Best family cars 2021

What makes a good family car and which models should you be considering? Here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the ones to avoid...


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What Car? team

Many people who once would have chosen a traditional 'family hatchback' are now buying SUVs and MPVs instead.

However, that doesn’t mean the family hatchback market is dead; it still accounts for a huge number of sales and is very competitive, so there are some great buys out there.

But what makes a good family car? Well, it has to be practical, cheap to run, good to drive and well equipped; in other words, it needs to be good at pretty much everything.

Here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the models that are best to steer clear of.

10

Kia Ceed

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£18,473

RRP from £19,700 to £29,020

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There are more practical options, but Kia's family hatchback impresses with a class-leading warranty, a well-sized boot and the fact that entry-level versions represent good value for money. Stick with the 1.0-litre petrol engine and '2' trim and you'll enjoy the sweet spot in the Ceed range.

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Pros

  • Entry-level versions represent good value for money
  • Class-leading warranty
  • Decent-sized boot

Cons

  • Not especially practical
  • Weak safety and security ratings
  • Unsettled ride over rough surfaces
9

Honda Civic

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£20,136

RRP from £21,530 to £39,995

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It may be the raucous Type R hot hatch that's our favourite in the Civic range, but the regular car makes a good case for itself too, with lots of standard safety kit and a big boot. It's decent to drive, too.

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Pros

  • Pretty comfortable and tidy handling
  • Our favourite SR trim has lots of standard toys and safety kit
  • Big boot

Cons

  • Woeful infotainment system
  • Rear head room isn't very good
  • Noisy at motorway speeds
8

Mazda 3

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£20,925

RRP from £21,800 to £32,365

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Although Mazda trades on a sporty reputation, the 3 doesn't get anywhere near to a Ford Focus in terms of handling. However, it's impressively refined and comes very well equipped, while interior quality is a match for prestige brands and the infotainment system is great.

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Pros

  • Plenty of standard kit
  • Refined and quiet at speed
  • Great build quality

Cons

  • Average handling
  • Cramped rear seats
  • Boot could be more versatile
7

Mercedes A-Class

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£22,652

RRP from £24,095 to £57,195

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Safe, good to drive and with a truly spectacular interior, the A-Class is one of the most appealing family cars on sale today. And while the entry-level diesel (A180d) makes most sense for the majority of buyers, the more powerful A250 petrol is also worth considering. A BMW 1 Series is more exciting in the bends, though.

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Pros

  • Strong safety rating
  • Feature-packed infotainment system
  • Good to drive and very comfortable

Cons

  • Not cheap to buy outright or on finance
  • Restrictive and pricey option packs
  • Poor reliability record
6

Toyota Corolla

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£23,007

RRP from £24,480 to £31,430

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The Corolla's rear seats are cramped for six-footers, but this hybrid family car offers super-low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions that make it an excellent choice for both private and company drivers. In addition, the Corolla's ride is cosseting and its standard spec generous.

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Pros

  • Seriously low CO2 emissions
  • Comfortable ride
  • Loads of standard kit

Cons

  • Cramped in the back
  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Lots of road noise
5

BMW 1 Series

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£23,721

RRP from £25,360 to £40,685

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Among today's premium family cars, the 1 Series is great if you're looking for entertaining handling blended with decent ride quality. You also get a classy if understated interior and the most intuitive infotainment system around. The boot is on the small side, though.

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Pros

  • Superb build quality
  • Sporty handling
  • Class-leading infotainment system

Cons

  • Mercedes A-Class is safer
  • SE trim not that well equipped
  • Road noise at speed
4

Volkswagen Golf

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£21,893

RRP from £23,355 to £39,270

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A new Golf is always big news, but this latest version picks up right where the old model left off, offering buyers many of the premium features they'd expect in a more expensive car for a sensible price. It's exceedingly comfortable – especially if you opt for adaptive suspension – and offers tidy handling too. We think the strong and frugal 1.5 eTSI petrol engine will suit most buyers best.

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Pros

  • Exceedingly comfortable ride with adaptive suspension
  • Tidy handling
  • Strong and frugal 1.5 TSI 150 engine

Cons

  • Frustratingly fiddly infotainment system is full of software bugs
  • Interior quality could be better
  • There are more spacious rivals
3

Ford Focus

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£20,453

RRP from £22,210 to £34,710

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The Focus stands out as one of the best driver’s car in this class, with handling that truly entertains, plus this is complemented by a fine ride. It's the iffy interior quality and slightly lacklustre performance that stop it finishing any higher on this list.

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Pros

  • Great handling
  • Well equipped
  • Roomy rear seats

Cons

  • Not that cheap to buy
  • Low-rent interior
  • Skoda Octavia has a much bigger boot
2

Skoda Scala

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£16,156

RRP from £17,265 to £25,720

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The Scala ticks almost every box for a family car, with low pricing, a smooth ride, decent handling, a good infotainment system, amazing rear seat space and an excellent boot. If you're looking for a great all-rounder, few cars can beat it.

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Pros

  • Comfortable ride and tidy handling
  • Spacious rear seats and a big boot
  • Cheap to buy and run

Cons

  • Noisier at speed than the quietest rivals
  • Poorer resale values than its main rivals
  • Interior feels a little cheap
1

Seat Leon

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£17,141

RRP from £20,400 to £37,980

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As good as the Scala is, though, it's beaten by the latest Seat Leon. This five-star family hatchback is great to drive, offers loads of space for both passengers and luggage, and is well equipped too. Add in that it doesn't cost the Earth to buy and run, and comes with a strong range of engines, and it's a class-leading choice. If you want the best family car around, look no further.

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Pros

  • Great to drive
  • Loads of space in the back
  • Well equipped

Cons

  • Firm ride on FR models
  • Road noise
  • Barely any optional extras available

And the family cars to avoid...

Alfa Romeo Giulietta
Alfa Romeo Giulietta

You might be tempted by the Giulietta's sharp looks, but we'd urge you to resist, because the ride is brittle, the interior feels cheap and the Giulietta is seriously cramped in the back. Read our review

DS 4
DS 4 & 4 Crossback

The DS 4 may have been designed to take on prestige models such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, but it lacks their quality feel and its suspension is far too stiff and unforgiving. Read our review

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