Volkswagen Golf

As far as small family cars go, the Golf is an outstanding all-rounder, above par in every area. It has the image and class that buyers in this class look for, plus a practical, comfortable cabin and plenty of equipment.

It's great to drive and provides the kind of balance between comfort and driver appeal that its rivals can only dream of. With the option of a 168bhp turbodiesel engine it's also devilishly quick.

The starting point is S trim, which comes with air-con, six airbags and stability control. Match trim is offered with the 1.6 petrol or 1.9 diesel engines.

Desirable extras include alloy wheels and auto lights and wipers.

Sport trim is the entry point for the new 1.4 TSI engine. It uses a turbocharger and a supercharger to give a healthy 138bhp, without a big penalty in fuel economy or emissions.

You can also choose the 1.9 diesel, or a 138bhp 2.0 diesel in two or four-wheel drive form. Sport trim brings lowered suspension and sporty alloy wheels. Next up the scale is GT, which can be combined with a 168bhp TSI engine and the 2.0 TDI in 138 or 168bhp guise.

The high-performance GTI and R32 have a 197bhp 2.0 and 247bhp 3.2 V6 respectively.


Audi A3

The A3 has a quality image, a classy cabin, comparatively low running costs and fine handling. It is a bit pricey, has a rather fidgety ride, and can be a bit noisy, but the A3 is accomplished in most areas and affordable to run.


Volvo C30

The C30 offers sharp hand­ling, a stylish, well-built interior and lots of equipment. But it does lack legroom in the back and has a shallow boot. Nevertheless, it's got a classy cabin and is a decent ride.


Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch

A smooth, strong engine and a fun drive don't make up for some niggling inadequacies in the Astra. A fiddly dashboard, poor visibility, weak residual values and tight head room in the back will affect resale value.