Best buys: Family Hatchbacks
We identify the best in class and some rivals to consider
Volkswagen Golf: is consistency personified
The best one: Volkswagen Golf
A recent raft of updates has pushed the Golf back to the top of this list largely thanks to two things. On the one hand, it’s still a Golf, which means that even the most basic models get a roomy, beautifully-made cabin and a sense of quiet, understated style. Higher-spec models verge on the truly luxurious. The second reason is the 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, which was already available in the Skoda Octavia, but which finds its true home in the Golf. Revvy, engaging, and frugal, it’s the perfect antidote to the fuel-that-must-not-be-named. Estate is a small seller here, but has a massive boot, while the GTI remains the pinnacle of affordable fun. Incoming new electric e-Golf boasts a potential 300km one-charge range. Big new infotainment screen is nice, but “Gesture Control” option rather pointless.
Best model: 1.0 TSI 110hp Comfortline for €24,795
Price range: €20,895 to €46,760. Finance from €249 per month.
Co2 emissions: 0 to 165g/km
Sum up: Consistency personified.
Worthy Contenders: Opel Astra
Opel’s mid-size hatch has never been better than it is right now, which is quite something for a nameplate that stretches back to the early 1980s. The Astra is very light and compact, but still has a cabin of space and quality, such quality in fact that it can go toe-to-toe with the Golf in that regard. The IntelliLink touch screen infotainment system is very good, and simple to use, and if the phone-based OnStar concierge service is a bit odd at first, you can see how at times it could be a life-saver. Literally so, if the worst should happen. 1.0 turbo petrol engine is sweet, and the 1.6 CDTI diesel isn’t bad either. Handsome estate gets ride of the awkward peaked rear pillar of the hatchback, but all Astras are small of fuel tank and so restricted of touring range.
Best model: 1./3 i-VTEC SE for €17,640
Price range: €20,750 to €32,195. Finance from €193 per month.
Co2 emissions: 96 to 130g/km
Sum up: Subtly satisfying.
Worthy contenders: Ford Focus
The Focus remains one of the most popular cars in the country (and a hugely popular private import too) and within seconds of getting behind the wheel you can see why. The Focus has long had a reputation for proper, sporting, driver enjoyment and the current model doesn’t drop the ball on that score. The steering is sharp and responsive, the chassis composed and controlled. What holds the Focus back is its cabin – it’s neither as roomy in the back as it should be, nor as sturdy of materials in the front as it ought to be. Still, the engines are good – the 1.0 EcoBoost petrol is a star, and the 1.5 TDCI is much improved in recent years, and is refined and smooth to drive. Sporty ST model falls a bit flat, but the mighty 350hp Focus RS is the unquestioned king of the hot hatches.
Best model: 1.0 EcoBoost 125hp ST-Line for €24,875
Price range: €20,095 to €52,875. Finance from €189 per month.
Co2 emissions: 98 to 175g/km
Sum up: Common as Coke, just as tasty.
Wild Card: Honda Civic
The new Civic will most definitely divide opinion. In fact, it’s apt to divide opinion in just one person, who casts their eyes from the front to the back and takes in the differing styling at either end. The new Civic may not be as striking to look at as its space-shuttle-esque predecessor, but it’s certainly no shrinking violet. It is big though, and that bigness brings with it cabin space that most rivals can only stare wistfully at. Quality levels are, as ever with Honda, exceptionally good, and the new 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine is excellent. Chassis strikes a good balance between comfort and precision, but avoid the optional 1.5 CVT automatic. No diesel engine is yet available.
Best model: 1.0 i-Tech 120 Smart Plus Pack for €26,250
Price range: €23,750 to €32,550. Finance from €189 per month.
Co2 emissions: 106 to 139g/km
Sum up: Odd, but in mostly good ways.