Here at carwow, we’re full of praise for the Volkswagen Golf. It’s the ideal family car: practical, well-built and supplied with a range of economical and punchy engines. At the time of writing it even secures a wowscore of 8.8.
That isn’t to say it’s perfect. Some argue it’s more expensive than similarly-equipped competitors, and although both the driving experience is capable and the styling undoubtedly smart, both leave some critics feeling a little bit cold. Most say this great all-rounder only gets truly interesting once you stump up for the excellent Golf R or Golf GTI.
So what alternatives are available? The family hatch market is flooded with capable cars, and we’ve picked out five of the best Golf alternatives. Let’s jump in.
For the style concious
There was a time when Peugeot produced some of the finest family hatches on the market. Back in the early nineties, the 306 of was considered the best option available until the Ford Focus showed its angular face. For a long time, Peugeot had appeared to drop the ball somewhat, but the sporty RCZ, the 208 and this – the 308 – announce their return to form.
It’s hard to deny this is the most attractive-looking car in the class, but it possesses other talents to back up the pretty exterior. The smooth ride is combined with handling that only the Focus and the Mazda3 can beat, and overall the cabin is very spacious. The biggest leap over the brittle Peugeots of old is found inside. Some testers suggest that the 308 uses trim materials that are at least as good as the Golf, and the clean, simple styling makes it a very pleasant place to while away the miles.
For the practically minded
The Qashqai has become a huge success for Nissan, and it’s not difficult to see why. The second-generation model is sharply styled, and the SUV-inspired body shape gives buyers a feeling of security behind the wheel.
The extra suspension travel of a high-riding crossover endows the Qashqai with a cushioning ride quality that few in the class can match, and the engines are frugal, even if they don’t offer the last word in performance. The cabin itself is similar in principle to the Golf: it is beautifully screwed together, if not quite as distinctive as some.
If you value practicality and comfort over outright performance and sharp handling, then it’s really difficult to do better. In fact, we liked it so much that we named it our 2014 car of the year.
For those who want a posher badge
Sometimes you can’t escape the feeling that if you spend more on a car, you’ll feel better about your purchase. Step forward the Mercedes A-Class, which delivers a little extra class to the hatchback market.
Both inside and out, the styling is smart and distinctive, and the range is complimented by a series of frugal engines. For those looking for a little excitement, the bonkers A45 AMG produces 355hp and can sprint from 0-60mph in just 4.6 seconds.
However, there are one or two things to consider before you throw your cash at the nearest Mercedes dealer. Critics say the ride is needlessly firm, and choosing desirable options like the Command infotainment system, a bigger set of alloy wheels and some gorgeous, supportive leather sports seats can easily add £10k to the asking price. A desirable car, then, but one that certainly comes at a cost.
For the frugal shopper
If value for money is a big consideration, then look no further than the Skoda Octavia. As it shares many components with the Golf – it even rides on the same basic chassis – there is very little to fault. The driving experience is very pleasant, with secure handling and a smooth ride, and the VW-sourced engines are punchy and economical.
While it doesn’t quite match the Golf for interior quality, it’s still very well screwed together. It also has a huge 590-litre boot – almost 50 per cent larger than some rivals – while the space for passengers is equally as generous.
Sure, it may look a little bland, but this is an ideal family car (we named it as the best family car of 2014): safe, spacious and cheap to buy.
For the driving enthusiast
The Focus has always had the reputation for being the best car to drive in its class ever since the first-generation model was released in 1998. Many would argue that both the styling and the driving experience aren’t quite as sharp now as they were on the original, but the chassis is still more than fun enough to top the class in this respect.
Testers also love the decent equipment levels and the impressive range of petrol and diesel engines. The style and perceived build quality of the interior aren’t a match for the Golf (even if both are much improved after the 2014 facelift) and the boot is a little on the meagre side. Despite these flaws, if the Golf isn’t for you, then the Focus should absolutely be one of the first alternatives to consider.
Now get a great deal
As well as helping you work out what car’s right for you, we at carwow also let you configure your ideal car before receiving the best deals on it from trusted dealers around the country. See how it works in the video below, and then have a dabble with our configurator to see how much you could save.