by Tim Barnes-Clay, the man behind the wheel.
Date: 23 May 2012
HATCHBACKS ARE the best-selling cars in Great Britain. They are made to meet the needs of the vast majority of motorists, and competition is fierce. This is good news for us - hatchbacks have to be outstanding or they just wonít sell. That means this type of car is reliable - and reliability is a great plus point for any business. Here are three of the most engaging, yet affordable, hatchbacks on the market:
äkoda became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group in 2000 and since then the marque has gone from strength to strength. Its total global sales reached 879,200 in 2011 compared with 435,403 at the turn of the new century.
The vRS is particularly special because itís the hottest äkoda in the line-up. In fact, if youíve seen a black one Ė the chances are itís an unmarked police car. We know the model is appreciated by the boys in blue for a couple of key reasons: itís good value for money and fast.
A brand new Octavia vRS Hatch 2.0 TFSI costs just over £20,000 and will do 150 mph. Powering the petrol variant of the car is a turbocharged 1984 cc, 197 bhp engine, mated to a six speed manual gearbox. It propels the äkoda from 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds and can deliver an average mpg of 37.7.
The sporty Octaviaís leather steering wheel is chunky, the switchgear is nicely damped and the cabin is well appointed with lots of padding on the dash. Hit the gas and the car darts to the legal limit before you know it. Itís entertaining getting there too. Second gear is particularly pleasurable to hang on to. Yet, once in sixth gear, the car is a pleasing motorway muncher. Itís comfortable, smooth and the cruise control keeps you the right side of the law.
The Octavia hatchback is practical too. It has an enormous load area with plenty of pegs and netted areas to keep your luggage secure. The front passenger area provides lots of legroom and the rear seats are good for two adults.
The Leon FR+ is big enough for an average family, yet itís small enough to feel seriously sporty. The 2.0 DSI FR+ DSG auto harnesses 208 horses, provides a top speed of 145 mph and offers a 0-62 dash of 6.9 seconds.
Throw the FR+ around corners Ė and it sticks to the road; dab the accelerator on the straights and you are pushed back in your seat as the car gets down on its haunches for a gratifying sprint. But drive the car sensibly and it behaves like any normal hatchback.
Inside, the driverís seat is supportive and the steering wheel adjusts for a satisfying grip. The dials are clear and switchgear is logically set out. Visibility and front legroom is also good.
The SEAT is equipped with traction control gadgetry to help keep it on the road and anti-lock brakes to ensure it scrubs off speed safely. The FR+ has 225/40 tyres on big 18 inch alloys, Bi-xenon headlights to help you see just that bit better and it has useful front parking sensors too.
The SEAT Leon FR+ with the 6-speed DSG auto gearbox will set you back £23,100 on the road. Not the cheapest model, but nearly £3000 less than the top-of-the-range 155 mph Cupra R Ė and almost as exciting to drive.
The VW Golf Match 2.0 TDI model has bags of grunt, and with 138 bhp overtaking is safe, quick and fun. The gear changes are slick and the carís road holding is magnificent.
Equipment levels are good on the Match variant of the Golf; specification includes anti-lock braking, an electronic stability programme, seven airbags, air conditioning, cruise control and connectivity for an MP3 player. There are also 16-inch alloy wheels, a multifunction steering wheel, a Bluetooth system, parking sensors and a touch-screen stereo with six-disc CD auto-changer.
If towing is something you might want to do for business or pleasure, then the VW Golf 2.0 TDI will handle this too. The Volkswagen has a maximum braked towing weight of 1500 kg, which means it could pull, say, an 850 kg trailer plus horse - or a decent sized caravan.