If circumstances dictate that you need to have a family car, you might think that spells the end of your dreams of owning something fast and fun to drive. Not so, there are plenty of fast family cars on the market that fill both roles in style.
When children enter the equation, performance and handling don’t matter as much as practicality, safety, and economy in a car. Thoughts of blasts down twisty B-roads can be replaced by concerns over child seats and sippy cups, and so for lots of people, it means hanging up the keys to that sports car and shelling out for a boring family bus.
• Best hot hatchbacks
This list of the 10 best fast family cars brings together cars from all sectors of the market. At the lower end of the price bracket, you’ll find hot hatches like the brilliant Volkswagen Golf R, offering up four-wheel drive security, a practical five-door body and a powerful engine which can carve up the average British B-road as quickly as anything out there.
Step up into the realm of the super-saloon and your choices broaden into cars like the BMW M3, which provides luxurious accommodation for business and pleasure alike. For drivers who like the added security and less challenging performance, we’ve got four-wheel-drivers like the practical estate Audi RS6 Avant and the Porsche Macan Turbo. We’ve even picked the electric Tesla Model 3 and Porsche Taycan for those who are attracted by lower running costs and more eco-friendly credentials, and the Alpina D3 for drivers who must have a diesel.
So if you don’t want family car compromises to spoil your fun, have a look through our top 10 and see if there’s a fast family car that’s right for you.
Click on the links below to read more about each of our choices, or take a look at the fastest accelerating cars in the world.
Best fast family cars
Porsche Macan GTS
If you think that a compact SUV can’t be a fast, fun car, then think again. The Porsche Macan has to be experienced to be believed, because it combines the everyday usability of a five-door SUV with the handling and performance we’ve come to expect from Porsche’s sports cars.
While it shares its basic layout with the Audi Q5, Porsche has developed the Macan from the ground up, so it gets bodywork inspired by Porsche’s sports cars, while everything under the skin is designed with performance in mind. The flagship Macan GTS gets a 434bhp twin-turbo V6, and variable valve timing and direct injection mean there’s plenty of power across the rev range.
It’s mated to a seven-speed PDK gearbox, which delivers smooth, rapid shifts even at full throttle, while the four-wheel-drive system, standard adaptive dampers and clever Porsche Traction Management electronics mean the Macan GTS is able to put a smile on your face on roads where normal SUVs would be a real handful.
As with other Porsche models, there are some performance enhancing options for the Macan GTS. Torque vectoring takes handling to another level, while the Sport Chrono package adds launch control, which makes the most of the SUV’s explosive performance off the line.
BMW M3 Competition
Not many models on the road carry the same weight of expectation as the BMW M3 Competition. Each and every model has managed to gain iconic status among car enthusiasts, so the most recent model had quite a lot to prove when it was launched.
The turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine might not be quite as characterful as the naturally aspirated V8 from a few generations ago, but it certainly isn’t lacking in power – it delivers the sort of searing performance you’d expect.
There’s a slightly different character here, with massive reserves of mid-range torque rather than top-end power, but it remains a seriously impressive performance car. One minor criticism is the synthesised engine noise played into the cabin. Yet while it doesn’t sound entirely natural, its booming roar gets your attention.
What really sets this M3 apart is just how comfortable it is. With the suspension in its softest setting, this car doesn’t feel too much stiffer than a run-of-the-mill 3 Series. But when you find a nice set of corners, the M3 Competition comes alive; everything feels immediately responsive and there’s plenty of grip from the front end. In the best ‘M’ tradition, there’s plenty of scope for big, tyre-smoking drifts, too.And if the four-door saloon body isn’t for you, then there’s also a sleek M4 Competition coupe model on sale, too.
Cupra Formentor 310
The Cupra Formentor arrived as Cupra’s first ever standalone model exclusive to the brand, as opposed to being a performance version of an existing SEAT. It’s also handsome to look at, with aggressive styling that helps it stand out among the SUV crowd. There’s enough practicality for a family and a wide range of engine options available, including the range-topping 306bhp 2.0-litre engine, which delivers on the performance front.
Only the entry-level 1.5-litre 147bhp model is available with a manual gearbox, and all other models come with a DSG automatic. While it may not be the most engaging system, the auto box is pretty good – it’s smooth at slower speeds, and gear changes are slick when you put your foot down. Two plug-in hybrid options are also available with 202bhp and 242bhp if you want a balance of performance and lower running costs – you’ll get a quoted range of up to around 34 miles on a single charge.
A fast family car needs to be practical as well as quick, and the Cupra does a decent job in this respect, despite not being a class leader. The Formentor offers reasonable headroom and space for passengers in the back. Boot space depends on the model. The two-wheel-drive models offer a generous 450-litres of boot space, whereas this drops to 420-litres in the four-wheel-drive models. The batteries used in the plug-in hybrid models reduce this even further, and they offer a sub-par 345-litres of boot space for a car this size. The Formentor isn’t perfect, but it is still one of the best fast family cars on the market, offering a desirable and premium feel.
We had high expectations before we got our hands on the Porsche Taycan, and yet they were still exceeded once when we tested it. It ticks a lot of boxes as a fully-electric four-door with sports car qualities. The Taycan tackles B-roads like a Porsche 911, feels as refined and comfortable as a Porsche Panamera, and has an electric range of around 300 miles. It’s also capable of rapid charging, which means it can theoretically be charged up to 80 per cent in 20 minutes.
The Taycan was built from the ground up to be a high-performance electric car, and while all versions are great performers, the Turbo and Turbo S models are the most fun with the most power – they’re both capable of 617bhp in normal driving, but power is increased to 671bhp with launch control enabled in the Turbo and an impressive 751bhp in the Turbo S.
It’s a big car, which does mean you’ll need to take care when going through narrow width restrictors and getting into tight parking spaces. It’s capable of seating four adults and a child (if you go for the optional centre-rear seat), although headroom can be a little restricted with the sloping roofline. The outright cost of the Taycan is expensive as it starts from if you want a fast, cheap to run car for a family.
Audi RS6 Avant
While the Merc AMGs have always been popular as estate versions, it’s the hot Audi Avants that arguably offer a smidge more practicality – if nothing else thanks to their all-wheel-drive quattro drivetrains that are a little less challenging to drive fast.
They’ve always been admired for their style too, and the handsome Audi RS6 is a case in point. It’s broad-chested muscular demeanour looking polished and threatening all at once. The latest hot version of Audi’s big A6 estate car may have a downsized V8, but as you’d expect performance is undiminished. 0-62mph arrives in a shockingly quick 3.6 seconds.
Skoda Octavia vRS
You can get a petrol-powered Octavia vRS – using the same engine as the Golf GTI – but we also like the diesel model as a family car. With a 197bhp 2.0 TDI engine under the bonnet, it’s got plenty of mid-range torque. Firmer suspension and some subtle styling updates ensure the vRS looks and handles like a performance car, too. That hugely practical cabin makes it a genuinely usable family vehicle, too. There’s even a plug-in hybrid version, although we didn’t find it quite as sporting to drive.
VW Golf R
The most famous hot hatch you can buy is better than ever in its latest guise. The 2.0-litre turbo has 316bhp and the Golf R takes all the standard Golf GTI attributes, and magnifies them with almost a third more power and four-wheel-drive. The result is ballistic performance that’s knocking on the door of supercar territory, and if you’re after the ultimate in family practicality there’s even an estate version of the Golf R too. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes just 4.7 seconds, but it’s a shame the latest infotainment system isn’t quite as convincing as the Golf’s acceleration.
Alpina D3 S
Fast and fun cars don’t just have to run on petrol or electricity. The Alpina D3 S is one of the world’s fastest diesel powered production cars, thanks to a twin-turbo 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine developing 350bhp and 730Nm of torque. Its headline figures read 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and top speed of 170mph, but drive it cautiously and you should be able to return up to 42.2mpg.
It’s even fitted with a mild-hybrid setup to help save fuel when you aren’t on a Sunday blast. The Alpina is an amazingly accomplished piece of kit, merging blistering acceleration with composure and refinement on the move.
Mercedes AMG GLB 35
The Mercedes AMG GLB 35 is the performance version of Mercedes’ GLB SUV. It slots in between the GLA and GLC models, and is a fairly small SUV that offers seating for seven. The AMG variant takes this recipe and adds a 2.0-litre 302bhp turbocharged engine, a seven-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive.
It’ll do 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, which is fast for a seven-seater. The gearbox is responsive in manual mode, with the high-quality metal gear shift paddles a pleasure to use, too. It handles surprisingly well, too. The steering is light, but naturally weighted, and feels accurate, allowing you to make use of all the grip on offer.
As the range-topping model of the GLB, the Mercedes AMG GLB 35 is quite pricey, but does come with keyless operation, LED lights, a panoramic roof, parking sensors and a reversing camera, heated leather sports seats, and a good level of safety tech for a family SUV. The interior offers a good level of refinement and Mercedes’ slick MBUX infotainment system.
The car can be let down slightly in terms of practicality when all seven seats are in use which can restrict boot space to a measly 130 litres, and with a claimed fuel economy of 31 mpg, it won’t be the cheapest car to run, but if you’re looking for a family car with performance credentials, the Mercedes AMG GLB 35 is an attractive choice.
Tesla Model 3
Although many manufacturers have now released their own fast electric family cars, Tesla continues to fight its corner with its cheapest car, the Model 3. It’s still one of the best EVs around thanks to its practicality and high levels of tech. The Model 3 Performance variant could also give supercars a run for their money with its break-neck speed.
Performance versions come with a dual-motor four-wheel-drive set-up which offers around a staggering 449bhp, allowing it to accelerate from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds. For outright performance, there’s not much that will beat a Model 3, although you’ll get an arguably more rewarding drive with rivals like the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
The performance offered in the Model 3 doesn’t come at the expense of practicality, either. Thanks to the lack of a traditional engine up front, it boasts a total of 425 litres of boot space from both the front and rear luggage areas, making it a very practical family car choice.
The Model 3’s interior is very minimalist and feels well-built with use of decent quality materials. Most major functions are controlled by a 15-inch central touchscreen on the dash which feels advanced and responsive, and Tesla’s frequent over-the-air updates are constantly add new features.