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FAMILY HATCH FOCUS

There’s a fresh crop of arrivals in the family hatch segment of 2017. Motoring Correspondent Jonathan Crouch runs his eye over them…

Jonathan CrouchJonathan Crouch

January 2017

News from the volume brands

If, in choosing a Focus-sized Family Hatchback, you merely want to buy a very good one and pay as little as possible for it, then Hyundai has a proposition for you - its much improved third generation i30. With more efficient engines, a smarter look and the option of an impressive dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox, it's certainly a more competitive proposition than before.

Hyundai i30
The new Hyundai i30

The upright front of this third generation i30 uses the brand's latest stylistic signature, its so-called 'Cascading Grille'. In combination with the three-projector LED headlamps and the vertical LED daytime running lights, this gives the car a much stronger visual presence than it had before. It's much smarter and classier inside too. The floating screen of the optional eight-inch navigation touch screen on the dashboard integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features and there's a redesigned multifunction three-spoke steering wheel too. Bootspace has been slightly increased - to 395-litres.

We've yet to drive this MK3 model but the prospects look good. Let's look at the engines on offer - there are three petrol units and one diesel. The range starts with two older units, an old-tech 100PS 1.4 MPI four cylinder petrol powerplant and a 1.6-litre diesel offering a choice of 95, 110 and 136PS outputs. Better are the new generation T-GDI petrol options. We're already familiar with the 1.0 T-GDI powerplant from the i20 - here it develops 120PS and 170Nm of torque. New though is the 1.4 T-GDI variant. This unit puts out 140PS and 242Nm of torque. Mated to the engines is either a six-speed manual gearbox or Hyundai's efficient and direct-responding '7DCT' seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Renault Megane
The new Renault Megane

And overall? Well ultimately, it's hard to do too much better for the money. One other option in this sector that we’d want to consider though, is the latest version of Renault’s Megane. Every new version of the Renault Megane seems to change significantly from the last. The fourth generation is no different. Much greater interior quality is promised along with technologies not seen before in this segment.

As with the vast majority of cars such as this, a big part of the driving experience will depend on the engine you've plumped for. From launch, there are two Tce turbocharged petrol options with capacities and power outputs of 1.2 litres/130hp (manual and EDC auto) and 1.6 litres/205hp (GT). The turbodiesel alternatives are the usual 1.5-litre dCi 110hp and 1.6-litre dCi 130hp units.

While the GT's ride and handling benefit from the Formula 1 experience of Renaultsport engineers, all versions of this Megane promise to be precise and responsive while still being supple and comfortable thanks to extensive work on the suspension dampers, bump stops and bushes as well as the steering. Refinement is also significantly better thanks to a stiffer body shell, thicker window glass, improved door seals and greater use of foam and felt in areas where road, wind or powertrain noise could be transmitted into the cabin. A more individual driving experience is offered by Multi-Sense technology, which allows drivers to personalise the accelerator pedal and engine response, engine sound, steering weight and interior lighting ambience through a choice of five colours, plus - where fitted - the speed of the gear changes through the Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) auto gearbox.

The fourth generation Megane is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor to give a more assured stance on the road. Helping give the impression of width are pronounced wheelarches similar to those on a Clio and striking light graphics front and rear. Economy and emissions figures look promising. The 1.5 dCi 110PS variant is capable of 76.4mpg while emitting 96g/km of CO2. If that isn't impressive enough, the 'Hybrid Assist' diesel should be capable of 94.1mpg with emissions of 76g/km.

And overall? Well at last, Renault seems to be focusing on selling cars the UK really wants. Will this MK4 Megane be one of them? Well, it's certainly now a much more credible alternative to the usual Astra and Focus-class choices in the family hatchback segment.


News from the premium brands

Volkswagen's Golf is the family hatchback against which all others are judged - and in seventh generation form has proved to be the best selling version of this car ever made. Now it's got a smarter look, an all-new 1.5-litre TSI engine option, more sophisticated media connectivity and a range of important detail changes. If you're shopping in this segment, you might be asking yourself why you should buy a Golf. But perhaps the more pertinent question is whether there's now really any reason why you shouldn't.

Volkswagen Golf
The new Volkswagen Golf

Most of the engineware in this Golf is carried over from before, but there is an all-new petrol powerplant - Volkswagen is calling it the '1.5 TSI Evo', a four cylinder petrol turbo that uses 'Active Cylinder Management' to cut off two cylinders under light to medium throttle loads. This engine develops 150PS in its standard form, but there is also a 'BlueMotion' version developing 130PS. The other change beneath the bonnet has been applied to the Golf GTI, which had fallen behind some of its rivals in the power stakes. Now, this model develops 230PS in its standard form, or 245PS if you go for the 'GTI Performance' derivative. The other mechanical change made to the line-up is the replacement of the old 6-speed DSG auto gearbox with a more efficient 7-speed unit.

Otherwise, things are much as before. At the foot of the range, there's the well-regarded 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, a three cylinder powerplant developing 115PS. Most Golf buyers though, tend to want a diesel - possibly the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel, but more probably the 2.0-litre TDI, available with either 150 or 184PS. As before, only variants developing more than 120PS get multi-link rear suspension: below that level, your Golf will come with a less sophisticated torsion bean set-up. As before, there's a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4WD Golf R super hatch model at the top of the range. Or, for the same kind of money, a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid model. Want the lowest possible running costs? Then you need the all-electric e-Golf. Either way, it seems Volkswagen has almost everyone's preferences covered.

The first thing you'll notice about this revised Golf is probably its slightly sleeker front end. Many variants now get full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard across the range and on top versions, there are smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's a choice between three or five-door hatch and estate bodystyles, both of which sit on the Volkswagen Group's light, stiff and very sophisticated MQB chassis.

And behind the thinner multi-function steering wheel? Well, as ever, nobody does it better than this. It isn't that it feels especially plush, though the quality of materials used is excellent - and far better, incidentally, in this Wolfsburg-constructed Golf than Volkswagen's similarly priced but Mexican-built compact Jetta saloon. It's just that everything is of just the right quality and feels absolutely fit for purpose. In this revised model, the cabin has been given a lift by the addition of smarter decorative trim panels on the doors, the dash panel and the centre console, as well as classier seat covers. Out back, there's a 380-litre cargo bay in the hatch version that's much bigger than that provided by rival Focus and Astra models. It can be extended to 1,270-litres if you push forward the rear seats.

In the words of a previous Volkswagen Group Chairman, the only mistake a Golf can really make is to stop being a Golf, a failing you could never level at this improved seventh generation model. All the reasons you might want to buy one are satisfied here. It looks like a Golf and functions with all the quality you'd expect from the Western hemisphere's most recognised and most desired family hatch. This is what happens when all the resources of Europe's leading auto maker are focused on creating the definitive expression of conventional family motoring.

True, it could be more exciting in its more affordable forms and you certainly wouldn't call it inexpensive in comparison with mainstream models in this segment. But then, this isn't a mainstream model any more, as good in every meaningful respect as the premium compact hatch models from the fancy brands that are much pricier. It is, in short, a Golf made good. Which, if you're shopping in this sector, makes it very desirable indeed.