Volkswagen Golf hatchback

£17,595 - £27,185

There's no shortage of bodystyles for the Volkswagen Golf: it's available as a practical estate and as the Golf Plus mini-MPV, but the three and five-door hatchbacks remain by far the most popular versions. It's now in its seventh generation and widely regarded as the car to beat in the family hatchback class, which includes strong and equally popular competition from the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 308. We've reviewed the performance models – the VW Golf GTD, VW Golf GTI and VW Golf R – separately.

Previous generations of the Golf have been known for excellent build quality, refinement and performance, but rivals have been more fun to drive and more affordable. The current model is still more expensive than the norm, but it's much better to drive than before, which almost completes the circle in terms of just how good an all-rounder it is. Strong residual values help to justify the higher price, as used Golfs tend to be worth more than your average hatchback second-hand.

The Golf is available with 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel engines, the most economical of which is the 1.6-litre TDI in the Golf BlueMotion. It can return 88.3mpg and is exempt from road tax. However, the larger 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine is our pick, because the extra performance makes it more suitable for most roads and it still returns an impressive 68mpg.

As is usually the case, diesel Golfs are more expensive and if your annual mileage is less than 12,000, a petrol model may well be a better bet. The official economy figures are lower for the petrols, but still respectable – the 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI, for example, is helped by VW's cylinder-deactivation technology (which shuts down half the engine when you're cruising gently) to do 58.9mpg.

There's now a petrol Golf BlueMotion, too, with a 1.0-litre TSI engine that returns 65.7mpg and is more economical than the equivalent Ford Focus EcoBoost or Peugeot 308 PureTech petrols. All Golfs also feature certain elements of BlueMotion technology to improve efficiency across the board.

As frugal as the conventional engines are, they’re not a patch on the petrol-electric Golf GTE hybrid, which returns 166mpg, or the e-Golf that runs purely on electricity and has a 118-mile range. Both are more expensive than the normal petrol and diesel models, though.

Transmissions vary depending on the model, but Golfs come with either a five or six-speed manual or a six or seven-speed DSG automatic gearboxes. As autos go, the latter is one of the best: it's smooth, with quick gearchanges, and very efficient, so it's worth considering if you do a lot of urban driving in particular.

Trim levels start with the basic S, followed by mid-range Match (you can also have a 1.0-litre BlueMotion petrol with this model), BlueMotion (which is limited to the 1.6-litre TDI engine), sportier GT and top-of-the range R-line.

Our pick is Match, which strikes a good balance between price and equipment: it comes with adaptive cruise control, alloy wheels and parking sensors on top of features such as the media system and DAB radio that come with every model. The Golf also has a full five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating and is known for its reliability.