We’ve selected our top ten best family hatchbacks from the seemingly endless range of models on offer so you don’t have to.
Of all the cars on the road, family hatchbacks have one of the hardest jobs. They have to be reliable, spacious enough for a family, easy to park, cheap to run and buy, and have a great safety rating.
Yet, the best hatchbacks also need to cater for a range of drivers, often coming in a wide range of formats, including automatic, manual, petrol, diesel and, more recently, hybrid and all-electric configurations. Naturally, the selection of hatchbacks on offer is enormous, so we’ve rounded up our ten favourites.
• Best family cars
While the latest SUVs and crossovers may well steal the limelight these days, the traditional small family hatchback still makes up a large proportion of the UK new car sales. Evergreen favourites such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf continue to sell in their thousands thanks to their clever combination of size, space, and price.
Below you’ll find the top 10 best family hatchbacks on sale today according to our team of seasoned reviewers. We’ve focused on the most popular sector of hatchbacked cars, the family hatch market, and we’ve picked the cars that deliver the best mix of kit, safety, running costs, fun driving and family-friendly features.
Top 10 best hatchbacks on sale now
1. Skoda Scala
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A new addition to the segment, the Skoda Scala encompasses most of the VW Golf’s qualities at a much lower price
The new Skoda Scala has been something of a smash hit for the Czech car company, it won the coveted Compact Family Car of the Year at the 2019 Auto Express New Car Awards and it beat the Volkswagen Golf and Kia Ceed in one of our recent head-to-head tests.
Despite being a direct rival for the Volkswagen Golf, the Scala utilises the smaller MQB A0 platform found in the VW Polo and Audi A1. This doesn’t result in a smaller interior though, in fact the Scala’s 467-boot dwarfs the Golf’s 380-litre loadbay. There’s also more room in the rear seats, making the Scala one of the more sizeable cars in the hatchback segment.
The Scala comfortably undercuts the Golf and many other rivals when it comes to price, too. Prices start at just over £16k, but the one we tested was the SE model at over £18,585. The SE is a good choice thanks to its equipment levels – which includes an impressive eight-inch screen, Autonomous Emergency Braking, LED headlights and smartphone connectivity.
Where the Scala falls down in comparison to its more premium Golf sibling is refinement. The interior quality is excellent and feels typically VW-like in its execution, but the driving experience is slightly spoiled by the vague steering (caused by the small wheels) and potholes are more pronounced than in the Golf.
The turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is a proven Volkswagen product and is also found in lower-spec Golfs. The petrol TSI unit is available with 94 or 113bhp, but there’s diesel power too with a 113bhp 1.6-litre TDI.
2. Mazda 3
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The new Mazda 3 has a bold new looks, but this hatchback is more than just a pretty face
Mazda launched the third generation Mazda 3 hatchback earlier in the year and it has provided a refreshing alternative to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus mainstays.
The looks are the biggest talking point as it keeps many of the design traits of the Kai concept way back in 2017. Granted, space in the rear is compromised thanks to the sleek design and it’s dark too – thanks to a thick C-pillar.
Until October (when Mazda launches the eagerly awaited SkyActiv-X), choice of engine is limited to a 114bhp diesel and a 120bhp 2.0-litre petrol. The current powertrain is by far the car’s biggest weakness. While the petrol offers respectable economy (it returned 44.8mpg on our test), it lacks torque and does 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds, which is not exactly quick.
There’s a rigidity to the chassis, but the suspension also copes with imperfections in the road. As a result, the Mazda 3 has composed handling while retaining a comfortable ride.
The interior is among the best in the class with great build quality and crisp, modern touches. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available and the infotainment unit itself is easy to use with a BMW iDrive-style rotary dial on the centre console.
Thanks to a plush interior, fun handling and reasonable practicality, the Mazda 3 is a great choice and places near the top of the hatchback pile.
3. Toyota Corolla
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The Toyota Corolla’s return should be a successful and will prove popular with buyers looking for efficiency
The Toyota Corolla is a nameplate known around the world, but for 17 years it was defunct in the UK as the largely forgettable Auris took its place.
The Corolla returned to the UK in 2019 and had its work cut out to compete with old rivals like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, along with new ones like the Hyundai i30 and Kia Ceed.
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There’s a great range of engines on offer; a 114bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol, a 120bhp 1.8-litre petrol hybrid and a 177bhp 2.0-litre petrol hybrid. All three are efficient and relatively green too as emissions start from just 73g/km, so low running costs are guaranteed. While the Corolla isn’t as fun to drive as a Golf or Focus, the ride is refined and wind and road noise is well suppressed at motorway speeds.
The interior is one of the best in its class with soft touch materials and a fresh, modern design. The Corolla is slightly let down by the lack of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity however.
4. Volkswagen Golf
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The Volkswagen Golf remains one of the best hatchbacks on sale
Volkswagen threw down the gauntlet to its rivals with the Golf Mk7, and has since given it an update to keep it fresh – not that it was really needed. However, with new infotainment options and an improved engine range, the Golf still defines the hatchback class. From its compact dimensions and evolutionary styling to its high-quality interior and brilliant engine range, it is a car without any serious flaws.
If you want something smart and stylish it ticks these boxes. Spacious and practical, too? Well, a generous interior and big 380-litre boot cover these concerns. The efficient BlueMotion model also promises excellent fuel economy.
All VW Golfs come well equipped, with features such as stop-start, Electronic Stability Control (ESP), Bluetooth and iPod connectivity and curtain airbags all fitted as standard. You even get the reassurance of a space-saver spare wheel – which is increasingly rare yet very desirable for family motorists. And this is all before you drive it. Then you can marvel at the refinement, comfort, capable handling and responsive controls of the new Golf first hand.
5. Skoda Octavia
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The Skoda Octavia is a spacious alternative to the Volkswagen Golf
The Skoda Octavia is a family hatchback that uses the same basic platform as the Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon, but a longer body and clever packaging mean it offers more boot space than both, as well as a hugely practical interior and enough room for five.
In fact, it’s one of the biggest cars in its class, coming close to models such as the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat from the class above. It’s available as either a five-door hatchback or more practical estate, though both offer plenty of space and identical levels of standard equipment. The 2017 facelift gave the Octavia a fresh look and added a bit of interest to a rather ordinary looking car.
While it doesn’t offer the same exceptional value as Skodas of old, all current-generation Octavia models boast alloy wheels, automatic post-collision braking and DAB radio. Mid-range SE models are better still, while top-spec Elegance and L&K versions can rival sister company Audi for luxury.
6. Ford Focus
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Ford’s perennial best-seller returns with more space and an emphasis on driving pleasure
If having fun behind the wheel is a priority, the latest Ford Focus should be high on your hatchback list. Keeping up the tradition of previous generations, the new Focus puts driving pleasure first with sharp handling and excellent body control. Although we’ll have to wait a while for the faster ST and RS hot hatch versions, the standard Focus still manages to be a real drivers’ car.
There’s a range of smooth and economical petrol and diesel engines on offer, and two different suspension configurations, both of which retain the car’s precise handling. ST-Line models are lowered to enhance their sporty styling, but every Focus in the range is sure to put a smile on even the most discerning enthusiast’s face.
The biggest criticism of the old Focus was its lack of interior space, but while its styling is proving to be rather divisive, the longer wheelbase on the new car means the cabin space has been vastly improved. There’s plenty of room for four adults and boot space has been increased too to make this a truly capable family car.
The interior quality is now up there with the VW Golf’s, and the clean modern design is uncluttered and well laid-out. The ‘floating tablet’ infotainment screen on higher spec models looks like a bit of an afterthought, but its position makes it easy to reach while driving, and Ford’s SYNC3 system is simple to use.
The entry-level Style model is fairly basic, but still comes with plenty of active safety equipment. It’s worth splashing out a bit more for a Zetec or Titanium models for the extra kit, but every car in the range is sure to entertain on the open road.
7. Mercedes A-Class
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The Mercedes A-Class is a yardstick for all other hatchbacks when it comes to design, quality and tech
Even though the new Mercedes A-Class isn’t going to set the world alight when it comes to handling, it does offer motorists class-leading onboard tech and great refinement. Despite the continued success of the last generation A-Class, Mercedes went back to the drawing board with the latest car – revising the platform it uses, along with the interior, engines and tech.
The changes don’t end there either, Mercedes claims that the aerodynamic alterations it has made to the exterior are equivalent to shaving 100kg from the kerbweight. However, all these improvements don’t come cheap, with the A-Class range starting at around £23k and going all the way up to over £34k for a top of the line A 35 AMG hot hatch.
The A-Class’ architecture has been engineered with electrification in mind, with the all-electric Mercedes EQ A hatchback expected to arrive at the turn of the decade. The new A-Class really shines on the motorway, where it is quiet, stable and composed – Mercedes bosses claim it offers C-Class levels of comfort.
8. Kia Ceed
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Well-priced, good to drive, and packed full of tech, the Kia Ceed is a hatchback front-runner
While it may have ditched the apostrophe in its name, the new Kia Ceed remains one of the best-value family hatches on the market. With every model loaded with equipment and an unbeatable 7-year warranty, the latest Ceed is aimed squarely at its core European rivals.
Rather confusingly, the range kicks off with the 2 trim level, but this entry-level car is generously specced with alloys, smartphone connectivity, and plenty of active safety tech. Higher spec models gain bigger alloys and more luxuries, while the top-spec 201bhp Ceed GT is the hottest performance model available, for now.
Sharing a platform with the Hyundai i30, the new Ceed gets a good range of engines, with three petrols to choose from with various outputs and a torquey 1.6-litre diesel. Ride and handling still aren’t quite on par with the Golf and the Focus, but they’re a great step up from the old model.
Like in the Ford Focus, the infotainment screen looks rather cumbersome, just stuck on top of the dash. The system is easy to use, though not quite as crisp as a VW Group unit. All models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard and unlike many other manufacturers, Kia has kept the core controls for climate control and volume as easy-to-reach buttons.
The rest of the interior feels high-quality while boot space is up there with the Skoda Octavia. If you need even more space, Kia also offers the Sportswagon estate version and the rakish ProCeed shooting brake.
9. Vauxhall Astra
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The latest Vauxhall Astra must be on any hatchback buyer’s shortlist
The Vauxhall Astra has long been a high-performing regular fixture at the top of car sales charts, but it hasn’t always had the substance to back up its popularity.
That’s all changed now, as the latest model has undergone a thorough overhaul and has consequently risen up the family hatchback ranks with its great blend of style, space, low running costs and kit list.
Looks have always been on the Astra’s side, and the current car is no different. With sharp lines, distinctive lights and an athletic stance, the Astra certainly looks the part. It’s the same story on the inside, too.
There’s plenty of high-quality plastics and leather trim on the steering wheel and gearlever, plus an attractive dash design, incorporating a large touchscreen. There’s plenty of room in the Astra and it’s easy to get comfortable, while the boot is a decent size making it ideal for use as a family car.
On the road, the Astra drives superbly, with a composed and compliant ride and good steering feedback. The engine range is comprehensive, and Vauxhall’s latest raft of efficient diesel engines are impressive. The Astra has the substance to back up the style, meaning it well and truly deserves its place in our best hatchbacks list.
10. Renault Megane
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The fourth-generation Renault Megane is a big improvement over its predecessor
The fourth generation Renault Megane, which arrived in 2016, is a serious contender in the hatchback class. It blends practicality, space, efficiency and comfort in a quality package.
The car boasts a selection of familiar petrol and diesel engines, a wide range of trim levels and looks good, with the brand’s distinctive diamond logo flanked by a pair of headlamps and the now-recognisable C-shaped LED running lights. The rear has eye-catching LED tail-lamps running almost the whole width of the bootlid.
Inside, the dash is modern and clutter free, while the 8.7-inch R-Link 2 Infotainment screen (an optional extra) groups together the sat-nav, driving modes and stereo controls in one clear display.
It’s behind the wheel where the Megane is most attractive though as even a short drive is enough to know the Renault engineers have focused on comfort and refinement. The car rides well, noise levels are low and the range of engines offer impressive power delivery – although lower-powered models can feel a little lethargic at lower revs. All in all the Megane is an impressive addition to this list and definitely worth considering.
History of the hatchback
Hatchbacks, as we know them today, originated in the 1970s. The idea behind the design was similar to that of an estate – a top-hinged tailgate set at a jaunty angle to provide a stylish look but also more versatility than a saloon.
In the early days, some manufacturers did miss the mark with what a hatch should be, offering a saloon-style hinged section below the rear glass, but it was not long before all manufacturers were designing cars with the highly practical boot door which incorporated the rear window. The Renault 4, 5 and 16, Austin Maxi and Fiat 127 were all pioneers of the hatchback body style, and by the start of the 1980s, mainstream cars like the Ford Escort had moved from saloon to a hatch layout.
Today, the smallest hatchbacks are in the city car class, and models such as the Citroen C1 and Skoda Citigo feature a small rear hatch that’s not much more than a reinforced pane of glass. This is a cheap way of making a hatch, and is pretty effective. Further up the size scale, the hatchback body is the default choice in the supermini class, and while some superminis are available as saloons in other regions, the hatchback overwhelmingly rules the roost in the UK.
• Best hot hatchbacks
You have plenty of choice in the compact hatch class where the cars most regularly referred to as ‘hatchbacks’ reside. Starting with the likes of the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Peugeot 308, then moving up to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series at the premium end of things. And if you want some performance with your practicality, there is a host of ‘hot hatch’ performance models based on cars in this class, such as the VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30 N. For the purposes of this page, it’s the ‘family hatchback’ cars in this class that we’re concentrating on but the actual hatchback boot door has spread far further.
Moving up in size, there are now hatch versions of the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia and BMW 3 Series, and even a racy-looking A5 Sportback from Audi. At the very top of the tree, the Audi A7 Sportback, Tesla Model S and Porsche Panamera are the most luxurious hatchbacks you can buy. SUVs use the hatchback boot style too.
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