Ford Fiesta hatchback

£10,145 - £18,395

The Ford Fiesta isn’t the UK's best-selling new car by accident. It's been honed over the course of successive generations so that today's model is a strong performer in most key areas, roundly beating rivals including the VW Polo and Vauxhall Corsa.

That said, it still has room for improvement in terms of owner satisfaction (users rate its performance, but not its quality or reliability), and cabin size (the rear cabin, especially, is cramped). On that score, rivals such as the more MPV-like Nissan Note and Kia Rio are roomier.

The Fiesta is an attractive car, though, available in three and five-door body styles. The five-door is the most practical shape, while the three-door isn’t the easiest in the class to get in and out of.

The Fiesta is available with a range of petrol and diesel engines, but you need to be careful which one you choose. If your annual mileage is low, but you do the occasional long journey, go for one of the punchy yet economical 1.0-litre turbocharged petrols, called EcoBoost.

If your mileage is high and you do a lot of motorway miles, consider the 1.6-litre diesel (the only other diesel, the 1.5, is slow and not as economical). The remaining petrol engines – a 1.25 and a 1.6-litre – are a bit long in the tooth now, although they are cheap, so if you’re an undemanding driver on a tight budget, they may suit you better.

Regardless of which engine is under the bonnet, the Fiesta is an entertaining car to drive. It has quick and direct steering, an impressive suspension set-up that resists body lean in corners while giving a supple ride, and lots of grip. It's quiet, too, so motorway drives are rarely a chore.

Being a Ford, there's no end of trim levels on offer, ranging from extremely basic Studio to top-spec Titanium X. All versions have electrically powered mirrors and front windows, a handy 60:40 split-folding rear seat and a CD player with iPod and USB connections.

Our pick is mid-range Zetec, which has attractive additional body styling, alloy wheels, air-con, a heated windscreen and Ford's SYNC entertainment system featuring Bluetooth phone connectivity and voice control, plus a height-adjustable driver's seat. It's also available with a wealth of options – our pick being the upgraded stereo with DAB digital radio and the all-round parking sensors.

On the subject of safety, the Fiesta was awarded the full five stars by Euro NCAP and bristles with standard safety equipment, including electronic stability control, hill-start assistance and anti-lock brakes. It also has seven airbags. Active City Stop, which applies the car's brakes if it senses an imminent collision, is an option on the Zetec model and up – but annoyingly only on the EcoBoost and diesel engines.