BMW 1 Series hatchback

£20,245 - £31,725

The BMW 1 Series is the smallest car in the brand's range, but it still boasts all the qualities that make this premium German badge so desirable. A classy cabin, a wide range of powerful and efficient petrol and diesel engines, plus an entertaining rear-wheel-drive layout, all set the 1 Series apart from mainstream rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Volvo V40.

Upmarket rivals like the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class are similarly priced, but the latest 1 Series offers the best balance between ride, comfort and agile handling of any hatchback currently on sale.

In the tough Euro NCAP crash tests, it received the highest possible rating of five stars, with high scores for both adult and child passenger protection. All the petrol and diesel engines offered deliver a strong blend of pace and economy, but if you regularly need to cover long distances, the 116d EfficientDynamics is the best bet. It emits just 99g/km of CO2, meaning road tax is free, and should return over 70mpg on average. The high-performance 125i and M135i are faster than most hot hatches, but even the flagship model won’t cost the earth to run.

There are five different trim levels to choose from: ES, SE, Sport, Urban and M Sport, but even the entry-level ES comes with alloy wheels, a DAB digital radio and a 6.5-inch colour screen. We’d recommend going for the SE trim or above, as this model includes key equipment like a Bluetooth phone connection and a leather multifunction steering wheel. We also prefer the greater practicality of the five-door compared to the – arguably better-looking – three-door.

There's a long list of options, but costly bundles like the Media Pack soon add up. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is similarly pricey, but worth going for thanks to its fast, smooth changes – plus it doesn’t hurt your fuel economy.