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.

1st Gold

Skoda Superb 

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.

2nd Silver

Ford Mondeo

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.

3rd Bronze

Hyundai i40

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.

Runner up

Mazda 6

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.

Runner up

VW Passat

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.

False start

Suzuki Kizashi

Price: £21,995

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

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