- Which is the best hatchback?
- They’re a great alternative to crossovers, and often cheaper
- We pick the best family hatchbacks for 2019
Medium hatchbacks are big business in the UK, finding homes on hundreds of thousands of driveways every year, but the rapid rise of the crossover and SUV means the traditional five-door family hatch really needs to impress.
With the Ford Focus taking the crown as the Best Small Family Car in the Parkers Awards 2019, it set the bar high, but with the arrival of the Kia Ceed, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 since then, it has a job on its hand to continue its reign. Plus, the evergreen Volkswagen Golf continues to be a strong seller in the UK thanks to its high-quality interior, extensive engine and trim range and comfortable-yet-accomplished drive.
The best hatchbacks on sale don’t just have to be the best family car. While a good hatchback needs enough space for a small family and a decent sized boot, it also needs to have a user-friendly interior and low running costs, it needs to be easy and comfortable to drive and – importantly – affordable, whether you’re paying cash or, like the vast majority of new car buyers, on PCP finance. You can also take out a personal lease, with some competitive leasing deals available too.
We brought five hatchbacks together to test them back-to-back to see which is best. The Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla are relative newcomers – as is the Kia Ceed – while the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf are established names that are hard to beat. We’ve ranked them in order below, but if none of these are for you then there are some excellent alternatives further down the page.
1 - Mazda 3
The 2019 Mazda 3 immediately looks the part with eye-catching style that affords it a high sense of desirability. Its talents aren’t just skin-deep though. The 3 is a car that drives well – not only is it enjoyable and fun like any other Mazda car, it’s also comfortable and quiet for when you’re on a long journey or bumpy road and want to relax. The Mazda 3’s interior is also one of the best in this class with high-quality materials, a design that’s simple yet elegant and an excellent driving position. The media system is also easy to operate with a nice large screen and a simple rotary wheel to make selections. The only niggles are restricted rear visibility and cramped rear accommodation due to a low roof and small windows (bear this in mind for baby seats), plus a high loading lip to get to the boot.
New price: £20,370-£31,295
Lease this car from new: From £201 per month*
Boot capacity: 358 litres
2 - Ford Focus
The Ford Focus took the crown as the Parkers Small Family Car of the year for 2019, and that’s down to its spacious interior and engaging driving experience. Despite its compact exterior dimensions, there’s a vast amount of space inside – even in the rear seats, with plenty of legroom and a barely-intrusive transmission tunnel. Some models have black headlining and, without a large sunroof, can feel quite dark in the back despite the space. It also has a usefully sized boot. It’s not all perfect – higher-spec trims can be costly and the ride can be fidgety on slightly rough roads, meaning it’s not necessarily the most comfortable. It’s the one to go for if you’re a keen driver because of its sharp steering and handling, but what’s more important is that it’s easy to drive. The controls across the dashboard are also very easy to use.
3 - Kia Ceed
The Kia Ceed may not be the most interesting of hatchbacks, but it’s a very accomplished one. It’s very easy to drive and the interior is one of the most user-friendly out there. The touchscreen is simple to operate, and large, well-labelled buttons to control pretty much everything else is refreshingly simple. It’s also solid inside, but not quite matching a VW’s quality standards. The Ceed manages to blend an easy drive with one that still feels nicely balanced, meaning it doesn’t feel wayward in corners thanks to good body control and a fine ride. The steering and other controls are quite light, and the interior will have enough room for most – just not as much as in a VW Golf or Ford Focus, but the boot is of a decent size, just with a slightly high loading lip.
4 - Volkswagen Golf
You can’t go far wrong with a VW Golf. With a Mk8 version due later in 2019, the outgoing car should still be high on your shopping list thanks to one of the most extensive ranges of engines and trim levels available, and the fact it’s hugely talented in many areas. The interior remains the benchmark for the quality of the materials used, it’s impressively comfortable in any seat and in any trim, and the interior is spacious for a family. Everything is very easy to operate, whether it’s the large infotainment screen or the plug-in hybrid GTE’s hybrid system, and the boot is big enough to easily fit a large pushchair. It’s not the most exciting to look at or be in, but it’s also good to drive and wouldn’t look out of place at a fancy hotel, either.
5 - Toyota Corolla
The Corolla name is back for the car that’s replaced the Toyota Auris, and what a difference it is. The Corolla has an eye-catching design that’s worlds apart from the car it replaced. However it’s not all show and no go. The Corolla trumps most other hatchbacks for running costs, with a choice of two hybrid powertrains that make it relaxing and very easy to drive, not to mention cheap. It also has a comfortable interior – at least in the front – with good quality materials and a generous amount of equipment. The media system lags behind rivals, and isn’t the most spacious hatchback in the rear. And while the boot is a decent size, the opening is high and not especially wide, which is more difficult to load heavy, bulky items into.
Other hatchbacks to consider:
Your choices aren’t limited to just the cars above. There are many other hatchbacks that we would recommend depending on your priorities and your budget. Scroll down to see what else you should consider if you’re looking for a five-door hatchback.
Like the Golf, the Audi A3 has been around for a while, but there’s undeniable appeal in that Audi badge on the grille. Classy styling, one of the finest interiors in the class and plenty of room mean it’s an appealing all-rounder that’s actually more affordable than you might expect. There are efficient diesels, frugal petrols and thrilling hot versions to choose from, so there’s one for almost every occasion, but its biggest appeal lies in the interior quality and plush materials that make it feel a cut above the competition. Add to that a fine ride on most models (avoid firmer S Line suspension), a balanced drive and impressive refinement and it makes a great all-rounder.
Whether you like the look of it or not, the Honda Civic is one of the best hatchbacks for practicality. Interior space is second only to the Skoda Octavia, with enough room for two adults to stretch out in the rear (there’s almost a flat floor in the back) and a large and flexible boot. It’s also very good to drive – feeling similar to the Mazda 3 in terms of ease and balance – with an excellent manual gearbox and an excellent ride, boosting comfort. It’s at the costlier end of the class, but with that comes more standard equipment than many of its rivals, and a good choice of engines (we’d pick the 1.0-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel) and plenty of trim levels. Interior quality is fine – if not as plush as others – but it feels solid and interior storage is also up there with the best. Just avoid those with CVT automatic transmissions and stick with the excellent manual. If you want the most fun, the Honda Civic Type R hot hatchback is brilliant.
The Hyundai i30 uses the same mechanical parts as the Kia Ceed, so it comes with the same wide range of engines, but adds the appeal of an exciting hot version called the i30 N. The majority of buyers will stick with a regular model, and with these you’ll find lots of standard equipment across the range, an interior that’s solid and well-built and very easy to use, and one of the biggest boots in the class (at least for the more traditional boxy hatchbacks). The drive is focused more on ease of use and comfort than sportiness, but that’s no bad thing as it’s refined and relaxing with good visibility, while the 1.0-litre T-GDi and 1.4 T-GDi petrols are both impressive. It falls behind on interior space though, with more limited rear seat space than other models, while some will find the bland design a bit uninspiring.
The Mercedes A-Class has taken many forms in its life, but the current version is smartly styled with an even smarter interior – in more ways than one. Not only does it look like nothing else in this class inside, it’s also the most high-tech with an advanced media system that outshines everything else in terms of features. While it all looks lovely, there are some quality concerns in parts, but it does feel special, and with a decent amount of interior space to make it competitive. The engine range is extensive, from frugal petrols and diesels to exciting hot hatchbacks, plus it’s very easy to drive. It’s not cheap to purchase on PCP finance, however, so consider this before you commit. The good news is lower-spec cars tend to impress more, with a more comfortable ride on smaller wheels, and impressively frugal petrol engines in the A 180 and A 200.
The SEAT Leon uses the same mechanical components that you’ll find in the VW Golf, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia, meaning you get a range of efficient engines. The difference is that the Leon undercuts the VW and Audi on cost, but comes with a sharp design that’ll likely be more appealing to younger buyers. It’s still practical with a generous amount of interior space, but access to the boot is more restricted than its rivals due to a high loading lip. It’s also well-equipped and the driving position is excellent, although the interior doesn’t look or feel quite as nice as its more expensive rivals. If that’s not a priority, it’s a great-value option that’s also good to drive. A familiar selection of TSI and TDI diesels are available, plus a hot Cupra-badged version for the enthusiasts.
Based on the VW Golf’s underpinnings but with a longer wheelbase (the space between the front and rear axle) the Skoda Octavia offers everything you get in the German car, but with even more rear passenger legroom and bootspace – this is the one if your number one priority is practicality. Add in competitive pricing and a strong standard spec, the Octavia is the thinking driver’s Golf, provided you don’t get too hung up on not having a VW badge. The engine line-up is broadly similar to the VW too with petrol and diesel options and performance variants of both (under the vRS badge), but no electric or PHEV models in this generation. Think Golf handling with a greater emphasis on comfort and that’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
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