Best family cars 2021

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


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What Car? team

Best family cars

Many people who previously would have chosen a traditional 'family car' 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 hatchback? Well, it has to be practical, cheap to run, enjoyable 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 model that's best to steer clear of. And remember, if you decide any of the cars on our list are right for your needs, you could potentially save thousands without the hassle of haggling by using our New Car Buying service.

10

Mazda 3

Although Mazda trades on a sporty reputation, the 3 doesn't get anywhere near to the 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
9

Mercedes A-Class

Safe, good to drive and with a truly special-looking interior, the A-Class is one of the most desirable family cars on sale today. And while the entry-level diesel (A180d) makes good sense for buyers covering lots of miles, the powerful A200 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
8

Toyota Corolla

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 buyers and company car 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
7

BMW 1 Series

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
6

Volkswagen Golf

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. Only its distracting controls and the quality of some interior plastics disappoint.

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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
5

Audi A3

While the latest A3 isn't as well finished inside as the previous model, it still rates well against the premium competition of the day. What's more, the A3 offers a comfortable, enjoyable drive, has space for the family and a range of punchy petrol, diesel and hybrid engines. We're particularly keen on the 40 TFSIe model for its long electric range, low company car tax and gutsy performance. It’s one of the best plug-in hybrids out there and a fine car in its own right.

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Pros

  • Sharp handling
  • Excellent driving position
  • Strong and frugal engines, including the excellent plug-in hybrid

Cons

  • Interior quality is good but could be better
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Audi's unimpressive reliability record
4

Ford Focus

The Focus stands out as the best driver’s car in this class, with handling that truly entertains, plus this is complemented by a fine ride and spacious interior. It's the iffy plastics 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
3

Skoda Scala

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
2

Skoda Octavia

First and foremost, the latest Octavia offers generous space for occupants and a massive boot that dwarfs most competitors from the class above. It's far more than just a big box on wheels, though; its plush interior, cosseting ride and frugal engines make it a fantastic car for covering big distances in.

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Pros

  • Plush ride
  • Huge boot
  • Loads of rear-seat space

Cons

  • Company car tax is fairly high
  • Floaty over undulations
  • Touchscreen can be tricky to use on the move
1

Seat Leon

As good as the Octavia 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 attractive pricing and running costs, a smartly finished interior and a strong range of engines, and it's a brilliant 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 car to avoid...

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