What we were looking for
In a word, everything. The best small family cars are spacious, classy, comfortable, practical, enjoyable to drive, and affordable to buy and run.
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI 120 Match 5dr
List price 15,287
Target Price 14,482
The Volkswagen Golf holds a special place in the affections of the British public, and it's easy to see why. The current version is now in its autumn years, but it continues to see off new and improved challengers and remains the best small family car by a country mile.
What makes it so good? For one thing, the Golf retains its value better than almost any rival and, even though it sits at the pricier end of this category, it represents outstanding value for money in our chosen Match trim.
As well as the air-conditioning, four electric windows and CD player you'd probably expect, it also comes with alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, an MP3 input socket and stereo controls mounted on the steering wheel.
Beyond this generous specification, the Golf continues to impress. It's one of the most spacious small family hatches, with plenty of room for four adults and their luggage.
The dashboard layout is simplicity itself and drivers of all shapes and sizes can get comfortable thanks to the huge range of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
In addition, the cabin remains a cut above for fit and finish, offering an ambience that no competitor can match.
Taut and grippy
The driving experience builds on this classy character. The Golf uses a sophisticated suspension set-up that delivers an unrivalled blend of comfort and control. It feels supple and stable on the motorway, yet reassuringly taut and grippy on winding roads.
Factor in perfectly weighted steering, a positive gearshift and standard stability control, and it's hard to fault.
Our favourite Golf engine used to be the 1.6-litre FSI petrol because it struck the best balance between performance and affordability. However, Volkswagen has just replaced this with a turbocharged 1.4 that brings improvements in every area.
It feels more sprightly and offers superior flexibility. Power is up from 113bhp to 120bhp and there's an extra 34lb ft of pulling muscle. It's also noticeably quieter than the old 1.6 when you're cruising on the motorway.
Fuel economy is another area that benefits, rising from 42.2mpg to 44.8mpg on average. At the same time, CO2 emissions fall from 161g/km to 149g/km, which places it three tax bands lower for company car drivers.
The Golf is easy on the pocket, then, whether it's a private or company car, and you're getting one of the best all-rounders money can buy.
Hyundai i30 1.4 Comfort
List price 10,995
Target Price 10,423
11,000 - 15,000
Nissan Qashqai 1.6 Visia
List price 13,499
Target Price 12,800