Many of our top 9 family cars are enjoyable to drive. While this is often low on the list of families’ priorities, it’s an area that shouldn’t be overlooked: while ferrying children to and from school will make up much of a family car’s life, when it’s just grown ups in the car, the chance to remind yourself of how enjoyable driving can be is an experience to be savoured.
On a more practical note, all of the cars we recommend here are affordable to run and many come with fixed-price servicing packages and lengthy warranties, too. The competitive nature of the family-car market means there are some great deals to be had, while low-cost finance options can make the buying process simple and painless. If you’re thinking of buying a car using one of these, be sure to check out our guide to buying a car on finance.
1. SEAT Leon hatchback
The SEAT Leon combines striking looks, a great driving experience and generous equipment in a practical and spacious family-hatchback package. Underneath, it’s essentially a Volkswagen Golf, so you get rock-solid build quality and a range of efficient yet powerful engines for about £1,000 less than the equivalent Golf. There’s a Leon for everyone, from the 78.5mpg of the 1.6-litre diesel Ecomotive model to the brisk 1.8-litre petrol Leon FR, which goes from 0-62mph in just 7.5 seconds. Those after sleeker styling who don’t mind sacrificing a little practicality should investigate the three-door SC model, while regular DIYers may be better off with the ST estate. Four-wheel-drive fans should check out the rugged X-perience model, while keen drivers might want to see if they can justify the expensive but seriously swift Cupra models – both the ST estate and hatchback versions.
2.Kia Cee’d hatchback
While the SEAT Leon is good value for money and the Skoda Octavia a serious bargain, the Kia Cee’d manages to undercut both of these cars on price, yet it also offers a generous amount of standard equipment. True, the driving experience is geared towards comfort rather than engagement, but this is something that’s likely to appeal to many families: the Cee’d has excellent suspension that insulates its occupants nicely from poor road surfaces and potholes, something those with snoozing children are bound to appreciate. Running costs are equally impressive: the 1.6-litre diesel returns up to 74.3mpg and costs nothing to tax, while Kia’s class-leading seven-year/100,000-mile warranty adds serious reassurance.
3. Citroen C4 Picasso MPV
Looks are subjective, but it’s hard to argue with anyone who says the Citroen C4 Picasso is the most stylish MPV on sale today. The Citroen offers more than just a pretty face, too: excellent fuel economy of up to 74.3mpg, a comfortable (if not involving) driving experience, together with a flexible and modern interior make the C4 Picasso an easy car to recommend for families. If you need more space, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso comes with similarly futuristic looks, as well as seven seats as standard. The only real downside to C4 Picasso ownership is that you have to use a touchscreen system if you want to change the temperature or ventilation settings – an unnecessary layer of complication that busy parents may dislike.
4. Volkswagen Golf hatchback
seems churlish to feature the Volkswagen Golf in the bottom half of our list when cars that have less badge appeal but similar mechanicals are more highly placed. The truth is that while the Golf is thoroughly excellent at everything it does, if you want the five-door model you need to spend over £18,000 – and that’s before you add any extras. Still, the Golf offers an engaging driving experience and a practical interior, while its trump card is that it’s so classy as to be virtually classless: Lords, Ladies, labourers and librarians will all find themselves equally at home in a Golf. The BlueMotion model returns 83.1mpg, the GTI and Golf R are serious performance machines, while the Estate is perfect for families who regularly carry lots of luggage. If your children are happy to squash into its small rear seats, the Cabriolet offers wind-in-the-hair thrills, while there’s even a hybrid performance model called the Golf GTE, a four-wheel-drive version known as the Alltrack and the all-electric e-Golf.
5. Skoda Superb hatchback
When it was first launched in 2001, some people sniggered at the Skoda Superb’s name. Over the last 15 years, however, Skoda’s large family hatchback has more than justified its moniker, offering peerless space, rock-solid build quality and a seriously appealing asking price. While the Superb’s most striking aspect is just how much room there is for passengers inside (and their luggage in its 565-litre boot), it’s also an enjoyable car to drive and the latest version has a comfortable and plush interior that – were it not for the Skoda badge – could easily feature in a far more expensive car. Like many other entries on this list, the Superb comes in various guises: the Estate has a larger boot than many cars from the class above, the four-wheel-drive Outdoor model has a raised ride height and more rugged styling, while the GreenLine version manages 76.4mpg and the 276bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine goes from 0-62mph in a heady 5.8 seconds.
6. BMW 1 Series
The only rear-drive hatch in the class, the BMW 1 Series offers a strong combination of performance, economy and emissions. It also handles well and rides comfortably, too.
The BMW 1 Series is one of the best small family cars you can buy because it’s hugely desirable, good to drive and surprisingly cheap to run, although its rivals beat it when it comes to practicality.
7. Audi A3 and A3 Sportback
The Audi A3 range comes with strong, efficient engines, and it strikes an excellent balance between comfort and control on SE suspension. The cabin is beautifully built, with plenty of space for four and a useful-sized boot.
We’d recommend buyers choose the A3 Sportback, which comes with five doors and boosts practicality. Whichever A3 you choose, you’ll get a stylish, premium family hatchback. It’s no surprise it was our What Car? Car of the Year in 2013.
8. Hyundai i30
There are lots of reasons to recommend the Hyundai i30. It’s got a spacious cabin that looks good and is well made. Standard specification is generous and it comes with an affordable price tag.
On top of that it also comes with Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. It’s not as good to drive as some rivals but is worthy of some serious consideration.
9. Ford Focus
The Ford Focus is another family hatchback that’s a joy to drive. The five-door family hatchback is a perennial best-seller and with good reason, it’s refined, safe and economical. Only its cabin lets it down – Ford can’t quite compete with the quality and premium feel of the Volkswagen Group’s offerings.