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Such was the dominance of hatchbacks in the UK that you might be forgiven for thinking we invented the breed. We didn’t, but the Ford Fiesta has dominated the sales charts since its introduction in 1976, and I can’t remember the last time the best selling car wasn’t a hatchback. (Ford Cortina, 1979, perhaps?)
There’s a good reason why we’ve stuck with them, and that’s because they suit UK motoring perfectly. They’re compact, which is ideal for our towns and cities, but have a practical boot perfect for family life. There’s no reason to compromise on performance, with hot hatches still being a thing even in the era of reducing CO2 emissions, and you can have one as luxuriously specified as you could imagine.
Your first car was probably a hatchback (mine wasn’t, but I learned in a Volkswagen Polo) and that often sets the tone for the future. With such fierce competition, picking the right one isn’t necessarily easy, so here's a hand-picked selection of seven of the best hatchbacks you can lease right now...
You were expecting the Volkswagen Golf, weren’t you? The SEAT Leon borrows heavily from the Golf, sharing the same chassis, engines and much of its equipment, but wraps it all up in a far more appealing package.
The interior is modern, young and vibrant, while the handling is precise and engaging. As a family car, it’s also got as much room as the Golf, so is every bit as practical.
The 1.5-litre EVO petrol engine is the one to go for, providing enough power to entertain but remaining impressively economical, but there are also other petrol and diesel options. There’s even a plug-in hybrid, and you can pick an estate version to add some extra practicality.
The icing on the cake? It’s cheaper to buy or lease than the Golf. The same complete package, but with more style for less money. Winner
SEAT Leon need to knows:
You were expecting the Volkswagen Golf, weren’t you? The Skoda Octavia borrows heavi… hang on, this seems familiar.
With the Seat Leon, this is the other slice of bread to the Golf sandwich, taking everything great about the Golf but, rather than adding a stylish, sporting bent, Skoda has instead twisted it the other way to create a spacious, grown-up and almost luxurious option.
With more room inside, an enormous boot, standard equipment to leave Golf owners looking on jealousy, and a whole host of Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ ideas, the Octavia is a perfect car for those that feel fine with eschewing on-the-limit handling and sporting prowess and going for refined comfort and relaxation.
Skoda Octavia need to knows:
The Kia Ceed is an excellent hatchback and has transformed into an estate car, a shooting brake, and now a… well, it’s just a jacked-up hatchback. The tough-looking trim on the outside of the XCeed hides the fact that this isn’t an off-roader, with no four-wheel-drive option.
However, what it does have is plenty of space inside, as much equipment as you think of, and a ride quality that’s compliant and comfortable while retaining enough solidity to be stable. It’s a brilliant all-rounder.
The petrol engines are fine, the diesel engines are incredibly frugal, and the plug0in hybrid option is tax efficient. Seemingly, there’s an XCeed for every customer.
Kia XCeed need to knows:
BMW 1 Series
Switching from the rear-drive chassis of previous generations to the front-wheel-drive model has been a masterstroke for the German manufacturer. It’s managed to build a car that not only retains the fine handling that the brand is renowned for, but improves on it.
The change has also allowed the designers to find more room inside, leaving the 1 Series pleasing capacious, with a roomy cabin suitable for a family. The iDrive infotainment system is the best around and, while the rest of the dashboard isn’t that exciting, it’s beautifully built.
But it’s the range of power options that marks the 1 Series out, with everything from sensible diesel and petrol engines, a sporty petrol option, and even a 306hp performance model with four-wheel-drive
BMW 1 Series need to knows:
The A-Class is a fine car, but it gets better the higher up the range you go.
Every model has the same basic sleek design, although AMG-badged models get some extra sporty touches. There’s plenty of space inside, at least in the front - it’s a little tight in the back, and the boot isn’t huge - and there’s a huge amount of equipment included as standard.
A range of diesel engines provides economical yet potent performance, while petrol models are a little smoother but less frugal. Of course, there’s a plug-in hybrid option that will be ideally suited to company car users, and then there are the Mercedes-AMG models. With 306hp and four-wheel-drive, the AMG A35 is epic.
But it’s the tech that you’ll be talking about. A digital dashboard extends across the cabin, with huge screens and an MBUX voice-controlled interface. It looks a million dollars and works surprisingly well, but you need to move up the grades or spend on options to get the full benefit. It’s probably worth it…
Mercedes-Benz A Class need to knows:
Forget the frumpy Toyota Auris. The Corolla is a cracker, and worth far more than just being added to your buying list as a halfhearted final choice.
Its sharp design might promise performance that’s not quite there, but the 2.0-litre model can ger some serious pace on, and it’s got a fine chassis that can happily cope with it. There’s the possibility of a hot GR version in the future, and it feels like the basics are spot on.
But the Corolla isn’t about performance. Every model is a hybrid, so energy saving is its game. Toyota says an average journey will see the engine switched off for half the trip, but my own anecdotal evidence suggests it could do even better than that. 60 mpg is certainly a possibility.
Frugality doesn’t mean it’s cheap; the interior is packed with equipment, comfortable, and practical. It’s worth more than just a glance.
Toyota Corolla need to knows:
The Jazz doesn’t rank highly for excitement but it’s a hugely capable car that deserves more praise than it gets. There’s a hugely loyal set of customers that recognise the things it does well, and don’t care that it hasn’t ever set a competitive Nurburgring lap time and isn’t a feature car in the latest Fast and Furious film.
Instead, they focus on what's important. The seats, for example. The cushioning is thicker than before, and there’s a new frame underneath so they’re both more supportive and more comfortable.
The windscreen is huge, with spider-leg thin pillars, affording a wide and unobstructed view of the road ahead. A minimalist dashboard reduces distractions, while the rear seats flip, fold and slide to create an impressively versatile cargo area.
The hybrid powertrain is averse to fuel, only using a gallon every 60 or so miles, with an impressive automatic gearbox that gives instant reactions. It’s also, whisper it, quite good to drive.
Honda Jazz need to knows:
*Prices include VAT. Credit is Subject to Status, Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply. Excess mileage may apply. Price correct as of 18/01/2021.
**Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the scores of the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews
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