Best family cars to buy 2020
What are the best family cars on sale? Whether you're after an SUV or an affordable hatchback, out top 10 list reveals all...
Building the best family car can be more challenging than you might think, given that motorists with children (and the kids themselves) tend to ask a huge amount of these vehicles. That isn’t to say car makers are throwing in the towel; if anything, the choice facing buyers on the hunt for a family car is greater than ever before.
Family hatchbacks offer great fuel economy and plenty of space in a compact package. The best examples are great all-rounders with a good mix of qualities but many buyers will need the extra space of a large family car or estate. Here, as a rule, you get more rear legroom, a bigger boot and superior long-distance comfort, but you’ll pay a bit more and fuel economy might take a hit.
For the ultimate in flexible interior space, you’ll want an MPV of 5 or 7-seat capacity but the modern trend in family cars is very much towards SUV and crossover models. With these you get the higher driving position and easier access that comes from the elevated ride height plus light off-road capabilities, should you need them.
Like MPVs, traditional large family models are sliding in terms of popularity but don't let that put you off, as these conventional family cars offer great driving dynamics and many are available with hybrid power for great economy and lower road tax.
On this list the new Volkswagen Golf hatchback has been joined by the latest Ford Focus, while the Kia e-Niro is making electrification mainstream. SUVs are represented by the Karoq and 3008 from Skoda and Peugeot respectively.
So, without further ado, scroll down below for more information on each of the top 10 family cars...
Best family cars to buy in 2020
- Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
- Skoda Superb
- Skoda Scala
- Volkswagen Golf
- Toyota Corolla
- Skoda Karoq
- Kia e-Niro
- Citroen Berlingo XL
- Peugeot 3008
- Ford Focus
1. Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
Our choice: Vauxhall Insignia 1.4 Turbo SE Nav
The Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport is our reigning Family Car of the Year, and with a facelifted version hitting showrooms soon it’s more attractive then ever, because the updated Insignia is still very affordable.
Prices start from £23,120, while its 490-litre boot and big hatch offer lots of practicality. The Vauxhall is superbly roomy and there’s a good level of tech on offer, while subtle tweaks have smartened up the styling, yet it’s not that different.
More driver-assistance tech is on offer, including AEB with collision alert and pedestrian detection, lane-keep and blind-spot assist, plus adaptive cruise control.
The Insignia keeps its underpinnings rather than moving to a platform from Vauxhall’s parent company, Groupe PSA, which is a good thing, because it’s quite light and handles sweetly for a big car. The steering is light and precise, while body control is good without sacrificing the Insignia’s relatively refined ride.
Vauxhall has moved to using some PSA powertrains, though, so there will be a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel, alongside downsized, turbocharged petrols.
2. Skoda Superb
Our choice: Skoda Superb Hatch 1.5 TSI 150 SE
An update to the Superb range last year has kept it at the top. Styling tweaks and tech refreshes helped underpin the car’s appeal, while the addition of a plug-in model opened up this Skoda to a new group of customers.
This 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol and electric motor deliver 215bhp, and the electrically assisted torque helps performance. If a low environmental impact or small running costs are key, the potential for up to 217.3mpg, according to Skoda, will look attractive.
But the PHEV is pricier, so consider the more affordable standard 1.5 TSI and 2.0 TDI versions. The former is smooth and refined, while the latter is great when it comes to efficiency for high-mileage users. Both of these cars have a 625-litre boot that is 140 litres up on the PHEV’s, too.
SE trim is all you’ll need, with an eight-inch touchscreen, front and rear parking sensors, AEB and adaptive cruise. There’s no nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but you’re still better off with SE trim and adding nav as part of an £845 pack, or £1,720 for everything as part of the Technology Pack.
3. Skoda Scala
Our choice: Skoda Scala 1.0 TSI 115 SE
All Skodas come with what the brand calls its ‘Simply Clever’ touches. These are little practicality features – such as an umbrella under the front seat, an ice scraper in the fuel filler door and a holder for car park tickets – that make life more easy.
The Scala boasts plenty of usability, thanks in part to these touches, but it’s the hatchback’s value compared with rivals that makes it such an appealing buy.
Despite being based on the Volkswagen Group’s slightly smaller MQB A0 platform, the Scala is huge and offers more boot space than the VW Golf, which is based on the larger MQB chassis, at 467 litres.
The Skoda drives well enough; the ride is occasionally a little harsh but it’s mostly comfortable and cushions bumps nicely, while the engine line-up offers lots of choice. We’d go for the 113bhp 1.0 TSI, avoiding the breathless lower-powered version of this engine and the noisy 1.6 TDI.
With efficiency of up to 51.5mpg for our favoured engine and trim, it shouldn’t cost too much to run, while it’s also affordable.
SE trim offers an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for nav, cruise control, parking sensors, AEB and lane-keep assist, air-con and some clever storage touches, including drawers under the front seats and Skoda’s ‘Jumbo Box’ in the centre console. This is part of the ‘Simply Clever’ approach, too, and it’s this attention to detail, combined with real ability in every other area, that makes the Scala such a great family car.
4. Volkswagen Golf
Our choice: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 130 Life
Over eight generations the Volkswagen Golf has provided families with affordable, high-quality and practical transport. Nothing has changed, except it’s now more hi-tech.
The Mk8 sits on the same MQB platform as its predecessor, but the engine range has been updated to include a new mild-hybrid option, while the diesels are even cleaner.
It’s the 128bhp 1.5-litre TSI motor we’d go for, because the eTSI mild hybrid only comes as a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. Performance is more than adequate, and it’s the most efficient option, so should be the cheapest to run. There are 113bhp and 148bhp 2.0 TDIs for those wanting diesel.
The trim line-up consists of Life (entry level), Style (mid-to-high spec) and R-Line (sporty). Life gets all of the safety features you’d want in a family car, plus the new Golf’s 10-inch infotainment system with the latest connectivity. This is one area where the VW has taken a step on. The cabin is a lot slicker and the quality feels even higher.
But there’s not much more space than in the Mk7, while the boot is the same size, at 380 litres. These are the only real drawbacks.
5. Toyota Corolla
Our choice: Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-i Hybrid Icon Tech
Toyota revived its famous Corolla nameplate last year for its all-new family machine, but while the name was fresh, the brand kept its approach with hybrids. That means both engine options in the Corolla are assisted by a battery and electric motor set-up.
There’s a 2.0-litre petrol, but we’d go for the 1.8-litre petrol for its higher efficiency potential. A move to Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) chassis means it’s surprisingly good to drive for an eco-focused car; but the powertrain doesn’t lend itself to such use, so the 1.8 makes more sense.
The CVT automatic is less obvious if you take a more relaxed approach, while the 120bhp 1.8-litre engine and electric motor combination provides enough performance. Keep the revs low, and the transmission manages the two power sources smoothly, so it’s relaxing. This is where the Corolla’s real appeal lies, and the TNGA chassis’s soothing ride is also a big part of this.
Interior room and the 361-litre boot are okay, but nothing more. Yet achievable efficiency of more than 50mpg is great, and the cabin is better than ever. The eight-inch touchscreen on even base-spec Icon cars features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so connectivity is much improved, while Toyota’s Safety Sense 2 pack also comes as standard. Stick with the hatchback, though.
6. Skoda Karoq
Our choice: Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150 SE
It’s no surprise that three Skodas have made our shortlist; the brand is known for producing impressively practical family cars, and having branched out into the SUV sector over the last few years, the Czech firm’s exploits here are just as impressive.
The Karoq is its mid-size model that offers a little more style compared with its Scala sibling. If you’ve got young children that still need strapping into child seats then think about an SUV; the extra height means you won’t have to stoop down when helping them in, so it could save your back.
Otherwise, SUVs tend to be a bit bigger than hatchbacks, so there’s also usually more space. The Karoq’s cabin is roomy and opening the big hatch reveals up to 588 litres of boot space. This means it will take buggies, push chairs and kids’ scooters.
The car has the same Simply Clever touches as other Skodas, and a similar engine range. The 148bhp 1.5 TSI is as smooth and refined (as long as you don’t rev it too hard) as in other Volkswagen Group products, but don’t discount the 148bhp 2.0 TDI, either.
It’s only 0.1 seconds slower from 0-62mph, at 9.0 seconds, but the extra 90Nm of torque makes for more relaxing progress; the CO2 emissions are lower and the fuel efficiency potential even higher. Whichever option you go for, save some cash and go for the six-speed manual transmission; it’s nicer than the seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
7. Kia e-Niro
Our choice: Kia e-Niro 4
Like many other entrants in this rundown, the Kia e-Niro is an Auto Express Award winner, because it’s simply one of the best vehicles of its type on sale and it makes great family transport.
It’s purely electric, so the Kia features a 64kWh battery in its floor and a 201bhp electric motor at the front. Despite being a family SUV, the instant performance EVs deliver means the e-Niro is almost as fast as a hot hatchback, hitting 60mph in 7.5 seconds. Yet it’s super-smooth and, with no engine noise, the car is very nicely refined.
The battery also means it’s heavy, so while its handling is okay, it’s not exactly agile, but it is comfortable, and that’s more important when it comes to family cars. It is well packaged, too, so while the regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid Niro models lack boot space, the e-Niro boasts 451 litres, plus a good level of room inside.
There’s only one trim level, but it gets lots of premium kit and everything you’d want. Charging capability is great, too. Using a home wallbox it’ll take nine hours 50 minutes for a full charge. An 80 per cent top-up using a 50kW DC charger only takes 75 minutes, and this drops to 54 minutes with a 100kW charger. Yet with the claimed 282-mile range, you might only need to charge up once a week.
8. Citroen Berlingo XL
Our choice: Citroen Berlingo XL BlueHDi 100 Feel
This is the first of our seven-seat entries and, if you’re after sheer space, few cars can beat the versatile Citroen Berlingo XL. While seven-seat SUVs have stolen sales in this class as buyers’ tastes have changed, the Citroen still packs a funky design and combines this with superb usability.
The very back seats fold down and then flip forward to create a big, flat load area, while the second-row seats also fold individually for even more flexibility.
In two-seat form there are 2,693 litres of space, dropping to 1,538 litres with the middle row in place, and a still-respectable 322 litres of boot room in seven-seat set-up. Passenger head and legroom are good, too, even for those in the very back.
The Berlingo XL might have distant relations to a commercial vehicle, but it’s based on Peugeot-Citroen’s modern EMP2 platform, so the ride is acceptable for a big bus. It’s soft, and feels it, but particularly when loaded up it deals with rolling bumps well, even if it’s a bit harsh sometimes.
The manual gearbox isn’t the best, but it’s okay. Both the 128bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol and 128bhp 1.5-litre diesels offer enough grunt. The 99bhp 1.5 BlueHDi is slower, but cheaper, too. Feel trim is all you’ll need. Overall, this is about as much space and practicality as you can get for the money.
9. Peugeot 3008
Our choice: Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure
It doesn’t compromise usability, because there’s plenty of storage, with lots of trays and cubbies. The 591-litre boot means there’s lots of luggage space, too, while the rear of the cabin is roomy enough, even if you do sacrifice a little space for style.
You don’t miss out on kit, though. We’d go for Allure trim, which balances price and equipment best. Stick with the PureTech 130 engine, because the plug-in hybrids are pricey, but if you’re a business user they could help keep your Benefit-in-Kind bills low, too.
10. Ford Focus
Our choice: Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost 125 ST-Line
The Ford Focus is still the best-handling family car on sale. That’s thanks to its C2 platform, which means the Focus has sharp responses from its steering and agile handling. It’s a genuinely fun, involving car that’ll keep keen drivers happy, but doesn’t sacrifice what family car buyers need.
The basics are covered off by the 341-litre boot and spacious back seats, and there is Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment system. ST-Line trim, the one to go for, features an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for sat-nav, along with all the safety tech you expect from a modern family hatch.
Its sporty looks match how it drives, while the 123bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine is our pick. It doesn’t relish revs, but there’s lots of mid-range torque, so progress is fine, and it’s relatively quiet. The high-quality, well tuned suspension damping delivers great body control, while the Focus is comfortable on long journeys.
How to choose the best family car
It's important to break down the criteria that a family car needs to cover while considering your options, so below we answer the most common questions.
How many seats do you need? A four or five-seater might be enough for your family, but there are seven-seaters available if you need them. There are even eight or nine seaters available, too. Take a look at our dedicated pages for the best seven- and eight-seater cars to find out more
How often would you use seven seats? It's worth considering how often you'll travel seven-up. If a car is available with seven seats or five seats and a bigger boot, the latter might be a better buy if you won't be using the third row that often.
How much room do the seats need to have? If you've got grown-up kids, it might not be enough to simply to have a car with two extra seats in the boot. The smallest seven-seaters will only have room in the rearmost row for small kids, so teenagers could be cramped in the back. And of course, small kids grow, so if you're planning on keeping a car for a long period, that should also be factored in.
How often would the family car be used? If you don't use the car during the week and only need a family car at weekends, then you could go for something that has higher running costs than average just so you get the extra space you need. Likewise, if you're using a family car for the school run, then you're probably better off with something that's a bit smaller, while kit such as parking sensors and cameras will be a bonus.
How much boot space do you need? A conventional hatchback might be big enough, but if not, estate versions of hatches offer a more room. The same goes for larger family cars which are available as estates, while crossovers and SUVs have similar space, but their raised ride height mean they might be harder to load.
What about extras? If you go out and do activities, do you need to carry extra items such as bikes, skis or a canoe? If so, does the car you're looking at have roof rails? If so is the roof low enough that you can lift items up there easily?
This is all worth considering, and once you have an idea of what kind of family car you want, take a look at our top 10 and see which ones we think are the best at the business of being family transport.
Do you agree with our family car selection? Let us know your best family car in the comments section below...
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