Here are 12 of the best family hatchbacks to buy in 2021
Still fancy an old school five-door hatch to cart your family around? Step this way
"There wasn’t a whole bunch wrong with the Mk7 Golf. And actually, most of the time in the new one we longed for the clarity of the old car’s infotainment. While some of the new system’s functions are proper wow-factor stuff, the no-buttons pratfall dismays us.
"But the rest of the car is, sure enough, finely polished. Better steering, better refinement, better safety, more modern lighting. All of them steps ahead from a car that already pretty much led the class. Get yourself a 150bhp TSi with the multi-link axle and you’re laughing.
"Oh and by the way, for the next few years, VW doesn’t even see Golf sales falling away. Early orders suggest ID3 buyers will come from other places, while yesterday’s Golf buyers stick to today’s Golf. They won’t go far wrong."Advertisement - Page continues below
“A Mercedes A-Class will impress your neighbours, but it's you that drives your car not them. This Focus is the sweetest drive in the mainstream hatch class. Any family crossover would be into the weeds.
"The driving appeal comes from a balance of sweet engines, fine steering, great cornering and well-tuned ride. But success in a hatch isn't just about the drive. The Focus has the rest of the bases well covered too.”
“The Octavia is now almost certainly the car you’d recommend ahead of the Golf and Leon. Crikey, who saw that one coming?
"With our most sensible hats on, it’s easily the most practical of the three, has the least annoying interior and is set up to provide a comfortable (if somewhat forgettable) driving experience. Some of the materials may be slightly scratchier than in the Golf and that 2.0-litre TDI is certainly a little louder, but it’s also the most interesting-looking hatch and doesn’t just feel like a Volkswagen Group copy and paste job. A turn up for the books indeed.”Advertisement - Page continues below
“Want a hatchback that’s simple to drive, cheap to run and with the peace of mind of a nice chunky warranty? The Hyundai i30, last updated in 2020, should fall right into your crosshairs. It’s a sensible and rational rival to the class establishment, but then it’s priced right against them, too.
"If you want an emotional connection from your car, or a driving experience that does more than cosset you and keep you comfortable, we’d suggest looking elsewhere, namely the Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Mazda 3. The regular i30 isn’t a car that’ll put an improbable smile upon your face, but sometimes that’s ok.”
“The new Leon is Spain’s strongest attempt to out-Golf the Golf yet. And it’s really not far off it. Largely because it’s based on the same spangly MQB platform as the MkVIII Golf and Audi A3 – so might finally be the car to lure budget-conscious hatch buyers from the German end of the new car market and into something a bit sharper, smarter-looking and with keener handling.
"In fact, VW may have accidentally taken its eye off the ball and made the Leon closer in comparison than it might like. See, the VW Golf now has an enemy within: an electric competitor, the ID3. A mass-market electric car that’s very much like a Golf but electric. The new Golf feels like it’s playing second fiddle to that marketing push post-dieselgate. And, being distrcted by this new family member, it feels that VW may have given the Leon a leg up. Because if you want a Golf that’s not a Golf, for a bit less money, this (or the Skoda Octavia) is the car to have.”
“It's good to find a hatch that isn't like all the rest. The comfort and quietness proposition is met, and there's plenty of interest in the design. It's also better to drive than Citroen's previous 'advanced comfort' cars, having found some new accuracy in its steering and straight-line stability. That predictable behaviour itself reduces fatigue.
"The electric version doesn't quite bring a new dimension to the price-to-range ratio. But look at the interiors: the VW Group rivals are consciously oddball and not that easy to use, whereas the Citroen might be just distinctive enough.”
“The A3 Sportback is possibly the most roundly talented posho-badged hatchback on the market right now. The BMW 1 Series is a sportier choice (but pays for that with a tougher ride and more road noise), and the Mercedes A-Class trails both by a distance, despite its tech-festooned dashboard. The Audi strikes a neat balance between fuss-free family transport, well-mannered refinement and managing to feel just a little keener in the chassis department than the old A3.
"Most buyers will be seduced by the image, the badge, the impression of tech, and the A3 ticks those boxes too, but underneath there’s a fundamentally well-engineered car, even if it’s certainly not as richly appointed inside as it was last time out.”Advertisement - Page continues below
BMW 1 Series
“The 1 Series's switch to transverse engines has meant the mainstream versions are super-competent. They've enough room now, and really you'd hardly know which end is driven anyway.
"And that applies to all engines: unlike the base-model A-Classes, which have nasty engines, clunky transmissions and duff chassis, the 1 Series is a good car from the bottom up. The 95 per centers will be chuffed.”
“VW makes no secret of the fact it considers the ID3 its next definitive people’s car, after the Beetle and the Golf. And to please most people most of the time, the ID3 is deliberately not an oddball. Digest its slabby-yet-slippery silhouette, get your head around the chunky drive selector, and the ID3 has few surprises left up its sleeve.
"That, of course, is exactly the point. This car is supposed to grab the baton from the evergreen Golf, which has become the benchmark over almost 50 years of gradual improvement and evolution. Scary cars tend not to sell in big enough numbers to change the world.
"That’s not to say the ID3 isn’t clever. It’s space efficient, nimble on its toes and tech-wise, it's on the ball. What’s arguably more impressive than the car itself is the engineering might behind it, tooling up for huge volumes of production, a trim level for everyone, and soon, an ID model for everyone too. Even the factory that builds the ID3 is apparently carbon-neutral.
"On first impression, the ID3 fills the EV family hatch chasm between the bravely brilliant BMW i3 and the disappointingly unambitious Nissan Leaf. After all, regular Golfs have never been thrillers packed with derring-do, but they’ve tended to be a yardstick against which the pretenders are judged.”Advertisement - Page continues below
"After the soft and vague ninth-generation Civic, version ten is rejuvenated. Its low silhouette speaks the truth about its sharp driving manners. Quick steering and a taut chassis put it at home on B-roads. But it’s well-judged enough not to mess up the main duties of a family hatch: it’s stable at a cruise, and the ride comfort in towns and suburbs is perfectly acceptable.
"Performance is lively versus rivals, whichever of the new turbo engines you get. But the 1.0’s lag sometimes takes the shine off it. The 1.5 keeps a lid on that problem, and feels semi-sporty. It’s a good match for the athletic cornering. Then there’s the 316bhp Type R, probably the best hot hatch on sale today. One of the best ever, in fact.
"Despite the low roof and seats, it’s still roomy, but only by virtue of being a fair bit longer than most rivals – check it fits your garage. Perhaps because Honda hasn’t over-complicated the engines, there was money left over to serve up impressive equipment lists, especially the active safety setup.
"Last time around, you barely felt any common ground between the pin-sharp Type R and the mushy rump of the Civic range. This generation, the mainstream versions feel like they have some R blood in their veins. There’s tangible overengineering, which is good news when Honda’s engineers are so talented."
“It’s not a radical car, the new Mazda 3. And on one level that’s disappointing. We’d like to see Mazda pushing into hybrid and electric technology by now. This is an engineering and design-led firm, and it would be good to see it leading.
"Instead we have a very regular hatchback with a couple of petrol engines, one of which is rather limp, the other fiendishly clever. And that's very honourable, but also a tough sell when the world is falling headlong for electric right now. If you're into your engineering, this is the car for you.
"You get the feeling that Mazda cares. There’s little cynicism here, instead the details have been worked to improve the driving and ownership experience little by little. The interior design and comfort, the low noise intrusion, the supple ride and handling. And below that the small things have been done well - the cabin lighting, the switchgear operation and so on. Miles better than the new Golf, at any rate, Not a touch-sensitive slider in sight! Hurrah.
"Things have been done for the right reasons – not to gain headlines, but to improve quality of life. It’s a human-centric approach. And the result is an easy, good-natured, undemanding car to live with.”
“The Corolla looks more striking than ever, and proves Toyota is really on a roll with making its cars less boring (by its own admission). The looks alone may tempt some people away from competitors, as might its British-built status.
"What they’ll find is a car heavily biased towards hybrid powertrains – less than a quarter sold will be 1.2 petrols – and thus angled away from keen drivers, no matter how sporty its pitch. Instead, the Corolla is about as quiet and calming as hatchbacks get, so long as you don’t work its coarse CVT transmission too hard.
"That – and its cost saving for business users – is the area it stands out from its many, many talented rivals. Because in terms of tech, practicality and simple enjoyment, it falls short of the class best.”