If you’re shopping for your next family car and looking for the very best, then you face a bewildering choice – especially when you consider the term ‘family car’ can these days include models such as MPVs and crossovers.

It depends where your priorities lie – is pure ‘people carrying’ the main consideration? Is luggage space for weekends and short breaks more of a factor? Is performance for longer trips important or will you mainly be pottering around locally?

Here are five ideas that show how to combine the practicality of family cars with the luxury quality of the best in modern motoring.

  1. Toyota Prius

Very much the elder statesman of hybrid technology this is surely the first hybrid to have been used by taxi firms and as a learner driver’s car, proving the perfect vehicle to pick up the skills and rules needed to get behind the wheel while simultaneously suited to ferrying us home after a long night out. It’s perhaps this multi-purpose use that has meant the Prius is now going into its fourth generation for 2016. The new version will be quite different to its predecessors with many new parts improving its driving dynamics and styling changes giving it a sleeker look.

A new version of its hybrid powertrain, combining a 1.8-litre petrol engine with the electric motors, improves efficiency by a considerable 18%. Prices will start at about £23,000.

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2. BMW 3-Series

Recently revised, the German manufacturer’s class leading saloon will be joined by a hybrid powered variant in 2016 dubbed the 330e based on a 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

The idea of a BMW as family transport might be a little fanciful, but flexible finance options and low depreciation make it a viable proposition compared to more modestly badged but heavier-depreciating competitors. Driving the family around doesn’t, these days, have to mean compromising style.

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3. VW Passat Hybrid

The svelte VW family saloon is now available in hybrid form in an attractive package offering outstanding economy with more than respectable performance. Fuel economy promises a possible 140 mpg while 0-62mph is achieved in under eight seconds.

The Passat bristles with high-tech equipment including driver alert systems and LED headlights.

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4. Infiniti Q30

Infiniti is Nissan’s luxury brand, and the Q30 is a compact hatchback option if you don’t need a larger family car and fancy a unique and stylish alternative to the Audi A3 and VW Golf (models that dominate in this area of the market).

You’ll be buying a UK manufactured car as the Q30 is being built at Nissan’s successful Sunderland plant and, having been tested and developed extensively in Europe, should offer excellent driving dynamics when it comes on stream fully in 2016.

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5. Renault Megane

Pitched against the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, the French manufacturer hopes the sporty GT version will also attract buyers of prestige machinery such as the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.

Renault’s design chief recognises the challenge facing the Megane in a fiercely contested market, saying he’s aware the firm is “going up against the very best”.

The new car is lower and sleeker than the outgoing model and a big effort has been made to improve the fit and finish to help it compete. Power will come from petrol, diesel and a diesel hybrid variant with near 100 mpg economy potential.

The Megane will feature the latest in car tech such as head up displays, touchscreen technology and hands-free parking assist amongst other equipment.

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Family cars with a difference

Among the ‘best’ tier of family cars is also a lot of choice as the above illustrates. Of course there’s more; large estates from Skoda and Mercedes come into this bracket and out-and-out performance options like the impending new Subaru Imprezza might appeal. Don’t be constrained by old-fashioned notions of what makes a family car.

Contributor: Jessica Foreman