What alternatives should I consider to a used Ford Fiesta hatchback?
The Vauxhall Corsa is a very competent alternative to the Fiesta. It's not quite as much fun to drive, but its interior is better finished and it offers a little more room in the back. It's also great value.
If you want a car that feels truly high-quality, though, you should take a look at the Volkswagen Polo. It's pricey, but you get what you pay for, with a solid-feeling interior and very composed, mature driving experience.