For high-mileage family drivers, this is a key factor – so we rate cabin space and feel, plus ride quality

New car buyers are as demanding as family motorists. Not only do they want a vehicle that’s cheap to run, great to drive and versatile; they also demand the refinement and cabin feel of a top-line executive model.

To name our comfort king, we turned to tried and trusted methods. A tape measure was used to find the contenders that delivered the most legroom for rear seat passengers, while a sound meter highlighted which model was the quietest cruiser. We also assessed each car’s ride quality, driving position and any features that made time in the cabin more pleasurable.

After totting up the points, the VW Golf stood head and shoulders above the rest. At motorway speeds it isolates road noise superbly, and would give many executive models a run for their money. Rear passengers get 780mm of legroom – only 30mm short of the class-leading Honda Civic  – and the high-quality look and feel of its interior, together with a driving position that can be tailored to perfection, all help to maximise comfort.

The VW’s ride is excellent, too. Our car was fitted with the firm’s £730 optional Adaptive Chassis Control (ACC), but even standard models cope superbly with bumps and potholes.

Fighting it out for second spot are the Skoda and Astra. The Vauxhall is quieter at motorway speeds, while its cabin has a premium feel – particularly at night, when the interior is bathed in warm, red ambient light. Its optional sports seats are supportive – the driving position is spot-on.

But in SRi trim, it fidgets over bumps that the Octavia glides across. Even with the Astra’s optional FlexRide suspension in comfort mode, it can’t match the Skoda.

If you consider space a luxury, the Civic should be on your shortlist, as passengers in the rear are treated to 810mm of legroom – 70mm more than the cramped Mazda 3.

Better still, the standard panoramic windscreen boosts the impression of space in its bright and airy cabin.

However, even these virtues can’t save the Honda from a fifth place finish. The first problem is the driving position, which leaves some of the most important read-outs obscured by the steering wheel. Many drivers will also complain that the seat is set too high.

Our second grievance concerns ride comfort and refinement. Despite positive readings from our sound meter, there is too much road and wind noise at cruising speeds. And while the firm ride makes the Honda feel sporty, it compromises comfort.

The Mazda shares this trait, although it finishes in last place here – behind the Civic – on account of its confined cabin.

In fourth is the Ford. It’s not as refined as the Golf or as roomy as the Civic, but its comfortable driving position and relaxing ride raise few complaints.

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