Volkswagen Golf GTI
Target Price 21,418
The word 'icon' is much overused but, in the case of the Golf GTI, it can be applied without fear of contradiction. In one form or another, it's been around for three decades, and this Mk6 version is one of the best GTIs ever.
Like someone who's good looking and can cook, the Golf is the complete package. It's huge fun to drive on a twisty road, with alert handling, precise steering and tyres seemingly made of superglue. The GTI is quick in a straight line, too, hitting 62mph from standstill in just 6.9 seconds. That said, the Golf isn't as visceral as the likes of the Ford Focus RS. Then again, the Focus won't be as comfortable and quiet if you need to drive from Newcastle to Newquay in one hit. The VW is happy to play the sensible family car if needed in a way most hot hatches just can't.
Volkswagen knows it's on to a winner with the GTI, and prices have crept up over the previous generation 22,415 is a lot to pay, and that's before you've raided the options list. However, dealers are prepared to talk discounts, so expect to save around a grand. Yes, that's still expensive for a hot hatch, but this is one of the most complete cars on sale.
Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI Sport
Target Price 22,201
Try to think of a more desirable four-seat drop-top for less than 25k. Nope, we can't either. The A3 Cabriolet just oozes desirability, and it looks great with the roof up or down.
Don't go away with the impression that this is just some urban poser's car there's considerable substance beneath the style. For one thing, it's good to drive, with a hot hatch's turn of speed from the excellent 1.8 TFSI engine. In spite of the performance, fuel economy is good and emissions are low, so running costs are surprisingly modest.
Inside, there's enough space (just) for four adults, and the boot is a practical 260 litres. Stylish, quick and practical? That's a compelling combination.
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec 5dr
Target Price 17,865
The Mondeo is a giant of the family car world both literally and figuratively.
It's huge inside, with more than enough space for the whole family to stretch out, plus a fortnight's holiday luggage. It's big on ability, too: many rivals have tried to match the Mondeo's mix of incisive handling and long-distance ride comfort. So far, none has succeeded.
The 2.0-litre diesel model in Zetec trim is the sweet-spot of the line-up. The engine performs strongly, but is refined and economical. Zetec models come with all the essentials and plenty of safety equipment, without pushing the price up too high. Family cars don't come any better than this.
Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec
Target Price 19,068
If you still think MPVs are 'mumsy' and dull, you've never driven a Ford S-Max. Some people-carriers may be stodgy and uninspired, but the S-Max is agile and alive. The driver is in for a treat.
Passengers don't fare too badly, either. In spite of the sharp handling, the ride is comfortable, and there's plenty of space in the front two rows. Those in seats six and seven don't have quite so much room, but the same is true in most rivals.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is strong enough to pull a fully loaded car, while still returning excellent fuel economy.
Definitely not dull at all.
Honda CR-V 2.2 i-CTDi ES
Target Price 21,179
The Honda CR-V is proof that SUVs can be green. The 2.2-litre diesel engine returns 43.5mpg on average and emits just 173g/km of CO2 those figures are better than many family hatchbacks manage.
It's not just a green choice. The CR-V is a very good car in other respects, too. Performance is strong and the handling is nimble for an SUV. The ride is on the firm side, but it's easy enough to live with.
As you'd expect of a Honda, reliability is pretty much guaranteed, and strong resale values also make this car a safe place to put your money.
Land Rover Freelander 2.2 TD4e GS
Target Price 22,670
We've always been fans of the Land Rover Freelander, which is a former What Car? award winner. Recent improvements have kept the car close to the top of the compact SUV class.
Chief among these is the adoption of stop-start technology. This means the engine switches off when the car is stuck in traffic, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. You can expect 42.2mpg on average, and the CO2 output is a respectable 179g/km. That's good for the planet and good for your bank balance, too.
It's not the sharpest-handling SUV, but the ride is always comfortable and, should you ever need to venture off road, the Freelander will run out of ability long after you have.
You'll pay more for the Freelander than you would for an SUV with a more mainstream badge, but the price looks less steep when compared with the likes of the Audi Q5 or BMW X3. We'd choose the Land Rover over either of these big-name German rivals.
Volkswagen Passat CC 1.8 TSI
Target Price 19,623
Does the world need a saloon that thinks it's a coup? Perhaps not, but it would be a duller place without the Passat CC.
Photographs don't do justice to understated cars such as the CC. In the metal, it's imposing, yet elegant.
The entry-level 1.8 TSI engine is all you need. It gives the car a healthy turn of speed, but keeps the list price and fuel consumption down. Smooth and refined, it suits the car's character. Handling is good, although the ride is jiggly over poor surfaces.
Inside, there's space for four adults, even if rear headroom is tight for tall passengers. Still, at least they'll be travelling in style.
Volkswagen Eos 2.0 TSI Sport
Target Price 22,366
Anyone looking for a four-seater with a folding metal roof is spoilt for choice. We can save you any indecision the VW Eos is the best of the lot.
It looks terrific and is also great to drive, with an able chassis that blends agile cornering with impressive ride comfort. Good refinement roof up or down makes the Eos a comfortable and efficient mile-eater, too.
The 2.0-litre TSI is our favourite model. Its 197bhp gives the Eos sports car levels of performance, but still returns good economy.