New car registration special March 2014: Family cars

VW Golf 1.4 TSI SE 5-dr

“If you set out to rethink the concept of a table, you’ll end up with a table. And if you set out to rethink the concept of a car, you’ll end up with a Golf.” The point, made by Jeremy Clarkson in this newspaper, is that the Golf does everything so well that drivers don’t need anything else — it looks smart but ages well; its cabin is stylish yet remains functional, comfortable and relaxing; and refinement is high.

Zip the Golf along a twisting road and you’ll find it feels responsive, composed . . . even fun. The bestseller is the 1.4 TSI, and it’s our pick, too, for its blend of economy (53.3mpg) and performance — the latter bolstered by turbocharging that gives the engine more muscle at lower speeds. Add low depreciation to these virtues and you have all the car you could ever need.

Engine 1390cc, 4 cylinders, turbo
Acceleration 0-62mph: 9.3sec
Fuel / CO2 53.3mpg / 123g/km
Road tax D (first year free; then £105)

Price £20,135
Deposit £6,040
Payments £199.71 x 35 months
Optional final payment £9,324.62
Interest rate 6.5%
Total payable £22,354.47

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Ford Focus Zetec Navigator 1.0T EcoBoost 125 5-dr

Let’s set aside the fact that a Ford Focus is good to drive, practical to live with and safe, and concentrate instead on the cost of ownership.

Buying a Focus on finance brings substantial perks, as Ford gives PCP customers a total discount of £2,450 on the showroom price of a Zetec Navigator 1.0T EcoBoost. Even after interest, the total you pay is less than the list price, making a good car even better. Indeed, the total payable is a lot less than for broadly comparable VW Golf or Mazda3 models, so if you like to watch the pennies, buy a Ford.

Ford has taken engine downsizing to the extreme with the EcoBoost unit. Where most rivals have four cylinders, this Focus has three, with a turbocharger to compensate. The engine is an acquired taste as it sometimes feels sleepy, but keep the revs up and it performs well enough — and sounds great with it. Meagre CO2 emissions keep down road tax, and with good fuel economy the running costs are as attractive as the finance deal.

Engine 999cc, 3 cylinders, turbo
Acceleration 0-62mph: 11.3sec
Fuel / CO2 56.5mpg / 114g/km
Road tax C (first year free; then £30)

Price £19,370
Deposit £4,124.31
Payments £229 x 24 months
Optional final payment £8,181
Interest rate 4.2%
Total payable £17,801.31

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Mazda3 Sport Nav 120 5-dr

In the past, buyers of a family hatchback faced a stark choice: buy a VW Golf, or buy any other model and spend the rest of their life explaining why they hadn’t bought a Golf. So we should all welcome the Mazda3, because in some respects it is better than a Golf. It’s more entertaining to drive, for instance, and you get the sense that the engineers honed its character to please themselves, not the beancounters. But not at a cost to fuel economy and emissions — this 2-litre hatchback is even more frugal than the closest Golf.

So why don’t we all buy one? Well, perhaps because it’s not quite as comfortable as the VW. Or, more likely, because there is still a lack of awareness of Mazda in the UK. With new models such as this, that could change.

Engine 1998cc, 4 cylinders
Acceleration 0-62mph: 8.9sec
Fuel / CO2 55.4mpg / 119g/km
Road tax C(first year free; then £30)

Price £20,555 (with metallic paint)
Deposit £6,289
Payments £199 x 42 months
Optional final payment £7,627.50
Interest rate 5.9%
Total payable £22,274.50

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Also see:


MPVs and estates

City cars

4x4s and SUVs

Sports cars

Executive cars