Stylish, well-equipped and with an engine to suit every requirement, the family hatchback segment remains one of the market's most important. But which make our top 10?
29 January 2018

The traditional family hatchback segment may not be the market's fastest-growing, but it remains one of the most important and hotly contested. WIthin it, class stalwarts are reinventing themselves all the time, while brand new entrants come along with regularity, each intended to break through and take the market by the scruff of the neck.

Either way, the typical, traditional family hatchback may no longer exist. Once humble haulerr of people and their luggage, these cars have been transformed into often-quite-striking five-doors that offer something for everyone, whether you're looking for a frugal diesel, a peppy small turbocharged petrol engine, bargain transport or something with an upmarket flavour.

Below are our top 10 family hatchbacks currently on sale.

Ford’s new Focus claims its spot at the top of the family hatchback pile by way of its outstanding handling and superbly pliant, well-resolved ride. Having arguably been in slight decline since the death of the Focus mkI, the best-handling family hatchback in history is undoubtedly back to its very best on driver appeal.

There’s plenty of space inside, while a completely revised exterior has given the Ford a new lease of life. Its cabin still doesn’t quite offer the same levels of fit-and-finish as a Volkswagen Golf or Seat Leon, though.

This fourth-generation model is available with both petrol and diesel engines, while base models make use of a torsion beam rear suspension configuration and passive dampers instead of the multi-link arrangement, partnered with adaptive dampers, of more powerful models. Even the lower-end and less sporty configurations of the car stand clear of their rivals for handling dynamism, however.

Our Verdict

Seventh generation Vauxhall Astra review hero front

Is it seventh time lucky for the British-built Vauxhall Astra, as it takes the fight to the Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia for hatchback supremacy

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For now, lowered ST-Line trim represents the sportiest offering in the line-up, although both ST and RS models are bankable probabilites for later in the car's life.

Still the family hatchback benchmark that most of the class aspires to beat and the biggest-selling car in Europe, and the Volkswagen Golf remains a very classy option. Supremely well-rounded to drive and, although not the cheapest, it does enough to justify its high price tag.

The Golf is available in various bodystyles, including as a practical estate and small MPV, and in numerous guises such as the ever-present GTI, the all-wheel-drive hot hatch – the R, and even in electric form. That it is the car for the people may be a little questionable on the basis of its quietly premium pricing. Just don't doubt for a moment that it's worth the money. 

Barcelona’s take on the formidable Volkswagen Golf is a worthy addition, matching its German sibling on many fronts. The Seat Leon looks superb with its angular and edgy styling and handles keenly. There is even a range of bodystyles and engines, like the Golf, including the vivacious Cupra 300 and R.

Ultimately, it misses out on top spot because the interior feels cheaper and dowdier than the Golf's, but that does mean a lower price point.

The third-generation Mazda 3 still looks modern and fresh compared with younger rivals. The Japanese hatch marries brisk, involving performance with energetic handling, while offering good value for money.

The car's interior impresses with the apparent quality of some of its fixtures and fittings, but doesn't quite have the consistency of finish of cars we rank above it. For driver appeal, however, few in the class are better; steering feel, shift quality, well-balanced grip levels and first-rate atmospheric engine response come together here, and stand to delight an interested driver time and again.

It’s third time lucky for the South Korean manufacturer, as this third-generation Ceed is the first of its kind to break into our top five. 

The handling and steering have found a greater level of sophistication than ever before, while its cabin offers plenty of room for four adults but still lacks some of the polish of more upmarket contenders such as the Volkswagen Golf. Its diesel engines are smooth and refined and offer impressive economy too. 

It is still some way off the position of class leader, but is nonetheless a worthy competitor in an incredibly competitive segment.

6

Over the course of ten models, the Honda Civic has gone through a multitude of changes from the mundane to the divisive. This new-generation car is equally as striking as its predecessors, but in a more conventional way, and as a result is better executed than before.

The new petrol engines are impressive, even if the triple isn’t quite able to match the 1.0-litre units from Ford and Volkswagen, while the latest-generation Type R is superb.

 

The best premium-badged family hatchback available on the market, which mixes the best from the Volkswagen Group, including a host of peppy TSI and frugal TDI engines and low cost of ownership, with the precision that Audi has to offer.

The A3 Sportback is like every other car to roll out of Ingolstadt, which is to say supremely well-constructed and suave inside, but it is rather soulless to drive and not as involving as its rivals or siblings. 

Luton’s favourite son has returned and in some form. The seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra maintains its core strengths and adds several doses of style, making it more appealing to those who previously snubbed it.

As you would expect of an Astra, it is supremely spacious and fitted with strong, frugal diesel engines. Vauxhall’s finest loses out to those above it because of its firm and unsettled ride, lacklustre interior and numb-feeling controls.

The car that shows Mini is coming of age with a grown-up version of its crossover. This second-generation Countryman is an interesting family car that majors on refinement, comfort and practicality by Mini standards.

It is fairly pricey compared with its closest rivals, and it isn’t quite as classy as you would expect from a Mini. However, it's the closest Oxford has come to nailing the compromise between sweet, well-balanced handling and sophistication. 

Peugeot is back, and about time, by getting this third-generation 308 firing on more cylinders than the lukewarm efforts that went previously. With a more focused look, new platform and refreshed interior, the 308 is leaner and lighter than before.

The result is a much more appealing hatchback from Peugeot majoring on build quality, comfort and refinement, but there are some familiar niggles: ergonomic shortcomings, a glovebox half-full with fuses, inconsistent, over-assisted steering and handling that doesn't deliver quite the agility it ought to.

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