car?
  • Find out which are the best of the rest
  • The cars that are best avoided, too
There are plenty of small family cars to choose from, but which one should you pick?

We'll take you through the best options and show you the small family cars you'd be wise to avoid.

The best of the best
The small family car sector is packed with highly competitive models, but one car stands head and shoulders above the rest – the Volkswagen Golf.

It was our pick of the sector in our Car of the Year Awards 2010, narrowly missing out on the overall crown, and has also just been made our Green Car of the Year with the efficient Bluemotion version.

All but the least-powerful petrol version are fine options, while even the cheapest S specification includes air-conditioning, remote central locking and plenty of safety features. Our favourite model is the turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol in Match trim.

Some rivals offer a little more space in the cabin and boot, but the Golf isn't small and is unrivalled in its winning combination of comfort and control.

Build and parts quality are good, while the popularity of the car means resale values remain strong.

The Golf is a cracking car that's deservedly in a league of its own, the only small family car that we currently give our top, five-star rating.

The best of the rest: Hyundai's i30
The best of the rest
Visit our smally family car review homepage and you'll find the top five options are completed by the Hyundai i30, Toyota Prius, Skoda Octavia and Mazda 3.

There's something for everyone with these cars. Hyundai's i30 excels on value with mouth-wateringly low prices, a long list of standard equipment and the peace-of-mind of a five-year warranty.

The Hyundai badge might not strike you as particularly sexy, but we reckon if you take even a passing look at an i30 you'll be impressed.

The Toyota Prius has environmental credentials on its side with low emissions – NOx and particulates as well as CO2. It wasn't quite good enough to beat the VW Golf to the laurels in our Green Car of the Year Awards, but it came close.

It's not just a green car. It's comfortable, has decent space and plenty of equipment. Fuel bill will also be super-low, if you drive it right.

If space is at the top of your agenda, look no further than the Skoda Octavia. It's so big we've had plenty of heated discussions about whether it should actually be classed as a family car and compete against the likes of the Ford Mondeo rather than a Ford Focus.

The extra space doesn't mean you have to shell out extra money, however, or that you'll be short-changed on equipment.

For something a little different, and a little more sporty, the Mazda 3 could be for you. The styling is sharp, and so is the drive. The steering is responsive and there's plenty of grip for a fun ride.

Prices are good, too, as are resale values, while every model in the range is very well-equipped.

So, what about Britain's best-selling small family car – the Ford Focus? The range rating has dropped to three stars, so it's behind all of these four-star contenders. The all-new Focus is on the way, however.

We're expecting big things from the new Focus, so look out to see whether it can restore Ford to a top-five spot or even dethrone the VW Golf.

Our comparison tool is a great way to narrow down your options.

The Proton Gen-2. In a one-star class of its own
Some to avoid
Use the drop-down menus in the car review homepages and you can sort the wheat from the chaff by ranking from best to worst star rating.

Proton brings up the rear with the Gen-2 – the only car in this class on a lowly one star. Prices are cheap, and the car doesn't look so bad, but resale values are awful and cabin quality is dreadful.

Mitsubishi's Lancer saloon is next, and the hatch version doesn't do much better. List prices might look tempting, but these aren't cheap cars to run and the ride just isn't good enough.

You might be a little surprised to find a Honda third worst, but the Insight is noisy, poor to drive and the materials in the cabin feel too cheap. Honda has recently reacted to negative feedback from customers and the press, and revised the car just over a year after its launch. We haven't driven the updated car yet, but will post our verdict on whatcar.com as soon as we do.

The Mercedes-Benz CLC also sits on just two stars. Resale values are strong, but you'll have to pay through the nose to get a CLC in the first place. Too expensive, the ride isn't good and, for a Mercedes in particular, the cabin doesn't feel special enough, either.

Rounding off the worst five small family cars is the Chevrolet Lacetti. Chevrolet has recently extended is warranty to five years, and also offers free servicing. The Lacetti has decent space and the 1.6 model is well equipped, but otherwise it's disappointing.

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