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 superbly. 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, but that does mean a lower price point. Swings and roundabouts.
Once the class leader in this segment when the Mark 1 stormed on to the scene, and while it has to make do with a podium finish the Ford Focus is still one of the best hatches on the market. It still offers a great ride and handles superbly, although cynics may point to it being more watered down now than before.
Inside, the Focus is spacious and decently styled too. But ultimately, it is the lack of premium features and the Sync 3 infotainment system lets the side down compared to the Leon and the Golf.
The Focus will shortly be replaced with an all-new fourth-generation model, due to go on sale later in 2018.
Ten models of the Honda Civic has seen it go through a multitude of changes from the mundane through to the divisive. This new generation car is equally as striking as its predecessors, but in a more conventional way, and as a result it is better executed than before.
The new petrol engines are impressive, even if the triple isn’t quite up to scratch with 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 preciseness that Audi has to offer.
The A3 Sportback is like every other car to roll out of Inglostadt, which is to say supremely well constructed and suave inside, but like many others 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 its 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, which majors on refinement, comfort and practicality by Mini standards.
It is fairly pricey compare to 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.
The third generation Mazda 3 is certainly striking and still looks modern and fresh compared to younger rivals. The Japanese hatch marries brisk performance with energetic handling, while offering good value for money.
But where the 3 isn’t so competitive is through its driver engagement, which isn’t quite as encompassing as some of its better rivals, while the interior seems a bit mundane and ordinary next to rivals higher up this list.
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, including ergonomic shortcomings, the wisdom of filling the glovebox with fuses and inconsistent steering. A strong effort nonetheless.
The car that made the Czech manufacturer what it is today. This Skoda Octavia is the biggest, roomiest car in the class and manages to differentiate itself thanks to its saloon shape. It also has all the hallmarks of a Volkswagen Group member, including being solidly built, consistent in the way it drives and with a mundane, but ergonomic interior.
You can also have an Octavia with all-wheel drive or in estate and hot hatch forms, but it's ultimately let down by its average performance and dynamics which will driving purists.