Volvo V40 hatchback

£19,195 - £31,700

The medium-sized family hatchback sector offers plenty of upmarket choices for prospective buyers. There is the popular Audi A3, as well as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. But if you aren’t enthusiastic about ‘the usual suspects’ from Germany, the Volvo V40 is a very worthy alternative.

The V40 is good-looking, comfortable and very safe. Euro NCAP identified the car as the safest small family car available to buy in 2012, and it was one of the first cars available with autonomous braking – a system that can detect the distance of cars in front and automatically apply the brakes if it calculates a collision is about to take place. Several years on and the V40 still retains the highest ever score in a Euro NCAP crash test, which is one of the reasons why it won Carbuyer's safest car award for 2015.

The V40 has other strengths in addition to its safety credentials. The interior is well finished and the seats are very comfortable, making the V40 an excellent car in which to cover big mileage. The ride quality suffers if you opt for the sports pack, which lowers the suspension and includes large alloy wheels, but handling is generally good on all models. The cabin can get a bit loud at higher speeds and the gearshift could be smoother, but other than that the V40 is a very competent all-rounder.

Depending on which model you go for, the V40 can be very frugal (the D2 diesel returns 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions low enough for tax exemption) or very quick (the 149mph T5 petrol). Petrol versions are badged T and diesels D. The latter provide a good balance between power and fuel economy – the entry-level 1.6-litre is especially impressive in this respect.

As you’d expect from the starting price of the car, as well as Volvo's position in the market as one of the more high-end car makers, standard equipment levels are good across the range.

There's a bewildering range of V40 trims to choose from, rising from ES, to SE (the best value) and on to the sporty R-Design with its sportier looks and sharper handling. There are also numerous option packs, which make more sense than buying extras separately.