Small family car What we were looking for: A car to excel at everything from family holidays to daily commutes, that's affordable to buy and own, and gives the driver some fun
The contenders Best buy under £12,000 Hyundai i30 1.4 Comfort List price £11,160 Target Price £10,331 Best web price £9570 (www.drivethedeal.com)
Best buy £12,000 – £15,000 Nissan Qashqai 1.6 Visia List price £14,048 Target Price £13,128 Best web price £12,580 (drivethedeal.com)
Best buy over £15,000 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI 122PS SE List price £15,962 Target Price £15,337 Best web price £14,433 (www.uknewcars.com)
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The winner is… Small family car 1.4 TSI 122 SE 5dr List price £15,962 Target Price £15,337
Classy, affordable, quiet, comfortable, spacious, solid: the Golf really is the works
It takes a special car to win the Small Family Car of the Year award three years running — and the Volkswagen Golf is exactly that.
You can thank evolution; this is the sixth-generation Golf, which takes the excellent fifth-generation model as its basis, and polishes every part until its sparkle would make Mr Sheen jealous.
In the cabin It all starts as soon as you sit in the driver's seat. There's so much adjustment that it doesn't matter whether you're proportioned like Robbie Coltrane or Danny DeVito, you'll be perfectly comfortable.
Next comes the switchgear. It's classy and feels suitably expensive, yet everything is exactly where you expect it to be and a cinch to use – you won't need a teenager to explain how to work the Golf's controls.
Whether it's teenagers or adults you're carrying, they'll all have plenty of room in the rear seats, while the large, well-shaped boot will easily swallow everyone's luggage.
Refinement Start the engine and you'll have to check the rev-counter to make sure it's running — it really is that quiet. Move off and the tranquillity continues, with only the merest background hum of engine, road and wind noise telling you you're actually moving.
The ride certainly won't provide any clues either, because it masks the worst that British roads can throw at it — and UK roads have a lot to throw. Potholes, cracked Tarmac, speed bumps — nothing fazes the Golf.
It's an entertaining companion when you're in the mood for some fun, too, because it has precise controls, well-weighted steering and agile, composed handling.
Performance Then there's the engine — they don't come much better than the 1.4 TSI. Don't let its diminutive size put you off; it's got bags of low-rev pull, so brisk acceleration is merely a flex of your ankle away, but if you leave your racing boots at home, it'll average 45.6mpg. If the Golf is your company car, carbon dioxide emissions of 144g/km mean you'll also pay just 16% in tax.
Finally, when the time comes to turn the engine off and go indoors, you'll be safe in the knowledge that your Volkswagen's desirability will impress the neighbours and keep resale values high. Yes, it'll cost you a little more to buy than a Ford or Toyota, but you'll be quids-in when the time comes to change your car.
Whatever you need your car to do, the Golf does it — and brilliantly, too. That's why we believe it's the best small family car you can buy.