BMW 1 Series hatchback

£20,930 - £32,540

Compared to the many other small premium hatchbacks, the BMW 1 Series has a trick up its sleeve. It's the only car in this class to come with rear-wheel drive as standard and this gives it the edge when it comes to delivering an enjoyable driving experience. That's not to say rivals like the Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf are bad to drive – far from it, in fact – but the BMW manages to be even better.

It's not all about driving dynamics, however: contenders in this class have to exude the correct image, be desirable, have a premium-feeling interior and have a great range of engines that offer low running costs without compromising on performance. The 1 Series manages to balance all of these factors brilliantly. 

If you’re a company-car buyer with a keen eye on running costs, then the BMW 118d is the model to choose. It returns 70.6mpg and won’t cost you much in Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company car tax, either, as it sits in the 18% bracket. 

If you want even lower running costs, then you could go for the BMW 116d EfficientDynamics, which tops 83mpg and emits just 94g/km of CO2. This means it's in the 16% BiK tax bracket and won’t cost anything in road tax if you’re a private buyer. However, it doesn’t feel quite powerful enough to cope with day-to-day driving: the 118d has a nicer engine.

There are also a variety of petrols to choose from, ranging from frugal three-cylinders to powerful turbocharged six-cylinders. These return between 35.3 and 58.9mpg, which equates to CO2 emissions from 112 to 175g/km. 

There are four trim levels – SE, ED Plus, Sport and M Sport – all of which come pretty well equipped. Every version gets things like BMW's iDrive infotainment system, LED daytime running lights, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, alloy wheels and a leather steering wheel. ED Plus adds various things to help improve fuel efficiency, while Sport and M Sport add various extra sporting touches. 

You shouldn’t be concerned about the 1 Series’ safety, either. Euro NCAP awarded it the full five stars and an impressive 91% for adult occupant protection. It comes with plenty of safety kit as standard. The 1 Series does have a slightly concerning reliability record, however, although it came comfortably in the top half for reliability in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.