Best family cars

Last updated: May 23, 2016

Family cars are the unsung workhorses of modern motoring. The remit of providing practical, affordable transport for a family of four or five might not seem that big an ask, but factor in the robustness, reliability and low running costs a family car must deliver and it's clear that to be a contender in this category, a car must be seriously proficient in almost every aspect.

Many of our top 10 family cars are also 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.

While we have a dedicated list of the top 10 people carriers on sale today, we’ve included a pair of MPVs on our best family car list, simply because they’re too good to be overlooked – even if you might not initially consider yourself to be an MPV driver.

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. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5

Skoda Octavia hatchback

For £1,000 less than the Leon, you could buy yourself an excellent Skoda Octavia. Like the Leon, most of its mechanical components are derived from the VW Golf, so you know you’re getting a tried-and-tested car. What the Octavia lacks in outright looks and badge appeal, it more than makes up for in practicality. Its 550-litre boot shames some cars from the class above, while the generous rear legroom will be greatly appreciated by older children, as well as front-seat occupants who have to sit behind a bulky baby seat. The 1.6-litre GreenLine model boasts fuel economy of 80.7mpg, the Octavia Estate has a warehouse-rivalling boot and the vRS model is only a second slower from 0-62mph than a Porsche Cayman. Away from these extremes, the Octavia is a thoroughly well rounded car, while Skoda has an excellent reputation, both for reliability and for the quality of its dealer network. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5

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. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5

Hyundai i30 hatchback

New cars cost hundreds of millions of pounds to develop, so it’s unsurprising that manufacturers often club together when designing a new model. The Hyundai i30 shares many of its parts with the Kia Cee’d and it runs that car very close for third place, losing out only because it’s about £1,000 more expensive and Hyundai’s five-year warranty isn’t quite as generous as Kia’s – although there’s no mileage limit with Hyundai’s policy. The 1.6-litre diesel engine in the i30 is also marginally more efficient than the Cee’d’s, returning 78.5mpg. If you’re buying a Hyundai i30, be sure to go for the three-year fixed-price servicing package: at £449, this is likely to provide significant savings over the course of ownership. The i30 Tourer estate is a similarly excellent car, with a dash of added practicality. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5

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. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

It 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. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5

Ford B-MAX mini MPV

As a practical proposition for families, the Ford B-MAX mini MPV (Multiple Purpose Vehicle) is hard to beat, mainly thanks to its sliding rear doors, which offer excellent access to the rear. While that might make you think the B-MAX is a van at heart, rest assured that underneath it’s a Fiesta. That means you get a reliable, nippy car that’s engaging to drive on twisty backroads, yet offers the ease of use typically associated with much larger people carriers. The B-MAX should also be very cheap to run thanks to the 1.5-litre diesel engine, which returns up to 74.3mpg and is road-tax-exempt. The only downside to B-MAX ownership is the slightly fussy dashboard design and Ford’s unintuitive SYNC infotainment system. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 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. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5

Vauxhall Astra hatchback

As one of the best-selling cars in the UK, the new Vauxhall Astra had a lot riding on its shoulders when it was launched last year. While Vauxhall was unlikely to make a serious mis-step with stakes as high as this, the new Astra is a genuine success. It looks sleeker than all of its predecessors, the interior features high-quality materials, while the driving experience – previously an area of slight disappointment for Astra owners – is now better than ever, putting the Astra on par with the VW Golf. The most economical 1.6-litre diesel engine returns an impressive 85.6mpg, while performance fans should check out the 197bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol, which goes from 0-62mph in just 6.6 seconds. Add advanced safety equipment like Vauxhall’s ‘Matrix’ headlights (which can be kept on full beam without dazzling oncoming drivers) and traffic-sign recognition into the mix, and it’s clear that the Vauxhall Astra is every inch the modern, appealing and competent family car. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5

Mazda3 hatchback

The Mazda3 makes it onto this list for its eye-catching design, great handling and excellent reputation for reliability. The best engine is the top-of-the-range 2.2-litre diesel, which goes from 0-62mph in just 8.1 seconds, yet still manages to return 68.9mpg. Factor in a spacious interior with plenty of rear legroom, Mazda’s excellent reputation for reliability and a generous amount of standard equipment and it’s obvious why the Mazda3 is a great prospect for families after something a little different. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5