Best family cars 2024 – top choices for you & your children

What makes a great family car, and which models should you be considering? Here we count down the 10 best family car models – and name the one to avoid...

Author Avatar
by
Alasdair Rodden
Published18 March 2024

Family cars are still a hugely popular way to get around, despite the apparently unstoppable rise of the family SUV. And there remains a wide choice of models battling it out in this highly competitive sector of the market.

The demands of family life are a big ask for a car, of course. The very best offer an engaging and enjoyable driving experience, as well as the practicality, safety and reliability rating you’d expect.

We've tested every family car on the market, spending thousands of hours evaluating everything from engine performance to seat comfort, and from infotainment to how much we can fit into their boots. With that depth of testing, when we say the Toyota Corolla is Britain's best family car, it's an accolade you can trust.

Best family cars 2023

Here we list the 10 best cars for families – as well as the model we recommend avoiding. If anything on the list takes your fancy, you can click through to our full review to read more, or find the best prices available through our free New Car Deals service.


The 2024 What Car? Reliability Survey is live, tell us about your car now

Our pick: 1.8 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.1 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 361 litres
Insurance group: 17E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Low CO2 emissions and great fuel economy
  • Comfortable ride
  • Loads of standard kit

Weaknesses

  • Cramped in the back
  • So-so infotainment system
  • 12.3in digital instrument cluster could be easier to use

The best family car is also one which could help you save money. That’s because the Toyota Corolla is a hybrid, which means it can run partly on electric power. It can’t go as far without petrol as plug-in hybrid cars, but on the plus side it doesn’t need to be plugged in to recharge its battery. It is incredibly efficient, too – in our real-world fuel tests, the Corolla averaged an impressive 50.5mpg. 

There’s plenty of room in the front of the Corolla, and while the Ford Focus and Peugeot 308 offer more room for your rear passengers, the Toyota has a softer ride than the former and better body control than the latter.

Entry-level Icon trim is our pick of the range, and comes with a long list of standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and sat-nav.

“The Corolla’s new 10.5in touchscreen is a big improvement on the previous model’s.” – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our in-depth Toyota Corolla review

Our pick: 2.0 eHEV Sport 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 7.9 sec
MPG/range: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 113g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 415 litres
Insurance group: 28E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Impressive fuel economy
  • Big boot
  • Lots of luxury and safety kit

Weaknesses

  • Quite pricey
  • Rear head room isn't great
  • Road noise intrudes

The Honda Civic is a superb all-round family car , striking a wonderful balance between practicality, quality, efficiency and driving pleasure.

It feels refined and precise, thanks to a combination of good handling, a comfortable ride and excellent performance. In fact, during our testing we found it could sprint from 0-62mph in 6.8sec, which is quicker than its official figure – and faster than the Toyota Corolla can manage.

The hybrid set-up also allows it to drive using the electric motors alone at low speeds, and achieve impressive fuel economy figures (it returned 49.5mpg in our Real MPG test).

So much useful kit is included as standard that we recommend sticking with entry-level Sport trim.

“The Civic corners neatly enough to make you question whether you really need a Type R.” – Chris Haining, Sub-editor

Read our in-depth Honda Civic review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride on FR models
  • Road noise
  • Fiddly infotainment system

A former Family Car of the Year at our annual What Car? Car of the Year Awards, the Leon is a good buy for anyone looking for fun and practical family transport.

On the fun side, the steering is well-weighted and the suspension performs well on twisty roads. Plus, the 128bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine has plenty of punch, the driving position is highly adjustable to suit nearly any driver, there's plenty of leg and head room in the rear, and the boot is a good size.

The Leon comes well equipped as standard, but we’d recommend upgrading to FR trim, which adds an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers and more.

“Soft-touch dash materials and some metal-effect trims lift an otherwise rather sombre interior.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Seat Leon review

Our pick: 40 TFSI e Sport 5dr S Tronic

0-62mph: 7.6 sec
MPG/range: 256.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 26g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 280 litres
Insurance group: 24E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Sharp handling
  • Excellent driving position
  • Strong and frugal engines

Weaknesses

  • Audi's unimpressive reliability record
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Plug-in hybrid is currently off-sale

The current A3 Sportback isn't as posh inside as the 2013-2020 Audi A3 but it’s still plush and well built, as well as great to drive. The driving position is fantastic, and the car handles well without sacrificing comfort.

Engines are plentiful, with diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) options available. Our favourite is the 40 TFSIe PHEV, which can officially travel 40 miles on electric power alone. Its low CO2 output keeps company car tax rates low, too.

We recommend Sport trim for the PHEV, because it comes with smaller wheels that offer both the comfiest ride and the longest electric-only range of the bunch, further reducing the benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax for company car drivers.

“Reputedly the Lamborghini Huracán influenced the interior design – something to tell your friends – but quality isn’t as good as that of the BMW 1 Series.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Audi A3 review

Our pick: 1.5 TSI 150 SE L 5dr

0-62mph: 8.5 sec
MPG/range: 53.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 121g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 600 litres
Insurance group: 21P
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Plush interior
  • Huge boot
  • Frugal engines

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are sharper to drive
  • Touchscreen can be tricky to use on the move
  • Currently no plug-in hybrid option

If practicality is your priority, look no further than the Skoda Octavia. Taller people will be comfortable in the front and rear thanks to generous leg and head room, and the back seat is wide, which makes carrying three back-seat passengers easier than in many rivals.

The boot capacity is 600 litres, which is colossal for the class – even though the rival Mercedes A-Class comes with seats which split and fold in a more useful 40/20/40 configuration, rather than the Octavia's 60/40 split.

The Octavia’s comfort and frugality make it an excellent car for covering long distances. Even in more expensive trim levels, it's cheaper than many rivals, whether you're a cash buyer or use a PCP finance deal.

“Chrome-effect thumbwheel controls on the steering wheel look good but feel a bit on the flimsy side when used.” – Mark Pearson, Used Cars Editor

Read our in-depth Skoda Octavia review

Our pick: 125kW SE EV 51kWh 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 7.7 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 289 litres
Insurance group: 27D
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Incredibly well priced
  • Competitive range between charges
  • Long warranty

Weaknesses

  • Some interior materials disappoint
  • Slightly unsettled ride
  • Infotainment system is fiddly

The first fully electric car to feature on this list is also one of the cheapest around – the MG4.

Everything aside from the range-topping XPower model is powered by a single electric motor, with our recommended Standard Range models drawing power from a 50.8kWh battery. With an official range of up to 218 miles, the MG4 isn't the electric car with the longest range, but it is reasonably quick – covering the 0-62mph sprint in 7.7sec.

We've been impressed with how much kit comes as standard, especially on entry-level SE trim, which comes with everything from adaptive cruise control to rear parking sensors. 

The interior is pleasantly spacious, and your passengers will be more comfortable in the back of the MG than they would be in the rival Renault Megane E-Tech.

“There’s plenty of space for me up front, and wide-opening rear doors give good access for my mother, who has declared the back a comfortable place to be.” – Claire Evans, Consumer Editor

Read our in-depth MG4 review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • No hybrid option
  • So-so reliability record
  • Some rivals are more fun to drive

The Scala represents one of the cheapest ways of getting behind the wheel of a great family car. It has a comfortable ride, precise steering and a highly adjustable driving position.

Head and leg room are impressive, whether you're in the front seats or the rear, and the boot is one of the biggest in the class. In fact, one of the only cars that can beat the Scala in those areas is the slightly more expensive Skoda Octavia.

Entry-level SE trim comes with all of the kit you’re likely to need, including cruise control, automatic lights and automatic wipers.

“There are a few squishy plastics and attractive trim pieces,but quality is average for the class.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Skoda Scala review

Our pick: 150kW V1 58kWh 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 7.3 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 385 litres
Insurance group: 25E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Good range between charges
  • Relatively fun handling
  • Quiet cruising manners

Weaknesses

  • Much pricier than MG4
  • Awful touch-sensitive dashboard buttons
  • Slightly firmer ride than ID 3

If you like the sound of the Volkswagen ID 3 (also on this list) you’ll probably love the Born electric car. It's based on the same underpinnings but gets more angular styling and a more polished interior.

The suspension has been lowered and stiffened for sportier handling, making it sharper and more engaging to drive than its Volkswagen sibling. An e-Boost option temporarily increases the power output from 201bhp to 228bhp, but its impact feels minor from behind the wheel.

Overall, the Born improves on the ID 3, but the volume and climate-control buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel are too fiddly.

“I can honestly say that I don’t know of a model that better suits the stressful business of city centre driving.” – James Tute, Content Editor

Read our in-depth Cupra Born review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Loads of standard kit and safety equipment
  • Sprightly performance
  • Decent to drive

Weaknesses

  • Iffy interior quality
  • Tesla Model 3 can use better charging network
  • Infotainment system needs some upgrades

For those who want their next family car to be electric, the ID 3 might still be worth considering. It’s as practical as many petrol-powered models, and has roughly similar dimensions to the big-selling Volkswagen Golf.

Well-weighted steering and fantastic body control help make it genuinely fun to drive too – something that can’t be said of all its electric car rivals. Performance is good, with 148bhp or 201bhp motors available, and the larger of the two battery options gives you an official range of up to 347 miles.

Unfortunately, the ID 3 is let down by a cheap-feeling interior and a fiddly, laggy infotainment system.

“ID Light at the base of the windscreen is a neat touch; an animated light strip helps with things like sat-nav guidance.” – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our in-depth Volkswagen ID 3 review

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid mHEV Titanium 5dr

0-62mph: 10.2 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 118g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 15E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great handling
  • Well equipped
  • Roomy rear seats

Weaknesses

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

If you want a family car that’s great fun to drive, it’s hard to go wrong with the Focus. No matter how you spec it, Ford’s family car will offer a good balance of handling and comfort. The ride is firmer than in the Volkswagen Golf and other rivals, sure, but not to the point of being uncomfortable.

The entry-level 1.0 Ecoboost 125 petrol engine is our favourite, because it offers decent performance and fuel economy for a reasonable price. Similarly, we'd recommend sticking with entry-level Titanium trim, which comes with plenty of kit as standard. 

The reasonable price makes it an attractive cash buy, but its underwhelming interior and faster depreciation compared with some rivals stop it moving higher up our list.

“Boot space is reduced by the optional B&O stereo. This puts a subwoofer under the floor that makes the boot shallower.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Ford Focus review


For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

And the family car to avoid...

BYD Dolphin

With wobbly handling, slow charging and inconsistent brakes, the Dolphin is no match for other affordable electric cars – most notably the MG 4. Read our review

FAQs

Which is the best car for a family of 5?

While every model in our list of the best family cars offer good interior space, the Ford Focus, the Seat Leon and the Skoda Scala stand out in particular for offering a good amount of space for three rear-seat passengers. However, if you regularly carry four passengers, it's worth considering models in the family SUV and large SUV classes – and for the best comfort for a family of five, have a look at our list of the best seven-seaters.

What is a typical family car?

A typical family car is a mid-sized hatchback that's bigger than a small car and has seating for five adults plus a useful amount of boot space. The best-known family cars in the UK are the Ford Focus, the VW Golf and the Vauxhall Astra but there are plenty of others to choose from, including some electric cars. Here at What Car?, we put estate cars in their own class, and while the many SUV models are clearly designed with families in mind, we place those in their own classes too (small, family or large, depending on size).

What's the best family car for dog owners?

While our list of the best cars for dogs and dog owners mostly consists of MPVs and SUVs, it's clear that for pet owners, it comes down to needing as much space as possible. And of the cars on this list, none is more spacious than the gigantic Skoda Octavia. Its boot should make sure that you have lots of room for your pet to stretch out, while the ride is comfortable enough to eliminate the risk of your pet's dinner making a return visit to the car's carpet.

What is the most reliable family car?

Thanks to the What Car? Reliability Survey we have a very clear picture of which car manufacturers do best in this area. The top family car performer in the 2023 survey – compiled using data from our readers – was the previous-generation BMW 1 Series, which had a reliability rating of 100%, meaning nothing had gone wrong for owners in the previous 12 months. 

Other family cars which did well in the survey were the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid (2017-2022) and Mini Clubman (2015-2024), which both acheived ratings of more than 97% reliability.

What is the safest family car?

Euro NCAP regularly crash tests new cars, as well as testing their safety systems. The organisation currently rates the GWM Ora 3 as the safest family car, with a five-star safety rating acheived in 2022. The 03 (previously known as the Funky Cat) acheived a 92% rating fo adult occupant protection, 83% for child occupant protection, 74% for pedestrian protection and 93% for safety assistance.