Best large family cars
Lots of space, low running costs and a dash of style are needed to win this category
The large family car class feels like the pentathlon of our 2012 New Car Championship. But you can forget riding, running, swimming, shooting and fencing – cars in this class need to lift weights, run long distances, enjoy a sprint and overcome the odd hurdle. They also have to look the part, so some dressage is on the cards, too.
Price range: £17,675-£29,495
If you want to pinpoint the moment that Skoda turned from an alternative choice into a mainstream player, the arrival of the second-generation Superb could be it. The car has been a smash hit and beaten all comers in the large family class ever since – even revised versions of the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat have failed to dislodge it.
So what makes it so good? Simple: all-round appeal. Let’s start on the outside, where the imposing proportions and handsome looks give the Superb serious presence. Then there’s the cabin, which mixes high-quality VW Group switchgear with solid build quality, generous equipment and acres of space – rear legroom is limousine-like. It continues to impress on the move.
Despite mammoth dimensions, the Superb handles with surprising panache. It doesn’t have the ultimate finesse of the Ford, but when it comes to comfort, grip and composure, there’s nothing to choose between them. The decent choice of engines ranges from a 1.4-litre TSI petrol (better than it sounds) to a 3.6-litre V6, via a host of diesels, and provides something for everyone, while the TwinDoor tailgate means the Superb is both a saloon and a hatchback.
If we have a complaint, it’s that the 2.0-litre TDIs aren’t as efficient as rivals, but the 1.6 TDI GreenLine II is available if fuel economy and low emissions are your main concerns.
Price range: £17,795-£29,445
The all-new Mondeo has already broken cover, but there’s plenty of life in the existing model. In fact, its forthcoming replacement has its work cut out simply to eclipse the outgoing car, never mind rivals. Smart looks, highly efficient engines and a spacious cabin are all desirable attributes in this contest, but what lifts the Mondeo above the rest is the way it drives. Nothing in this class has such deftly judged controls as the big Ford, and it has an insatiable appetite for twisty back roads.
If it has a weakness, it’s the fact that it’s so big on the outside. Its wide body is great for interior space, but doesn’t inspire confidence on narrow country roads and makes getting in and out difficult in tight parking spaces. The strong and efficient 2.0 TDCi diesel is the pick of the engine range, while Titanium trim offers the best mix of kit and value.
Price range: £17,395-£25,895
Big sporting occasions are always good for the odd surprise, and the new i40 springs one here. Hyundai’s meteoric rise over the last few years means this isn’t a true upset, but the i40 name is still new in this sector. We think it deserves the attention of family buyers for its eye-catching looks, brilliant value and great aftersales back-up.
Hyundai’s five-year unlimited-mileage warranty and excellent customer service add more strings to the i40’s bow. But what will really surprise newcomers to the brand is the cabin quality. Although the car isn’t as capable or enjoyable to drive as a Mondeo or Superb, it’s comfortable and refined – particularly in efficient 1.7-litre CRDi form. And while the saloon isn’t an obvious choice for family buyers, the Tourer is more like a hatch than a normal estate – and it’s the i40 to go for.
Price range: £17,805-£23,665
The Mazda 6 flies beneath the radar in the family car market – but we think it deserves to be above it. Not only is it great value, the big Mazda is also very spacious, good looking and entertaining to drive. While the 2.2-litre diesel model isn’t the cleanest around, Mazda has a solution for business users, who are taxed on their car’s efficiency and price – it has simply decided to cut the cost of its large family model. As a result, the well equipped Business Line version is still worthy of consideration by company car drivers.
The Mazda 6 offers a lot for your money and is ideal for those who like to stand out from the crowd.
Price range: £19,305-£26,410
The Passat is hamstrung by the practical limitations of its saloon body, but it’s available as an estate, too, and boasts a range of efficient engines. As a consequence, it makes financial sense, but it isn’t the most thrilling car to drive. Still, if you want to minimise your exposure to company car tax while you enjoy a classy cabin and a refined driving experience, look no further. And there’s always the sleek CC four-door coupé if you want something with a bit more glamour.
Don’t get us wrong – Suzuki’s Kizashi isn’t a bad car, it’s just not relevant to most UK buyers. A 2.4-litre petrol-engined saloon with switchable four-wheel drive and a CVT automatic gearbox is never going to win awards for cleanliness or economy. It emits 191g/km of CO2 and there’s no diesel option, so it’s a leftfield alternative.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWe name the best new cars of 2012, with 72 contenders for Gold, Silver and Bronze
- 2Best city carsThis is one of the most hotly contested classes out there, and the fierce competition has produced some extremely capable cars...
- 3Best superminisPracticality, affordability, efficiency, style and fun – these best-selling cars have to offer it all. So which ones do the best job?
- 4Best small family carsHard-fought class has a vast range of new hopefuls – but an all-time classic takes gold
- 5Best large family cars - currently readingLots of space, low running costs and a dash of style are needed to win this category
- 6Best estate carsBig is beautiful for estate buyers – but big has to be clever, too, in a category where all-round practicality is essential
- 7Best executivesAll of our contenders gain points for style, but class is permanent – and BMW is the big winner with updates to its timeless 3 Series
- 8Best crossoversThey’re the gymnasts of the car market – flexible, muscular and versatile. That’s why this is one of the hardest gold medals to win
- 9Best compact SUVsGenuine mud-plugging ability meets comfort, refinement and efficiency in this fast-growing and increasingly competitive class
- 10Best large SUVsThese big cars make a big impression – but which off-road star is the class of our Championship field?
- 11Best roadstersFeel the wind in your hair and wear a smile on your face with these great-handling, stylish and quick drop-top sports cars
- 12Best MPVsExcellent carrying ability alone isn’t enough for the latest people movers. The best buys do it in style
- 13Best hot hatchesOn your marks, get set, go... These small cars all have pace, but it will take something special to outsprint VW’s reigning champ