Best hatchbacks to buy 2021
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.
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 - 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
- Skoda Octavia
- Ford Focus
- Toyota Corolla
- Skoda Scala
- Mazda 3
- Volkswagen Golf
- Mercedes A-Class
- Kia Ceed
- Vauxhall Astra
- Renault Megane
1. Skoda Octavia
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 new, fourth-generation Octavia offers improved on-board technology, with updated infotainment systems and important driver-assistance kit, which has helped the Octavia achieve a full five- star safety rating from Euro NCAP. Levels of comfort and refinement are also better than before which means longer journeys should be even more relaxing. In fact, Its breadth of abilities are such that we awarded the Octavia our Compact Family Car of the Year title in 2020.
While it doesn't offer the same exceptional value as Skodas of old, even entry-level Octavia models feature good levels of standard equipment, while there's also the option of frugal plug-in hybrid versions for customers to choose from.
2. Ford Focus
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.
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 Zetec trim offers excellent value for money, while at the upper-end of the range Vignale Edition versions add lots of extra kit, including 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery and a B&O premium sound system. However, no matter what you can afford, every car in the range is sure to entertain on the open road.
3. Toyota Corolla
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.
There’s two economical petrol engines on offer: 120bhp 1.8-litre petrol hybrid and a 181bhp 2.0-litre petrol hybrid. Both are efficient and relatively green too as emissions start from just 101g/km, so the Corolla should return low running costs.
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.
4. Skoda Scala
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 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 £17k, but the one we tested was the SE model at over £18k. 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.
5. Mazda 3
The new Mazda 3 has a bold look, but this hatchback is more than just a pretty face
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.
The 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine is available in either 120bhp or 178bhp guises and features Mazda's own M Hybrid tech to help lower CO2 emissions. 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.
6. Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen Golf remains one of the best hatchbacks on sale
Volkswagen has introduced the Mk8 Golf with a particular focus on tech and digital functionality. It's still comfortable and a nice enough place to be, but VW has uncharacteristically missed the target with the family hatchback's ride quality, as recent revisions compromise its ability to handle poorer surfaces.
The Golf's three equipment levels are straightforward and easy to understand: entry-level Life trim offers generous amounts of kit and new on-board tech, including a digital instrument display, a 10-inch colour touchscreen and wireless smartphone charging as standard. The mid-range Style models will no doubt prove popular, adding items such as larger 17-inch alloy wheels and sports seats with upgraded upholstery, while the dynamic R-Line spec brings lowered suspension and an exterior styling kit.
Petrol engine choices include a 109bhp 1.0-litre and a 1.5-litre unit with either 128bhp or 148bhp, while there’s also 109bhp and 148bhp 1.5-litre eTSI mild-hybrid versions coupled with a seven-speed DSG auto ‘box. The more powerful GTI delivers 242bhp from its 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine, with the GTI Clubsport and R variants delivering 300bhp and 320bhp respectively.
The GTE plug-in hybrid version might attract customers with one eye on lower running costs, although the regular 2.0-litre diesel still offers decent efficiency. It's available with a choice of three power outputs - the standard 113bhp variant is available with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the meatier 148bhp version and 197bhp GTD use the seven-speed DSG auto.
7. Mercedes A-Class
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 £25k and going all the way up to over £51k for a top-of-the-line Mercedes-AMG A 45 S hot hatch.
The A-Class’ architecture has been engineered with electrification in mind, with the all-electric Mercedes EQA 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
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 seven-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
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
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.
A facelift in 2020 introduced extra standard equipment across the board, and also separated the line-up into just two trim-levels: Iconic and R.S Line. The entry-level Iconic model is well kitted out with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, a rear parking camera, cruise control and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors.
The cabin features automatic dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a comprehensive level of safety equipment, including traffic sign recognition, lane-departure warning and a speed limiter.
However, the biggest update for the Megane was Renault’s introduction of a new E-Tech plug-in hybrid variant, although it will initially only be available for the Sport Tourer estate. Until then, customers have the choice of a 138bhp petrol engine, or a 113bhp diesel unit.
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 engines offer impressive power delivery. 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.
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, while SUVs use the hatchback boot style too.
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