The UK’s most wanted hatchbacks
Monday 13 June 2011
Trying to decide which family hatchback is right for you? Why not check out what other people are searching for?
With over 70 million searches so far this year, small family hatchbacks are the most searched cars on Auto Trader, and it’s easy to see why. Their versatility, low running costs and excellent drivability make them ideal for every occasion, whether it’s nipping to the shops or a long road trip.
The Volkswagen Golf is the most searched for family hatchback in the UK, with more than 12 million used car searches so far this year. The original Golf was unveiled in 1974 and since then, a further six versions have been launched with the bulk of used models on Auto Trader split into the Mark IV (1997 – 2004), Mark V (2004 – 2009) and Mark VI (2009 – ).
The Mark IV was launched in 1997 and was a far more grown up offering, with an improved cabin and greater space increasing its appeal – although it isn’t as spacious as some of its rivals. The Golf’s extra weight makes it disappointing to drive – it’s fine on motorways, but it lacks the handling characteristics of previous generation models. This version has proved reliable, although several car safety recalls have been issued, so check the service history to make sure the problems have been fixed.
In 2005, the Mark V was introduced. Bigger, more comfortable, improved build quality and some impressive new engines propelled the Golf back to the top of the family hatchback market. The 1.6-litre FSI petrol engine is the pick of the range for its blend of performance and economy. Listen for any clunking noises during the test drive, as it could be a sign of suspension troubles. Also make sure the gear changes in the manual are smooth, and in the DSG automatic, test the ‘box in all three modes, automatic, sport and sequential.
The current Golf is better than ever. It’s refined, comfortable, well-equipped and desirable – but be aware that used values are still very high so you may have to spend more to get the one you want.
Owner rating: 4.6/5
“I’ve really loved owning this golf and I couldn’t have been more pleased with it. It’s comfortable, spacious, fuel efficient and it certainly goes when you do get the chance to open the throttle! The boot is also huge, we’ve fit three sets of golf clubs in there comfortably before.” George T, Rotherithe
Read all Volkswagen Golf hatchback (2004 – 2008) owner reviews
The second most searched for family hatchback is the Ford Focus, with over nine million used car searches on Auto Trader so far this year. When the Focus launched in 1998 it represented a radical break away from the traditional family hatchback with strong styling, new engines and a more upmarket cabin.
Its biggest strength is still the way it drives. Its sharp handling makes it feel more like a sports variant than a family run-a-round, yet it remains smooth on long motorway journeys. The cabin is a big leap forward over anything Ford had produced before, with an easy to use centre console, excellent driving position and plenty of storage.
In 2004, the second-generation Focus was launched and carried on where its predecessor left off.
There is a wide selection of petrol engines, but the best options are the more powerful 113bhp 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre TDCI diesel. The bigger engines are more expensive to buy and run, while the lesser powered engines struggle for pace.
The biggest problem with a used Focus is trying to find a good one at the right price, as their popularity means well maintained examples hold onto their value well. Some of the early versions are becoming more widely available but check high-mileage models for power steering faults and engine issues on diesel models.
Owner rating: 4.4/5
“This car is a brilliant all rounder. If you need a spacious small family car which is great to drive, comfortable, good mpg with reasonable running costs then make sure you look at one of these before you buy anything else!” David W, Blackburn
Read all Ford Focus hatchback (2004 – ) owner reviews
The Vauxhall Astra is one of the UK’s most popular family cars, and the third most searched for family hatchback on Auto Trader with almost eight million used car searchers so far this year. There have been six generations of the Astra since it hit showrooms in 1978, although only the Mark 4 through to the current generation models are readily available to buy used.
The fourth version of the Vauxhall Astra was launched in 1998 offering an improved ride and handling. Despite a fairly bland exterior, the Astra is a car that’s smooth on motorways yet sharp and responsive. There’s enough room for four adults and their luggage. There’s also a wide selection of engines to choose from, but it’s the 1.6-litre petrol we’d opt for. Check that the cam belt changes have been made every 40,000 miles, otherwise the Astra should prove a reliable purchase.
The Mark 5 Astra was launched in 2004 as a five-door, estate and stylish three-door sport hatch. Both three and five-door versions maintain the drivability of the previous generation, with the three-door sportier albeit a slightly less refined motorway cruiser. The cabin is improved but still lacks the stylish layout of some of its rivals; and although spacious, access to the boot in the three-door is compromised in the interest of styling.
The current version of the Vauxhall Astra was launched in 2009. Modern engines are far more economical, and the pick of the range turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol will return around 50mpg. Despite the Astra’s impressive reliability record, a few problems have been reported with the latest model, including issues with the parking brake and cruise control.
Owner rating: 4.2/5
“Overall I must say it is a good car. It handles like a dream. Great on a day to day basis, days out can be a bit of a squeeze with the little ones toys and essentials, worse if you have a car full of passengers, but nothing that you wouldn’t moan about with any of its competitors.” Nathan B, Alfreton
Read all Vauxhall Astra hatchback (2004 – 2010) owner reviews
Our fourth most searched for family hatch back, with over 5.7 million searches so far this year, is the Audi A3. The first-generation Audi A3 was launched in 1998 and has proved reliable with a range of petrol and diesel engines already tried and tested in the Volkswagen Golf. Key things to look for include suspension issues, plus the doors on early three-door versions have a tendency to drop. There’s no shortage of engine options, but the 1.6-litre Sport is worth considering because of its economy and performance.
In 2003, the second-generation A3 was launched and it built on the success of the first one. It’s available as a three-door or more practical five-door Sportback’. Although the A3 is bigger than the model it replaced, space in the back of the three-door is fairly compact for adults, but there’s a decent sized boot which can be extended further with split folding rear seats. All models are well equipped with entry-level models equipped with alloy-wheels, air-conditioning and CD player.
Audi is synonymous with excellent cabins and the A3 is no exception. The fit and finish is class leading with a wide range of seat and steering adjustment to find the perfect driving position. This is a premium hatchback, which commands a premium price tag – so for the same money you could opt for a Golf which will be newer, better equipped and just as capable.
The A3 remains one of the most reliable family hatchbacks on the market but check automatic versions for any signs of jerky changes, also check that diesels built around 2004 were recalled for leaky fuel pumps.
Owner rating: 4.5/5
“It was on the recommendation of my adult children that I bought my Audi A3 Technik 5door Hatchback and I have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations of reliability, comfort, style and above all quality. It’s very smooth drive and economical as the on board computer reminds me constantly of my fuel consumption.” Margaret M, Keith
Read all Audi A3 hatchback (2003 – ) owner reviews
The Honda Civic is the final car in our top five round-up with over 4.8 million searches so far this year on Auto Trader. There have been eight incarnations of the popular Japanese family car, but only ones from 1995 onwards are more readily available.
Honda has become a byword for reliability and the Civic is no exception. Early models are available in three or five door form, as well as coupe and estate. Despite its excellent reliability record, the Civic is rather uninspiring, with dash layouts and plastic that can’t compete with European rivals. The cabin is spacious though, and it’s well equipped. Just check the service history for a cam belt change every 72,000 miles or six years.
In 2000, a new Civic was launched, with a bold new look, clever design and class-leading space. The centre console is a big step up on the previous model, with the manual gearbox mounted on the dash in easy reach of the steering wheel. The layout is much more logical too, although the hard plastics aren’t a match for rival models. As with the previous model, the Civic enjoys a strong reputation for reliability, but check it’s been serviced regularly and on time.
The latest generation Honda Civic was launched in 2006, with a futuristic design aimed to lure motorists away from the Golf and Focus. But some of the Civic’s practicality has been lost in the interests of style, like the rear spoiler which cuts across the back window and limits visibility. Cabin space has also been lost in the interest of a more coupe like design.
Owner rating: 4.4/5
“This is a fantastic car. Very reliable, never had any problems. Handling, cornering, gear changes, acceleration, cruising, all a pleasure. The only thing is that there is no spare wheel and one day when I took a chunk out of a tyre so I couldn’t use the tyre gunk to repair it I had to get the RAC out.” Luke T, Tunbridge Wells
Read all Honda Civic hatchback (2005 – ) owner reviews
You may also want to consider:
BMW 1 Series
Owner rating: 4.4/5
“This is just one excellent car. It’s comfortable, sporty, runs great and is also economical. For a five door sports hatch there isn’t much better than the 1 series M Sport. It’s also great for motorway driving and getting lots of stuff in the back including bikes.” Ian C, London
Read all BMW 1 Series hatchback (2004 – ) owner reviews
Owner rating: 4.7/5
“I have recently purchased a Renualt Megane 59 reg. It is fantastic, very comfortable, reliable, economical and it suits my lifestyle. It is really easy to drive on a day-to-day basis and comes with all the accessories you need.” Sandy R, St Helens
Read all Renault Megane hatchback (2008 – ) owner reviews
Owner rating: 4.4/5
“For a car of this size it certainly has a lot to offer. The rear doors are well shaped to the body and the handles are kept out of view making it quite stylish. It’s a great car to drive and with the turbo diesel it certainly doesn’t feel sluggish or sound loud – it is just as comfortable on short trips to the local shops as it is on a drive to Scotland.” Paul N, London
Read all SEAT Leon (2005 – ) owner reviews
Owner rating: 4.1/5
“Bought the car from new on 06 plate, did 80,000 miles in her and it has been a great car to own. Good on fuel, no great mechanical problems a few small issues that were sorted under warranty. Big enough to get 3 children in back and plenty of boot space.” Cy O, Worthing
Read all Peugeot 307 hatchback (2001 – 2007) owner reviews
Owner rating: 4.7/5
“First and foremost, the Octavia has an enormous boot – it’s over a hundred litres bigger than most other medium sized cars. That’s a major bonus if you have a family, and the resulting paraphernalia that entails. Secondly it does over sixty miles to the gallon which makes it very cheap to run. It’s a safe, solid and well designed car.” Patrick E, Hyde
Read all Skoda Octavia hatchback (2004 – ) owner reviews