Top ten family cars for 2011

Among the new, radical crossovers flooding the UK market, the sporty hot hatches, vast people carriers and current trend for stylish small cars such as the Fiat 500, one thing has stayed constant – the UK’s love affair with the family car.

Family-size hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra regularly dominate UK sales charts thanks to their ability to seat four (or five) in comfort while still delivering affordable running costs.

In 2011, the hatchback market is flooded with options and the choice can be quite daunting. To help the decision along, we’ve included ten of our favourite hatchbacks currently on the market today, and why they are worth consideration.

In no particular order, here are our top ten hatchbacks of 2011:

10) Kia c’eed

Another Kia, another description based on the value a driver gets out of buying one of the cheapest five-door hatchbacks on the market.

Don’t let the ‘budget’ moniker put you off however, because there is a lot more to the Kia c’eed than low prices. Unlike some older Kia models, the build quality is high and the interior is kitted out with high quality materials.

It can’t match the Ford Focus on the road, but the ride is comfortable if unexceptional. Where the Kia really stands out is in costs.

CO2 emissions can be as low as 110g/km meaning low road tax rates, and of course, it comes with Kia’s superb seven-year warranty.

The Kia c’eed is available from just under £12,000 from new.

9) Seat Leon

The Seat Leon shares underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf, and with it comes all the inherent reliability and build quality which have become bywords for the German manufacturer.

However, it also throws in some youthful, distinctive and fun Spanish styling to create a unique, sportier alternative to the leaders in the hatchback market.

The five-door Leon is a very good car. The suspension has been stiffened from the Golf to give a sportier ride and there are no complaints on the road.

E Ecomotive versions bring emissions down to small car levels, so the Leon shouldn’t be too hard on the bank balance either.

Seat Leon prices start from £14,500.

8) Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa is taking on the might of Ford with this new entry into the hatchback segment.

The Italian manufacturer can rely on its attractive styling to win over buyers, but under the skin it has also improved build quality as well.

This means Alfa has succeeded in building a car which won’t cause you headaches because of reliability issues, while the revival of the Giulietta name creates a link to iconic Alfas of the past.

The Giulietta is also refined and economical, leading to a comfortable drive and lower running costs than the 147 it replaces.

Finally, Alfa has a car to challenge the top table of hatchbacks.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta prices start from £17,450.

7) Renault Megane

Renault’s Megane is one of the most distinctive models on the market and this is no bad thing. The stylish Gallic looks are not surprising considering the French manufacturer’s history, but the Megane is much more than that.

Renault has worked hard to improve the quality of the interior and it shows. Upholstery, dashboard and seats are all top quality and propel the Megane into the upper echelons of the hatchback market.

The Megane adds practicality to its list of benefits; the unorthodox shape of the rear end creates a large boot – a must for a family car.

On the road, the Megane is composed and comfortable, but it also delivers responsive enough steering to give a good account of itself.

Renault Megane prices start from £15,450.

6) Chevrolet Cruze

Chevrolet will launch the new Cruze hatchback midway through 2011, and it should be one worth waiting for.

The styling is modern and sporty and inside, the five-door model offers up to 400 litres of boot space. All this should come at reasonable prices underneath those of the Vauxhall Astra – Chevrolet has previously said it will not compete with its sister-brand’s model.

Chevrolet’s latest cars are a huge improvement on previous models and the enhanced styling, equipment and overall quality should appeal to people looking at the cheaper end of the family car market.

Chevrolet Cruze prices are TBC.

5) Peugeot 308

You know what you’re getting with a Peugeot. Solid, capable engines, low running costs and a certain French charm.

The Peugeot 308 has this in spades. The styling isn’t ground-breaking but it does enough to catch the eye out on the roads. It is also a huge improvement on the rather bland 307, and steps up as a genuine alternative to the class leaders.

Inside, the improvements are obvious. You’ll find no tacky plastics or gaping gaps in the workmanship inside the 308, and the upholstery and equipment options are generous enough for the price.

Peugeot 308 prices start from £15,245.

4) Mazda3

2011 promises to be a big year for the Mazda3 hatchback. This year sees Mazda’s new ultra-efficient SKYACTIV technology in both the Mazda2 supermini and Mazda3, bringing emissions from the petrol engines down to diesel levels.

The low running costs are a welcome addition to the stylish, desirable package Mazda currently offers with its hatchback model.

Equipment levels are high throughout the range, creating a fresh and desirable addition to the segment which ticks all the boxes.

Mazda3 prices start from £14,750

3) Citroen C4

If it’s a big year for the Mazda3, it is an even bigger one for the Citroen C4. The new version will replace a model often criticised for its drab looks.

The latest version however, features a much-improved design and the use of high quality materials and a host of new technology inside is a welcome addition.

The C4 will also spawn a premium DS4 model. Like the DS3, prices will be bumped up for the DS Line model, but it will offer more style and a more upmarket feel on top of the C4.

New Citroen C4 prices start from £15,595.

2) Vauxhall Astra

The Vauxhall Astra is built in the UK and it remains a firm favourite with UK buyers, actually finishing ahead of the Ford Focus in December 2010.

This is because the Astra offers a hugely impressive interior. It is comfortable, well-equipped and high quality, while the ride and handling are inching it ever closer to its perennial rival.

Low-CO2 engines in the ecoFLEX models have further improved a range which has improved vastly since the latest generation was introduced.

The Vauxhall Astra is one of the best hatchbacks on the market in terms of drive, quality, safety and reliability and as a result should always be considered when searching the new car sections.

Vauxhall Astra prices start from £13,995.

1) Ford Focus

No family car top ten would be complete without the class-leading Ford Focus. The current generation is one of the best-looking cars on the market and adds practicality, frugal and efficient engines and unbeatable driving dynamics to the mix.

The next generation model, due in March 2011, aims to improve on this with more equipment, even more efficient engines and refreshed exterior.

There’s not much that can be said about the Ford Focus. If you’re looking for a family car which has no faults and plenty to shout about, this is it.

New Ford Focus prices will start from £15,995 from March.

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