- The best family cars to buy in 2018
- Hatchbacks, estates, electric cars
- Could your new motor be in this list?
Describing the best family car is as difficult as defining the typical family. In reality there’s no such thing in either case – there are just too many variables to come up with a meaningful average – and what works for someone else won’t necessarily suit you.
For that reason we’ve drawn up a list of family cars as diverse and varied as the people who buy them. In each case we’ve picked a go-to model that has come to define its genre, and a talented alternative that you may not have previously considered.
One thing is constant - practicality needs to feature to some degree, and that’s why it’s the uniting theme in this list. Where you choose to rank that characteristic alongside other factors such as style, driver enjoyment or running costs is what will ultimately shape the type of car you choose.
As always, this list provides an overview of our favourite cars. For more information on how they drive or for specific technical information, click the name of each to read our comprehensive full review.
Best family hatchback
With generous passenger and boot space easily accessed by four doors and a large tailgate, the hatchback is among the most capable cars available, and a flexible choice for many families. There are loads to choose from and these two are a great start.
You say…like a Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen’s five-door is the hatchback Godfather for good reason. For 40 years the German manufacturer has been refining its formula to the point where it is incredibly hard to fault.
Not only does it tick all the prerequisite family boxes – a big boot and good passenger space, it also adds a solidly build interior and more engine choice than you could shake a stick at.
The top of the range Golf R is the ultimate family all-rounder – fast, spacious, comfortable, with all-weather all-wheel drive. Cheaper R-Line model features much of the same styling.
We say…Peugeot 308
It’s fair to say Peugeot’s hatchback legacy has been a bit up and down during that same timespan but this latest iteration is an absolute cracker.
Where the Golf is competent but sanitised, the 308 is characterful and exciting, with a tiny go-kart wheel and darty steering to match.
Pick the 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine for fizzy thrills even on the most mundane of drives, or the frugal but boosty 1.5-litre diesel.
Best family SUV
Families used to buy big n’ boxy people carriers while off-roaders were reserved for farmers and people with horse boxes. A modern SUV like these two combines the best of both worlds, offering huge interior space and adventurous exterior styling.
You say…like a Nissan Qashqai
The Qashqai’s success comes from that most magical of formulas in business – launching the right product at the right time, offering practicality for families who don’t want a frumpy people carrier or run-of-the-mill hatchback.
Much like the VW Golf this Nissan is what you imagine when someone says the words 'crossover' or 'SUV which may account for the sheer volume of these cars you see on the road.
Diesel power in 110hp or 130hp flavour makes the most sense but don’t overlook the petrol range if you’ve got a low annual mileage.
We say…Skoda Karoq
Replacing the quirky Skoda Yeti with the more mass-appealing Karoq was always going to please some and disappoint others (Skoda will be hoping for more of the former of course) but we’re pleased that this new model retains some of the older car’s practicality.
That means three individual rear seats that can be flipped up or removed completely, and the option to bin-off the middle pew and push the outer chairs together, turning the Karoq into a spacious four-seater.
The Karoq’s interior feels like its moved on about three generations, but the engine choices are pretty familiar, save for the new 1.5-litre TSI EVO petrol.
Best family electric car
Driving range and charging infrastructure are still a concern for many but if you only drive short journeys then an electric car, with its masses of interior space, could be a solid family choice. Here are our two favourites.
You say…like a Renault Zoe
The battery range of this French electric hatch has increased several times during its lifetime with the current model boasting 250 miles between charges.
While that may not be the most attainable figure in the world, you should manage plenty of silent urban miles without having to plug-in, with plenty of interior space thanks to the lack of a combustion engine and fuel tank.
Base spec cars come with a smaller battery so if you want the full claimed range you’ll need to pick a Dynamic or Signature level car.
We say…Hyundai Ioniq
This Korean car comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric flavours and it’s the latter we’ve picked here thanks to its 174 mile claimed range and five year, unlimited mileage warranty.
Environmentally-conscious drivers will also appreciate the use of clever interior materials like recycled plastic and powdered wood.
It fills up quickly too – with up to 80% available in just 30 minutes, providing you can find a fast charger of course.
Best family estate car
The formula for an estate car is simple – take an already talented hatchback or saloon and increase its cargo carrying capacity with a taller rear end. For outright load-lugging ability you can’t beat a wagon like these two.
You say…like a Skoda Octavia Estate
Practical, well-equipped and good value for money, the Skoda Octavia Estate does all the things the Golf hatchback does with the added carrying capacity of a wagon bodystyle.
One thing it offers over and above the VW though is anonymity on the road – if standing out and making a statement isn’t on your list of priorities, then here’s the car for you.
As you’d expect there’s a range of frugal engines – our favourites (conversely) are the surprisingly powerful 1.0-litre petrol and the torquey vRS TDI 4x4.
We say…Mazda 6 Tourer
The Octavia provides the same assured but unfulfilling driving experience as a Golf (largely because it’s based on the same underpinnings), which is not a criticism you can level at the Mazda 6.
Offering sweet steering and a mechanical-feeling manual gearbox akin to the MX-5 sports car, the 6 Tourer is an unsung driver’s car in a segment characterised by pragmatism.
We’d like to a see a proper fire-breathing petrol engine to match the chassis but for now the most powerful unit is the 2.2-litre diesel with 175hp.
Best people carrier
The former family car default has fallen on hard times recently thanks to the rise of the SUV, but if you prioritise practicality over rugged off-road styling then one of these people carriers represents a considerably more spacious choice.
You say…like a Vauxhall Zafira Tourer
Once a ubiquitous sight on UK roads, Vauxhall’s largest people carrier is not as popular as it was before, but it’s still a solid choice thanks to flexible seating and good equipment levels.
The 'Tourer' bit distinguishes this larger car from the older Zafira model, but Flex7 seating is carried over (the ability to move its chairs around) and there’s also the optional FlexRail centre console arrangement too.
Engine and spec line-ups are as confusing as ever but we’d recommend the big ol’ 2.0-litre diesel if you plan on regularly filling up all seven seats.
We say…Citroen Grand C4 Picasso
Large, comfortable family cars capable of demolishing a long Autoroute schlep to Biarritz in one hop is what French manufacturer Citroen is all about.
This futuristic-looking seven-seater is quintessentially Citroen in that respect with a spacious second row and squashy suspension and smooth refinement that takes the sting out of a long drive.
A punchy diesel engine makes the most sense in a car like this and in that respect we reckon the 2.0-litre 150hp model will do everything you need and more.
Best small family car
What we’d call a compact car nowadays would dwarf the superminis of old and as such small families will find all the space they need in a little hatchback like these.
You say…like a Ford Fiesta
Another model that has come to define its category – the Ford Fiesta is frequently the UK’s most popular car and for good reason.
There’s a lot to like about the Fiesta but we reckon driver involvement is top of the list. Even if you don’t actively seek this characteristic, Ford’s hatchback will leave a bigger smile on your face than rivals.
Overhauled for 2018 the Fiesta features many iterations of its superb 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, with the middle-powered 125hp version making perhaps the best sense.
We say…SEAT Ibiza
Always a sharp-looking alternative to more established rivals, this generation of Ibiza has driven itself out of the “left-field choice” category and towards the position of class leader.
Why? Because it looks great, drives well and is available with loads of kit you wouldn’t expect on a car of this size, like 18-inch alloys, a huge touchscreen display and autonomous safety tech.
We still think the Fiesta is the better drive but it’s hard to dislike the Ibiza, especially in zesty 1.0-litre 115hp FR guise.
Best family saloon
Saloon cars often boast large boots but they’re seen as less practical than a hatchback because the lid used to access that loadspace is so much smaller. If you own a slimline pushchair though one of these slinky and fun-to-drive saloons could be a great choice.
You say…like a BMW 3 Series
This German car is synonymous with the word 'saloon' and can be seen plying its trade (often in 320d form) up and down the UK’s motorways with more regularity than cat’s eyes.
Put the small boot aperture out of your mind for a moment and the BMW 3 Series makes a superb family car – good rear leg room and fabulous driving manners combined with a sleek, businesslike profile that will look just right in your office car park.
There’s an argument that you only need a 320d or M3 when it comes to a 3 Series – we like the middling engines too, especially the does-it-all 335d diesel super saloon.
We say…Alfa Romeo Giulia
It’s the same argument here as with the VW Golf and Peugeot 308 – while the Italian saloon’s interior isn’t quite up to the BMW’s level, it more than makes up for it with driver enjoyment.
The Giulia is without doubt a fantastic thing to drive, thanks to its communicative steering and sublime chassis balance, regardless of which model you choose.
Obviously it’s hard to overlook the top Quadrifoglio model but the lowlier Super and Veloce versions offer much of the same verve with smaller monthly bills.