The Volkswagen Golf has been around since the mid-1970s. It’s now in its eighth incarnation with each model setting benchmark after benchmark for the hatchback world.
The newest version, which was released earlier this year, is no different – taking home the main prize in the Sunday Times’ Car of the Year Awards 2020.
This brings an important question. If you want a stylish, family-friendly and fun hatchback, why would you look past the VW Golf?
Well, for some, it’s too expensive. And in a few models, it’s hard to argue you get real value for money.
For others, the new styling is a bit off-putting – it’s not the best-looking Golf there’s ever been. And for a few, the Volkswagen badge just won’t suit their tastes.
So, despite being named the Car of the Year, there are a few reasons why you might look elsewhere. And we’re going to go through several other models to consider if you find yourself in that position.
Arguably the VW Golf’s biggest rival, the Ford Focus is one of UK’s favourites.
After a bit of a swing and a miss with their previous model, the most recent version of the Focus is back to its best.
Good looks, tight handling, loads of space inside, plenty of tech, a huge range of specifications and trim levels to pick from as well as plenty of modern and fun engine choices.
It’s also cheaper than the Golf.
But the Focus isn’t perfect. It has a lower-quality interior than the VW and less boot space with the seats up – albeit only by five litres.
Yet, if you’re looking for a family car and don’t want a Golf, the Focus is probably your best bet.
BMW 1 Series
The BMW 1 Series is the prestige German brand’s contribution to the hatchback world.
Originally, the 1 Series was seen as a sort of mini 3 Series, but it’s now very much its own entity.
Bold styling, a much-upgraded interior and sensational drive make the BMW a brilliant all-round hatch. And since they’ve done away with rear-wheel-drive in the most recent version, it’s now practical too.
Of course, because of the badge, you do end up paying more than the Golf. But you also get better standard equipment at entry-level and, arguably, a better-looking car.
And with a 380-litre boot – the same as the Golf – if the 1 Series falls into your price range, there aren’t many reasons why you shouldn’t get one.
The Mazda 3 probably wouldn’t have been in this conversation a few years ago. Its styling was dull, interior archaic and performance questionable.
But the latest version has addressed all of that, and we’re now left with, arguably, the best-looking hatchback on sale today.
It’s different, sure, but the way the car follows a natural flow from headlight to rear is something to behold – and it’s certainly not going to be confused with anything else on the road.
Another way the Mazda 3 stands out is its engine range. Instead of going smaller and bolting on turbochargers as VW and Ford do, the Japanese company has stuck with a big 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol powertrain.
Great for fun, not so great for fuel economy. Although, there is tech to make it more eco-friendly.
Against the Golf, the Mazda is cheaper and comes with better equipment. But to drive, it’s not in the same league as the VW.
It also has a smaller boot than the Golf, and because of the sloped roofline, feels a touch more cramped.
It’s still a great car, though, and is deserving of its place in your consideration.
The Vauxhall Astra is by far the cheapest car in this list. But you wouldn’t think it.
Eye-catching exterior design and a plush interior with plenty of equipment as standard give you great value for money, as does the comfortable ride and good fuel economy.
It’s not as practical as the Golf, though. There’s less cabin space, it’s harder to see out of and the Astra has a smaller boot.
It also doesn’t drive as well as the Volkswagen, particularly if you’re throwing it into the corners. It’s a lot more grown-up than its German counterpart, shall we say.
But for the money, there’s not a lot more you could ask for. It looks the part, has enough space for five (just) and provides a nice experience behind the wheel.
It’s everything you need from a car without being necessarily everything you could want.
The most recent A-Class has brought sophistication and class to the hatchback world. Yes, there’s a BMW and an Audi (which we’ll get onto next), but something feels different about the Merc.
Its looks are executive, and the interior feels like it’s been ripped from a spaceship. Chrome detailing and huge HD colour screens really set it apart from everything else in its class.
Yet, its business-esque looks won’t suit everyone’s taste. It’s perhaps a little too up-market for a hatchback. And the fact it has less space than the Golf makes you wonder whether the gigantic bonnet was worth it.
But, once you step inside (and after five minutes to remember that Merc puts the gearstick where your indicator usually is) you forget all that. You’re captured by the dynamic drive, excellent infotainment system and quality feel of every component.
Like the BMW – and the Golf to some extent – the A-Class sits at the top end of the hatchback price bracket. But if you have the money, there’s nothing else like the A-Class.
The Audi A3 is the final car on our list, and for some, we’ll have saved the best for last.
Recently redesigned, the A3 looks sportier and more road-ready than ever before. And whoever is in charge of the headlights at Audi deserves an immediate pay rise, as they really give the car an extra shine.
What is less clear for some, though, is why you’d buy an A3 to begin with – and not a Golf. The VW Group owns both companies, and they’re very similar underneath – in fact, they share the same build platform.
They both drive brilliantly and feel connected to the tarmac. Why then would you spend more on the Audi?
Well, the more prestigious German is just that. Yes, there’s the famous four rings on the front, but also inside it feels better quality.
There’s better tech as standard in the Audi and more room in the cabin – albeit to the sacrifice of boot space.
So, if you want a Golf which gives you a little bit more, then the Audi A3 is the car for you.
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