Currently reading: Top 10 best family hatchbacks 2023
Stylish, well equipped and with an engine to suit every requirement, family hatchbacks remain an important sector of the market. But which ones make our top 10?

The relentless rise of the SUV and crossover means the conventional compact hatchback isn’t the sales force it once was. Yet while these family-friendly machines aren’t that fashionable these days, they still make more sense than almost any other class of car when it comes to delivering a Swiss Army Knife-like versatility. Practical and spacious enough for most needs, yet still featuring a footprint that’s compact enough not to feel like you’re taking more than your fair share of road space. They also tend to be good to drive, frugal, well-equipped and affordable. What’s not to like?

Moreover, while many have sounded the death knell for the family hatchback, a host of new, all-electric models proves there’s clearly life in the concept yet. As does the fact that there are so many evergreen mainstays of the class that are now in the eighth, ninth or tenth generation and show no sign of slowing down any time soon. In fact, while the high-riding SUVs steal the headlines, the less extroverted compact hatch simply gets on with doing its job so well that it’s difficult to make a case for its wholesale extinction.

In many ways, the onset of electrification has given buyers more choice than ever before. No matter what their needs or tastes, there is something for everyone - whether it's something sensible, sporty, classless or classy. Yet the common thread for all these cars is that they’re relatively modest in size and feature a flexible five-door layout complete with versatile hatchback tailgate.

1. Volkswagen Golf

For the best part of half a century the VW Golf has been in the family car mix, and with the current Mk8 version it claims its place at the top of the hatchback hierarchy. Launched as an ‘all-new’ version in 2020, the German machine is actually an update of the already excellent Mk7, a model that got its own refresh mid-way through its life. Sitting one the now ubiquitous MQB platform, it also uses largely the same petrol and diesel engine line-up, albeit with the addition of 48V mild hybrid tech on some versions

Either way, the sum of all these minor tweaks is a seriously impressive car. As far as ride refinement, handling and performance are all concerned, the Golf’s balanced blend of talents make it the most complete and grown-up offering in the class. That said, a slightly stiffer suspension set-up means we’d ideally steer clear of the cheaper, torsion-beam-equipped models - those versions with a multi-link rear axle feel more pliant and sophisticated. 

Interior space has been improved, too, and an even more high-tech infotainment offering will appeal to many, although it isn't the most intuitive touchscreen system to use. What’s more, the cabin doesn't quite retain the levels of material plushness we were used to in previous Golfs, plus some areas of trim lack the indestructible feel we’ve become used too. And the less said about the unilluminated touch sensitive climate control temperature adjusters the better.


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The latest GTI version has proved to be an effective hot hatch, but with a sharper, more focused set-up than ever before, it has lost some of the effortless everyday usability that so successfully marked out its predecessors, and it isn't the most engaging car in its class either. By no means the worst GTI ever, but its priorities seem to be a little out of kilter.

The plug-in hybrid GTE version, though, now feels more like a bona fide plug-in hot hatch than ever before; and the range-topping Golf R has both the pace and technical specification to really get your attention - although it comes at a high price. The Golf continues to have almost all hatchback tastes and requirements well covered.

Vw golf top 10

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2. Ford Focus

Ford has revealed that the Focus is living on borrowed time with no direct replacement due when production of the current car stops next year. Even so, while the car's cards are clearly marked, it remains the clear choice of family drivers who like to have fun. With its outstanding handling and pliant, well-resolved ride means it's still one of the best hatchback’s from behind the wheel. In fact, for engagement and agility, this is arguably the best Focus since the outstanding original turned the class on its head in 1998.

There's plenty of space inside, while a completely new platform and exterior have given the Ford a new lease of life. Its cabin still doesn't quite offer the same levels of fit and finish quality or material richness as rivals in this list, though.

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This fourth-generation model is available with both petrol and diesel engines, with modern hybridised Ecoboost petrols now being the default choice. Base models make use of a torsion beam rear suspension configuration and passive dampers instead of the multi-link arrangement, partnered optionally 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, though.

The excellent 2.3-litre Focus ST represents the sportiest offering in the line-up. Somewhat unfortunately, Ford has ruled out a full-bore RS for this model generation, but the warbling ST will be more than enough fun for a great many people, especially when fitted with the optional Track Pack, which runs to KW coilover suspension, sticky Pirelli rubber and limited slip front differential.

Ford focus top 10

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3. Skoda Octavia

The latest Octavia remains true to its roots by sticking to its traditional strengths: practicality and affordability. Sure it’s not the most stylish and dynamic, but when it comes to being a family car it’s extra space and usability means for most of the time you're unlikely to mind.

In estate guise, the Octavia simply outclasses all of its rivals for boot space, while the hatchback version isn't exactly short on space, either. To drive, it might not offer the sort of engagement you get from a Leon or the same levels of sophisticated ride refinement as the Golf, but it certainly isn't far off. Moreover, in terms of interior quality and class it arguably outsrips its close cousins, feeling more like the product of upmarket VW arm, Audi.

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As ever, it remains the pragmatist's choice among its VW Group siblings. Those simply looking for an affordable family runabout with acres of passenger and storage space will be seriously impressed by what's on offer here. At the same time, anyone stepping out of a Focus might be a bit put off by its comparatively sedate character. The new Octavia vRS models - which are available in petrol and diesel and with either two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive - all go a long way to rectifying such complaints, though.

Skoda octavia top 10

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4. Peugeot 308

It's been a case of evolution not revolution with the latest Peugeot 308, which despite its 'all-new' claims actually uses much of its predecessor's underpinnings. That said, it's a little longer and wider than before, while the smartly styled exterior is handsome, well-proportioned and kitted out with distinctive daytime running lights.

It's perhaps not as roomy as the class leaders, with those in the rear getting a little less leg and headroom than they would in a VW Golf, let alone a Skoda Octavia. But the interior looks the part, with slick design and a material quality that finally does justice to Peugeot's posturing that it's now a premium player. As ever, the small-wheel and high-set instrument cluster of the i-Cockpit layout will please as many as it frustrates.

Under the bonnet there's a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, plus a pair of plug-in hybrids that offer either 178bhp or 222bhp. Both, however, will crack a claimed 40 miles in EV mode, qualifying them for a more attractive 8% BiK rate. Regardless of motive power, the 308 handles with a fluidity that nimbleness that used to be a French car calling card, while a composed ride and decent refinement that make it an easy-going companion when you just want to get to your destination. This is particularly true of the entry-level turbocharged 1.2-litre model, which has a compelling less-is-more character that makes it the pick of the bunch.

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Peugeot 308 top 10

5. Honda Civic

With an even lengthier back catalogue than VW Golf, the latest Honda Civic is now in its eleventh generation having made its debut in 1972. Yet while its German rival has always been a member of the family hatchback class, the original Civic started out supermini-sized, only properly graduating to the next sector up around twenty years ago. Either way, all we need to know is that the current car is the best yet.

Like many of the best Honda’s, there’s some clever engineering at the heart of its appeal. Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s a petrol-electric hybrid, but unlike most it’s effectively of the range-extending type with its four-cylinder ICE being used as a generator most of the time and the electric motor providing the motive force. It works exceptionally well, proving smooth, responsive and, for the most part, frugal.

Better still is the chassis, which serves-up enough dynamism through its accurate steering and biddable handling to keep most keen driver’s happy, yet also rides comfortable and quietly. The sense of serenity is enhanced by an interior that’s spacious, robustly built and easy to operate. The boot’s a decent size too, while its retractable parcel shelf is work of simple genius.

For the ultimate thrill-seeker there’s the Type-R fast flagship that effectively packages the old car’s mechanicals (306bhp 2.0-litre four pot) into the new body. It’s a riot to drive and has just reclaimed the Nurburgring lap record for front-drivers, but supply is limited and the price has jumped to an eye-watering £47,000.

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Honda civic top 10

6. MG Motor 4

Until recently it felt as if MG was simply treading water with its line-up of SUVs, small hatchbacks and single estate car offering. Delivering great value and loads of kit, these Chinese machines had plenty of showroom appeal, but their budget roots were often cruelly exposed on the road. However, with the new, all-electric MG 4 the brand has served-up a family hatch that deserves serious attention.

With its rakish looks it stands out from the crowd, while some effort has clearly been expended on the dynamics, creating a family hatch that is surprisingly engaging to drive. With a rear-mounted motor the MG4 has a surprisingly biddable rear-wheel drive feel, while the steering is uncorrupted by torque steer unruliness - although it could do with more feel. Yet the highlight is the relatively soft suspension that allows the car to slice down typically pockmarked British roads with poise and fluidity.

There’s a choice of 168bhp or 201bhp motors, with both giving brisk acceleration, while the larger 64kWh battery promises up to 281 miles on a charge. DC rapid charging capability of 150kW means 10-80% charge can be achieved in as little as 35 minutes. Oh, and another eye-catching number is the price, which starts at £26,995 - if you want something similar from a mainstream brand you’ll be paying around £10,000 more.

So, what’s the catch? Well, that price gives you a clue. While the interior is roomy and well-equipped, the fit and finish are a bit bargain basement. The electronic driver aids also feel a step behind in their clumsy operation. Still, there’s fine family car lurking here, and you’ll happily overlook some of the issues when you consider the savings.

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Mg4 top 10

7. Cupra Born

The VW’s ID3 used to be one of our favourite all-electric hatchbacks, but in this top 10 it's the German machine’s Spanish-flavoured close cousin that gets the nod. Ostensibly these two machines are near identical, but thanks to its subtly retuned suspension the Cupra Born’s extra driver delight makes the difference.

Based on the VW Group’s MEB platform, the Born features the now familiar ‘skateboard’ layout of battery between the axles for a flat floor and a rear mounted motor that gives some packaging advantages. Externally, a new nose and some natty colours identify it as a Cupra, but the car’s ID3 roots are clear to see. It’s even more obvious on the inside, where the acceptably roomy interior is largely carried over, complete with the surprising use of some low rent plastics.

There’s a choice of 201 and 237bhp motors, plus the option of 58 and 77kWh battery packs, the latter giving a range of up to 331 miles. All versions accelerate with warm hatch vigour, while the nicely calibrated chassis serves-up agility and poise when pressing on, although a slightly firm ride is the trade-off for this control. A little extra humour from the electronic safety net would likely unlock a little extra rear-drive flamboyance, but overall the Cupra is a born entertainer.


Cupra born top 10

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8. Toyota Corolla

Toyota has sold a staggering 50 million Corollas since the 1960s. This is one of the very best-selling cars that the planet has ever known. While it's been a permanent fixture of Toyota's model range in other markets, it replaced Europe's unlovely Auris hatchback with the introduction of the current twelfth-generation version in 2018, and caused a stir in the process by showing that Toyota could produce a family hatchback with strong interior quality and practicality, and really creditable driving dynamics too.

The Corolla was introduced with the choice of a conventional 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine, or one of two petrol-electric 'self-charging' hybrids - although the car's entry-level petrol option has since been discontinued. That means this car is a little pricier to buy than some of its rivals, and it also means that there's no way to avoid Toyota's modern hybrid-car driving experience with it; not that you need be worried about it.

The regular 1.8-litre option is still a little slow in outright terms, but it's certainly efficient, and more responsive and refined than it used to be. But the upper-level 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain gives the Corolla plenty of performance and good accessible torque, and also puts near-50mpg efficiency within easy reach.

This car now has a chassis good enough to demand the respect of any European car-maker, and at least one powertrain strong enough to give it some useful exercise. There's even a hot four-wheel drive GR versions, but we're cruelly denied it here in Europe.

Toyota corolla top 10

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9. BMW 1 Series

Cracking into this list at all, in a very crowded hatchback market, is something of a result for BMW, whose 1 Series hatchback – famously the only car in the class to attempt to wield a rear-wheel-drive chassis in the modern era - has what we might call a dynamically troubled past.

Suffice to say that now it has adopted mechanical convention for engine layout and axle drive, the latest 1 Series has lost little and gained quite a lot. A front-wheel-drive layout (four-wheel-drive options are offered in tandem with the more powerful engines) serves the car well and handling is neat and secure, with body control and driver engagement good enough to distinguish the car against most of its rivals. Interior packaging, meanwhile, is much better than in the rear-driven predecessor, with second-row occupant space and luggage capacity both markedly improved, but still only broadly class-competitive.

A good choice of impressive petrol and diesel engines, mated for the most part to slick and efficient transmissions, and equally impressive on-board infotainment technology all make the 1 Series an easily recommended option in the hotly contested premium family hatch market. The new 128ti variant is shaping up to be a strong challenger to the Mk8 Golf GTI, while the recently tweaked all-wheel-drive M135i finally lives up to the promise of its desirable specification while delivering serious all-weather pace.

Bmw 1 series top 10

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10. Mercedes A-Class

For a while the Mercedes A-Class was a firm fixture of the UK’s new car sales top 10, it’s mix sleek style, classy cabin, bleeding edge infotainment and some juicy PCP deals making it one of the country’s favourite family hatches. The German has slipped off the hit parade over the past 12 months, but a recent refresh aims to re-inject some of its showroom appeal.

Visually, the Mercedes looks as smart as ever, while inside there’s the same mix of quality and tech that gives it the feel of something even more expensive. There’s no increase in space, but removing the rotary controller for the infotainment has freed-up some extra storage between the front seats, while the infotainment is even slicker and the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command function works a treat. 

The biggest change has been reserved for the turbocharged 1.3-litre four pot petrol, which now gets de rigeur 48V mild hybrid assistance. It’s available in two states of tune, 134bhp (A180) and 161bhp (A200) guises, the latter feeling far more fleet-footed There’s also a 2.0-litre diesel option, but the plug-in A250e is now only available in the four-door saloon variant.

As before, the Mercedes steers precisely and remains planted on the road, allowing you to scythe through corners with real satisfaction. Refinement is good too, although there’s some road roar and the stiff legged low speed ride can become distracting. It remains a pleasingly upmarket proposition, but with prices starting at a whisker under £32,000 you’ll pay for the privilege.

Mercedes benz a class top 10



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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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catnip 19 September 2023

The Golf Mark 8 claims its place at the top of the hatchback hierarchy...


odie_the_dog 4 December 2022
This review was clearly paid for by VAG UK.

How else do you explain not including either the Hyundai i30 or Kia Ceed - both of which are better built, more reliable and have a longer warranty than any VAG product?

Or the new Honda Civic which is getting rave reviews in every other motoring magazine ?

odie_the_dog 4 December 2022
This review was clearly paid for by VAG UK.

How else do you explain not including either the Hyundai i30 or Kia Ceed - both of which are better built, more reliable and have a longer warranty than any VAG product?

Or the new Honda Civic which is getting rave reviews in every other motoring magazine ?