What's the best family car?

* Advice on your next family car choice * Tips on how to pick the best models * What Car?'s recommendations named...

What's the best family car?

Which are the best hatchbacks for everyday use? These small family cars are the 'do it alls' of the car market - models like the VW Golf and Ford Focus that can cope with long motorway journeys just as easily as early-morning school runs and weekend trips to the shops. There are dozens of possible choices, since almost every mainstream manufacturer has a small family car in their line-up - but which should be on your shortlist?

Do I really need a small family car?
Small car performance and quality has now improved to the point where there's not that much to separate the front of a cabin in a car like a Ford Fiesta from one in, say, a Ford Focus. Big-car features like sat-nav, air-conditioning and cruise control are often available on smaller models - so you need to decide how you're going to use the space beyond the front seats, because that's the main difference.

Typically, a supermini will cope with occasional adult passengers in the back seats, and its boot will be big enough to accommodate a decent weekly shop from the supermarket. However, if you want to take grown-ups on longer journeys, or if you need to throw a full child buggy into the boot, then you should consider a larger model.

To help, we've already compared small cars and family cars from some of the leading brands. Read our comparisons of the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus, VW Polo and VW Golf, and Nissan Juke and Nissan Qashqai to see which size of car would suit your needs.

If you do decide that the larger option is required, the good news is that you're spoilt for choice. This is probably the most competitive area of the entire car market, and there's never been a better selection of high-quality cabins, efficient engines and practical layouts.

There are still winners and losers, though, because while pretty much every small family car can cope with four adults and a decent amount of luggage, some will offer more comfort, or better fuel economy, or lower running costs. The very best will star in a few of these areas.

Here are our top recommendations:

Audi A3 Sportback
If you want your small family car to feel premium, you need look no further than our 2013 Car of the Year, the Audi A3 Sportback. It offers amazing refinement and impressive economy, and our testers reckon is has the best interior ever seen in a car of this class.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.4TFSI SE 5dr

Read the full Audi A3 Sportback review >>

Skoda Octavia
One of the worst kept secrets in motoring is that Skoda Octavia shares its underwear with the VW Golf and aforementioned Audi A3 Sportback. If you can live with fewer frills and thrills, in exchange for acres of interior space and a bargain price tag, the Octavia is a cracking choice.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.2TSI S 5dr

Read the full Skoda Octavia review >>

Volkswagen Golf
The VW Golf is a byword for small family car competence and the Mk7 version is a genuinely class act. It has first-class ride and handling, a handsome, fuss-free interior and a range of models that has something for everyone, whether they're after economy, performance or practicality.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.4TFSI SE 5dr

Read the full VW Golf review >>

Ford Focus
If driving pleasure is high up on your list of requirements, the Ford Focus is a must-drive car. We think it is the sweetest-handling car in its class but that isn't all it offers. The Focus is refined and capable - although its real-world fuel economy can be an issue.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.6D Zetec

Read the full Ford Focus review >>

Kia Ceed
There is more to the Kia Ceed than a seven-year warranty but as reasons to buy go, it is right up there. Away from the paperwork, the Ceed has strong diesel engines, striking looks and a nicely screwed together interior. The standard specification is pretty generous too.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.6 CRDi 2 5dr

Read the full Kia Ceed review >>

BMW 1 Series
In terms of badge prestige, nothing can beat the BMW 1-Series in this segment. Rear-wheel drive makes it unique in the class, and a favourite of enthusiastic drivers everywhere. We'd avoid the ES spec models that are short of goodies but in terms of engines, there is not a bad one in the range. For private buyers covering modest miles, opt for the affordable 116i models.
What Car? Best Buy: 116i SE

Read the full BMW 1 Series review >>

Hyundai i30
Hyundai's offering in this segment is the i30 and it is very impressive. The interior quality is far better than you might expect, the diesel engines are impressive and the five-year warranty gives peace of mind and protects residual values. Manual models drive best.
What Car? Best Buy: 1.6 CRDi 110 Blueactive Classic 5dr

Read the full Hyundai i30 review >>

By Nigel Donnelly