Ford S-Max, £24,545-£32,260
At one end of the motoring spectrum is the sports car; at the other is the people carrier, or MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). The idea of trying to combine the two may seem impossible (not to mention pointless), but Ford has proved that it can carry it off. Sort of.
The original S-Max arrived in 2006 and it immediately went to the top of a very small class. The all-new car that’s just reaching showrooms is based on the platform of the new Mondeo. As a result, it’s even better than before.
Although Ford does offer turbocharged 1.5 and 2-litre petrol engines, it’s the more economical 2-litre diesel that you should opt for, as it has plenty of torque for easy progress.
But the real trick of the car is how good it is to drive. Throw in a versatile interior, premium levels of build quality plus generous equipment levels and it’s fair to say that you’re unlikely to be left feeling short-changed.
- OUR PICK Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 150AWD Titanium (£29,195)
- POWER 148bhp @ 3500rpm
- PERFORMANCE 0-62mph: 12.1sec
- TOP SPEED 122mph
- FUEL | CO2 52.3mpg (combined) | 139g/km
Skoda Octavia estate, £17,495-£28,915
Fancy a Volkswagen Golf but can’t quite stretch to one? Then try this alternative, which offers the same running gear plus more kit at a lower price. We’d be lying if we were to say the Octavia beats the Golf because it doesn’t, but it’s a lot closer than you might think.
What distances the Octavia from its more costly cousin is the quality of the interior. The Octavia’s cabin isn’t exactly low-rent but it doesn’t have the plushness of a Golf. Leave that aside and there is little to differentiate them.
When it comes to picking your model, you can’t really go wrong. There’s an array of petrol and diesel engines, all of which are turbocharged so they’re zesty and frugal with it. The mid-range SE comes with all the essentials, but the SE L trim’s leather and Alcantara trim, an upgraded multimedia system and variable boot floor make it the one to have.
- OUR PICK Octavia 1.6 TDI DSG SE L (£23,800)
- POWER 108bhp @ 3200rpm
- PERFORMANCE 0-62mph: 11.1sec
- TOP SPEED 119mph
- FUEL | CO2 74.3mpg (combined) | 99g/km
Hyundai i30, £12,995-£23,000
It’s easy to dismiss the Hyundai. The Korean brand made its name producing cheap and sometimes nasty cars that fell short of European and Japanese rivals’ standards. But this has changed: its cars are not that cheap any more, and they are definitely not nasty. The company’s new-found confidence is reflected in the five-year warranty on its cars.
While the i30 looks smart and has huge amounts of equipment, it’s not the most engaging machine to drive. But this is a family estate, so you’re probably not going to be taking it on many track days. Besides, it’s more than merely competent, with predictable handling, a decent ride and good body control.
The range-topping Premium, currently discounted by £1,500, offers the best value: for £22,095 Hyundai throws in such luxuries as a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat and xenon lights.
- OUR PICK Hyundai i30 estate 1.6 CRDi Premium (£22,095)
- POWER 134bhp @ 4000rpm
- PERFORMANCE 0-62mph: 10.5sec
- TOP SPEED 120mph
- FUEL | CO2 70.6mpg (combined) | 102g/km
65-plate Special contents
- Electric and hybrid cars
- Family cars
- Sports cars and supercars
- City cars
- Executive and luxury cars
- WAG gags: the words made possible by the 65-plate