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Cars & travel.

24 September 2021

Best medium-sized cars for 2021

Despite competition from crossover SUVs, medium-sized cars remain hugely popular in the UK. Our rigorous tests reveal the best and worst mid-sized hatchbacks, estates and saloons
Daljinder Nagra

Looking for the best medium-sized car? This car class is dominated by popular hatchbacks, including the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, along with more premium models, such as the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. 

The popularity of medium-sized hatchbacks and estates may have waned somewhat with families since the introduction of crossover SUVs, but they remain a solid choice for everyday use. Whether you simply want a car that's cheap to run and won't let you down, or you're downsizing from an executive car but don't want to compromise on quality or kit, there's a medium-sized model to suit.

But while they may all be around the same size, not all medium-sized cars are worth your money. The best models are reliable, practical, safe and reasonably cheap to run. Yet the worst are much more likely to break down, or be uncomfortable or impractical. 

Only cars that score highly in our tough lab and road tests are Which? Best Buys. You'll find our top recommendations for the best new and used medium-sized cars in the tables below. Plus, we reveal three that aren't worth your money. 

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations below. If you’re not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access to our tables and all of our online reviews.

The best new medium-sized cars

The best medium-sized cars are easy to drive, spacious and safe. They also have great fuel economy and reliability. Find out which models came out on top in our rigorous lab tests.

  • 74%
    £35584.00

    Plug-in hybrid technology only increases the appeal of this established hatchback name. In this guise it comes with hot-hatch rivalling performance but also the promise of low running costs. It's great to drive, bar some distracting touchscreen controls, and it'll take five passengers in comfort.

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  • 72%
    £20062.00

    This brand's first ever performance hatchback is an absolute belter. It might not have the outright power of it's most aggressive rivals, but it's plenty fast enough. Add to that sublime handling, generous standard equipment and a practical interior, and you've got a superb all-round hot hatch.

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  • 72%
    £30341.00

    It may be the brand's all-new zero-emissions EV, but they haven't forgotten it's got to be used as a family hatchback first and foremost. This model is very spacious and decently practical. Furthermore it comes with plenty of safety kit as standard. Its punchy performance and potential for low running costs are just the icing on the cake. It's an impressive Which? Best Buy.

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  • 71%
    £21114.00

    Eye-catching styling and an appealing price sees this five-door hatchback stand out from the crowd, but it's more than just a pretty face. It's got a great cabin and plenty of standard equipment. It's very satisfying to drive, too. Just watch our for pinched rear cabin space and a compromised rear-view.

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  • 69%
    £22819.00

    This model majors on fuel efficiency, but also delivers a safe, serene driving experience and a high-quality interior. Rear passenger and boot space are at something of a premium, but overall it's comfortable, well made and relaxing.

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The best used medium-sized cars

Buying used is a great way to get an exceptional car for a lower cost. Just make sure you select a highly rated model to avoid making a costly mistake. Our experts select the very best models.

  • 73%
    £7253.00

    Anyone looking for dependable, economical transport should take a closer look at this hybrid hatchback. It may not be the most exciting car to drive, but it's spacious, comfy and should prove very frugal around town.

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  • 71%
    £5773.00

    Its styling may be a bit of an acquired taste, but you'll soon get used to how easy this model is to live with as a family car. The boot is massive, it's got plenty of passenger space and it's safe and secure on the road. Awkward rear visibility can make it difficult to park in tight spaces, though.

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  • 71%
    £24770.00

    Hybrid cars are increasingly commonplace, but this was the first upmarket medium sized model available with the technology. Aside from sipping fuel and being effortless to drive, it is built to the same exemplary standard as the brand’s larger executive cars.

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  • 70%
    £7720.00

    This hatchback-cum-crossover SUV isn't the most spacious for rear seat passengers, but that's a small gripe in what otherwise is a successful family car package. It's well-equipped, safe, feels secure on the road, and has a sense of style missing from so many of its rivals.

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  • 70%
    £13527.00

    A hot hatchback's appeal lies in its diverse range of talents. It must offer five-seat practicality, decent fuel economy and easy everyday usability, as well as the performance and handling to engage the keenest drivers. Where rival models often dial up on the performance, this car is the consummate all-rounder and fits any situation, whether you're on your favourite road or just your morning commute.

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Not found the car for you? Go straight to all our medium car reviews.

Medium-sized cars to avoid

Medium-sized cars need to be jacks of all trades: great family cars, with space for a pushchair and a fortnight's luggage, but compact enough to park easily in town. They should be easy to drive, comfortable and smooth – all while being cheap to run. Our testing has found a number of models that can't quite hit all the high notes and come up short in a number of key areas. Here are some you should avoid.

  • 53%
    £6354.00

    This hatchback comes with a reputation for handling prowess, so it's disappointing to discover this generation has poor brakes and can feel unstable in corners. It's behind the curve as a family car, too, with a low-rent interior and a small boot.

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  • 52%
    £3002.00

    Despite a stylish, unique design and a range of powerful engines, we can't recommend this sensible five-door. It's not terrible, it just doesn't meet the standard for practicality and ride comfort we'd expect from a family hatchback. It is, however, very safe and secure on the road.

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  • 45%
    £21576.00

    It's easy to be seduced by this car’s styling and sporty petrol engines. However, its talents really are just skin deep. It's not particularly refined or spacious in the back, and its latest Euro NCAP assessment saw it awarded just three stars out of five for safety. You'd be better off with a newer Best Buy medium car instead.

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What to look for in the best best medium-sized cars

We look at passenger comfort, safety and practicality as well as driving pleasure to help you choose the best medium car for you. Here are our top buying tips and things to look out for.

By their very nature, medium-sized cars should be more spacious than small ones. While most models have plenty of room in the front, some are cramped in the rear, while headroom and legroom can leave a lot to be desired. We use human-sized dummies to measure exactly how much room there is in every seat in a car.

People's high expectations of medium-sized cars extends to how cheap they are to run. A manufacturer's claimed mpg is usually high, and often too good to be true. We conduct our own fuel-economy tests, so you get an accurate figure and will know exactly how much the cars on your shortlist will cost you to run.

We don't only provide you with an overall mpg figure. We also tell you the car's mpg for city, out of town and motorway driving, so you will know you're buying the right car for where you drive the most. To top it all off, we also tell you the cost of filling the tank each month and over the course of a year.

Medium-sized saloon cars

We’d avoid buying a mid-sized saloon unless it’s second-hand. In terms of medium cars, the UK is a nation of hatchback buyers: we simply don't go in for saloon versions of models such as the new Honda Civic and Ford Focus in great numbers, and most mainstream models are now only offered as hatchbacks or estates. However, a number of upmarket medium-sized models, including the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, continue to be offered as a saloon for buyers who prefer a more executive aesthetic.

Medium-sized saloons are often less practical, with smaller boot apertures and ultimately less available space for luggage, although this does depend on individual models. 

Which medium-sized cars have large boot space?

If you're considering a medium-sized model as a family car and you have small children, check that the boot will be large enough for your requirements.

Despite most medium cars taking up a similar amount of space on the road, there are often huge differences in terms of luggage space. The previous-generation BMW 1 Series (2011-2019) for instance, has a relatively small boot. Its rear-wheel-drive setup robs space in the name of a better driving experience.

However, other models are designed specifically with practicality and ease of use in mind. The Honda Civic, for example, offers an exceptionally large boot. Many hatchback models are also available as estates, which vastly improve available boot space, without significantly increasing the car's exterior dimensions.

You can use our car reviews to check how much boot space is in a car and to compare between different models. We don’t rely on a manufacturer's claims: our independent tests assess just how much usable boot and passenger space there is in each model, so you can make an informed choice.

Best medium-sized cars for passenger comfort and safety

We’d recommend a five-door model over a three-door one, particularly if you’ll be installing a child car seat. Not only is it more practical, but newer models are often just as sporty-looking as their three-door counterparts. 

Given their increased appeal, newer iterations of family favourites such as the Ford Focus and Renault Megane are now only available with five doors.

In recent years, the traditional boxy hatchback silhouette has given way to more stylish coupé-esque designs. While these often look more appealing, sloping roofs can compromise interior headroom, as well as cause problems for taller passengers getting in and out.

Consider legroom for both children and adult rear-seat passengers. We measure the space inside each car we test, so in our car reviews we can tell you what height of person will fit in each seat. This means you will know you're buying a car that's suitable for your passengers, without having to take them with you on every test drive. 

If your children or grandchildren need a child car seat, check whether there are Isofix mounting points and make sure that the rear doors open wide enough for easy access.

Also, make sure the rear window frames are not so high that a small child wouldn’t be able to see out (this can exacerbate car sickness, making a mess of your lovely new car). 

Hot hatchbacks for thrills as well as practicality

VW Golf GTI 45

You don’t have to sacrifice driving pleasure just because you need a practical medium-sized car. If you want a sports car but have a family, a 'hot hatch' such as the Hyundai i30 N or Honda Civic Type R can be a great compromise between performance and versatility.

Typically, high-performance hot hatchbacks have more powerful engines, along with different suspension, brakes and tyres, to improve performance and handling. Otherwise, they don't differ much from the regular model on which they are based.

There may be some increased running costs to consider, including higher insurance and fuel costs, as well as bills for consumables such as tyres and brakes. However, manufacturers are increasingly turning to plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology, which not only boosts performance but can also improve fuel economy through the ability to run on electricity alone – provided you can regularly charge it up. The latest Volkswagen Golf GTE is a great example of a PHEV hot hatch.

You'll need to make sure that all your family can cope with a firmer ride. Large wheels and low-profile tyres, not to mention sports-tuned suspension, may not give an experience your passengers would call comfortable.

And before you get too carried away, make sure that if you need to use child seats or baby carriers that these will be compatible with the heavily sculpted sports seats that are often fitted to performance models.

Alternatively, if you've got the money to spare, you can buy yourself a sports car as a second car. See our best sports cars.

We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else

Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations. And because Which? is independent, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.

Each car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.

Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you to find the perfect car for your needs.

To tell you which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.

To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, join Which? and you'll receive access to all our expert reviews and advice.