4. Seat Leon
The Seat Leon’s swoopy styling makes it a desirable alternative to the Volkswagen Golf, with which it shares its underpinnings. It’s also one of the more exciting family cars to drive, with tidy, precise handling and a stable body, although the price you pay for that is a firm ride. The Leon also feels a little cramped in the back, and its dashboard’s plastics could be a little higher-quality, but as a family car with flair it ticks a lot of boxes. Pick a 1.9-litre diesel or a manual petrol car for the best reliability.
The Skoda Octavia is the biggest car here, mainly because although it’s based on a Volkswagen Golf, Skoda added a few extra inches to give it a huge boot. It isn’t quite as sharp to drive as some rivals, and the ride in some versions can be firm, but it never becomes uncomfortable. You get a smart, well-made interior thrown into the bargain, too. Sensible, practical and economical, it’s no wonder the Octavia is so popular with buyers. The 1.9-litre diesels and petrol manual cars make the most reliable buys.
2. Ford Focus
Its ubiquity might put you off, but the Ford Focus has so much to offer for this price that you’d be mad not to consider it. First and foremost, it feels great to drive, with sharp steering and an agile chassis that runs rings around most other cars here. It’s also comfortable, quiet and well-made, and because it’s so common, it isn’t hard to find a good one in the specification you want. True, the interior’s a little dull to look at and the boot's a little small, but there’s enough space for everyone and a good range of engines. There’s a question mark over the 1.6-litre diesel’s reliability and the 1.8-litre is rather noisy, so pick a 2.0-litre diesel or a petrol model.
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