Best small family cars

Hard-fought class has a vast range of new hopefuls – but an all-time classic takes gold

This was always going to be one of the closest and most fiercely fought events in our Championship. The small family car class is Overflowing with talented contenders, all hoping to be celebrating when the medals are handed out. The task wasn’t going to be easy, though, as these have to be better all-rounders than Olympic great Daley Thompson.

1st Gold

Volkswagen Golf 

Price range: £15,865-£33,315

If the Golf were to enter the Olympics, it would storm to a gold medal in the decathlon. A strong blend of practicality, comfort, quality and desirability makes the multi-talented VW the best all-rounder in the business. A glance at the price lists reveals there’s a model for every taste and budget – from the eco-friendly BlueMotion to the explosive GTI. And while the sober-suited hatch doesn’t look as bold as rivals, its classy image means it’s as at home outside a swanky restaurant as in a supermarket car park. Plus, every version benefits from the same spacious and well built cabin, perfect driving position and generous boot.

Desirable kit such as air-con, electric windows and remote locking is standard throughout the Golf range. Best of the bunch for value is the Match, which adds a whole host of extras, including Bluetooth, a DAB radio and cruise control. Combine this trim with the 1.6-litre TDI and you’ll also be rewarded with claimed fuel returns of 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 107g/km. The super-frugal BlueMotion is even cheaper to run, as it boasts a sub-100g/km figure and promises to travel 74.3 miles on every gallon of diesel.

That’s not all. Rock-solid residuals and an attractively priced pre-paid servicing pack make the VW an excellent long-term investment. After nearly 40 years at the top, the Golf shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

2nd Silver

BMW 1 Series

Price range: £19,375-£24,720

Expectations for the new BMW 1 Series were high when it made its debut last year – and the car didn’t disappoint. Bigger, more refined and better equipped than its desirable predecessor, the entry-level BMW is an even stronger package. It’s the way the 1 Series drives that really sets it apart. A beautifully balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis, well weighted controls and precise steering make it the gold medal choice for keen drivers.

Punchy turbocharged petrol and diesel engines mean the car has the performance to match its sporty handling. Pick of the bunch is the 2.0-litre diesel in the 120d, which provides 0-62mph in only 7.2 seconds, yet posts claimed economy of 61.4mpg and emits only 122g/km of CO2. The new BMW also adds practicality to this pace and poise. There’s plenty of room for occupants in the back, while the 360-litre boot is one of the biggest in the class.

3rd Bronze

Skoda Octavia

Price range: £13,280-£23,995

Against such strong opposition, a bronze-medal finish for the Skoda Octavia is an excellent result. It’s not as fast, stylish or dynamic as some of its rivals, but its solidity, practicality and value stand out in this class. The spacious cabin will comfortably accommodate five adults, while the boot offers a huge 585 litres. Fold the rear bench flat and that increases to 1,350 litres.

But there’s more to the Octavia than space. Underpinnings from the VW Golf mean it’s good to drive, while engines range from a thrifty 1.6-litre TDI diesel to a firebreathing 208bhp 2.0-litre petrol in the hot vRS. Adding to the Skoda’s appeal are its price, generous kit and solid build – which helps explain why it consistently wins awards in our annual Driver Power survey.

Runner up

Hyundai i30

Price range: TBC

The new i30 misses out on a medal by the narrowest of margins. Only the brilliance of our top three denies the capable Hyundai glory in this encounter. Sleek looks give the car more classy kerb appeal than its predecessor, while the roomy and upmarket cabin takes its cues from the larger i40 model.

So far we have driven only the 128bhp 1.6-litre diesel model on UK roads, and if the rest of the range turns out to be as good as this variant, the i30 could be on the podium next time around. It has low CO2 emissions of 97g/km and promises fuel returns of nearly 70mpg.

Runner up

Renault Scenic

Price range: £16,615-£21,000

If you’re looking for family-friendly flexibility, the Renault Scenic takes some beating. A clever cabin, plenty of space and unique looks help it stand out. You only get five seats, but the three sliding rear chairs can be folded flat or removed. There are also plenty of useful storage compartments and cup-holders.

Better still, the Scenic boasts a composed chassis and a range of smooth petrol and diesel engines, and the entire range has just been given a facelift.

False star

Proton Gen2

Price range: £9,195-£11,995

With its bargain basement price tag, big boot and long list of kit, you’d expect the Proton Gen2 to be a hit. Yet it’s held back by a cramped cabin full of cheap materials, as well as a gruff 1.6-litre engine that emits a hefty 157g/km of CO2. Lotus has tweaked the driving dynamics, but the Gen2 is still way off the class standard. Plus, there’s no ESP – a big miss.

In this review

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