What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Small family car contenders

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  • 16 categories of awards
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Best buy less than £13,000
Hyundai i30 1.4 Classic
List price £12,260
Target Price £11,483

Three offerings from manufacturers once thought terribly unfashionable – but which are now producing cars on a par with all but the very best – contested this sector. The Hyundai i30, Kia Cee’d and Skoda Octavia have all been refreshed during the past year, and they were all in with a shout.

The Hyundai is now the most expensive of the three, although there’s no more than the price of dinner for two between them, and even at £12,260 it hardly constitutes highway robbery. Crucially, it is the only one of the three with stability control– it’s a potential life-saver that we’d like to see fitted as standard
to every car.

That, and a slightly softer ride, were what separated the Hyundai from the Kia, with the Skoda an honourable and close third. What this sector really proves, though, is that there are outstanding-value small family cars out there if you’re willing to bury your prejudices – £12,000 or less won’t even get you a middle-order supermini from many European and Japanese manufacturers.

The Hyundai, Kia and Skoda are all well made, spacious, good to drive and cheap to buy and own, and two of them come with warranties that shame even luxury-car manufacturers – five years in the case of the Hyundai and a unique seven years from Kia.

Hyundai i30 performance
0-62mph 11.7 seconds Top speed 116mph
Running costs
Economy 46.3mpg CO2 145g/km Insurance group 13

What the testers thought...
I thought the revised Kia Cee’d would win this sub-category when I drove it in Austria, but the i30 has a noticeably better ride on rough UK roads. Steven.Huntingford@whatcar.com


Best buy £13,000 to £18,000
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI 122 SE 5dr
List price £17,456
Target Price £16,428

Would the new Vauxhall Astra depose the Volkswagen Golf? That was what we were continually asking ourselves as details of the British-built hatchback started to dribble out.

An early look at it that suggested Vauxhall had got it right on quality; a drive of a prototype model made us start to believe the engineers had played their part; then there were tweaks to the production car based on feedback from those early sessions.

Vauxhall has done a good job – no doubt about it – but you can’t help feeling that it’s tried to make a Golf and has fallen a few yards short. It’s the figures that don’t stack up, though. The Astra is more expensive to buy than a comparable Golf and will lose money at a faster rate while costing roughly the same in day-to-day bills.

The Golf is a great all-rounder: it’s spacious enough for five and their bags without too many problems, and the cosseting ride shames that of many luxury cars. It’s also more fun to drive than the Astra, and our chosen model has a gem of an engine that is as punchy as it is economical.

The power shift in this class is now evident from the cars that run the Golf closest for overall value – the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d. They might not be as good to drive or as classy as the leading European models, but they aren’t that far behind.

VW Golf performance
0-62mph 9.5 seconds Top speed 124mph
Running costs
Economy 45.6mpg CO2 144g/km Insurance group 16

What the testers thought...
The Golf’s record-breaking star rating tally has yet to be beaten and, to be honest, we’re not sure it ever will be. It’s all the car that most people will ever need. Ivan.Aistrop@whatcar.com

Best buy more than £18,000
Toyota Prius 1.8 VVT-i T3
List price £19,505
Target Price £19,023

It had to be the Prius. With the Copenhagen climate conference still fresh in everyone’s minds and the certainty that politicians will look for ever more ways of levering money out of car owners, especially those perceived to be in any way un-green, Toyota’s family hybrid is a natural choice.

This isn’t just a sympathy vote for the environmental lobby. The latest Prius deserves its place – not least because it does its job far better than the model it replaces. It has a larger petrol engine and a more powerful electric motor, but far from being contradictions in a supposedly green car, they make the Prius more economical and capable of all-electric town driving for a (slightly) greater percentage of the time.

You’ll have to be gentle with the accelerator to get close to the official 72.4mpg average figure, but with CO2 emissions of just 89g/km, you’re already quids in because your tax bills are low.

It just feels a more harmonious car than the old model; one designed from scratch as a hybrid rather than something asked to house a petrol-electric drivetrain it was never comfortable with.

Alternatives? Well the Volvo1.6-litre diesel DRIVe with stop-start is the best if you’re not yet ready to take the hybrid route, and the BMW 116d with Efficient Dynamics is worthy if practicality isn’t top of your priorities.

Toyota Prius performance
0-62mph 10.4 seconds Top speed 112mph
Running costs
Economy 72.4mpg CO2 89g/km Insurance group 15

What the testers thought...
I wasn’t sure that the new Prius looked any better than the
old car, but it’s grown on me and there’s no doubt it’s a more
well-rounded, more mature car. Roger.Stansfield@whatcar.com


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What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Small family car winner


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