Volkswagen Golf hatchback

£17,175 - £25,770

The Volkswagen Golf has set the benchmark in the family-car class for years, and the latest seventh-generation model is the best yet. The hatchback model is the top seller – and the car against which rivals such as the Ford Focus, Renault Megane and Peugeot 308 will always be measured.

VW offers a broad choice of engines and trims. Petrol engines range from 84bhp and 104bhp versions of the 1.2-litre TSI and two versions of the 1.4-litre TSI, with 120bhp or 138bhp. The Golf GTD, Golf GTI and the Golf R performance model sit at the top of the range, and all are reviewed separately.

Diesel buyers can choose from no fewer than three 1.6-litre TDI engines, including the super-efficient 88mpg BlueMotion. But as cheap to run as it is, we prefer the 2.0-litre TDI engine. With 148bhp, it provides plenty of performance to go with its promise of 68mpg fuel economy.

Transmission options comprise five and six-speed manual gearboxes, as well as six and seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatics. Not every gearbox is available with every trim and engine combination, but the slick six-speed manual and smooth seven-speed DSG are the best choices.

Equipment is a bit miserly in S spec, so aim for Match trim at least, and as the 1.2-litre petrol engine can feel a bit underpowered at motorway speeds, the 1.4-litre is a better bet. But no matter which Golf you choose, it's a safe way to travel, having scored the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP tests.