Group test: Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI v Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo v Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI

Group test: Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI  v Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo v Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI
Group test: Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI v Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo v Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI

Can the new fuel-sipping petrol versions of Honda’s Civic and VW’s Golf threaten Audi’s excellent A3?

Audi’s A3 Sportback is pretty much the standard setter for quality in the family car segment. But with economical running in mind, the 1.0-litre versions of the all-new, British-built and very spacious Honda Civic and of Volkswagen’s updated (and reduced price) Golf are posing a strong threat.

All three of these cars have turbocharged 1.0-litre engines promising decent performance and over 55mpg, so even diesel fanatics should be happy. Which of the three is best, though?

Driving

Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI Sport

Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Price: £22,135
Power: 114bhp
Torque: 148lb/ft
0-60mph: 9.9sec
Top speed: 128mph
Economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 107g/km

On the road, the new Civic is the slowest of this trio, struggling (quite noisily) to keep up with the lighter A3 and Golf. There’s not much between the German cars on performance.

All three of these manual six-speeders are easy to drive in traffic. It’s a bit too easy to stall the A3 and Golf on fast getaways, however, especially if you haven’t kept the revs up. We’re not that keen on the Civic’s spongey brake pedal.

The predictability and composure of the Golf’s handling is well reflected in the Civic, albeit with a slightly disappointing lack of consistency in steering weight. Quickest responder to steering input, and lightest on its feet generally, is the A3. It provides the most fun on a bendy road, but the low speed ride is jiggly.

The Golf is the most poised over bumps, with a ride that’s hard to beat even by cars from classes above, with the Civic somewhere in between the two on the adaptive suspension that came with our high-end EX model. You can’t have that suspension on the SR model. The Golf is also the quietest of these three on the road, followed by the A3 and then the Civic.

Interior

In terms of driving positions, all three score four stars out of five, being generally very good but with the odd flaw. Taller Golf drivers will wish the seat was a bit lower and had a bit more side support. Neither of those are an issue with the A3, but the adjustable lumbar support that’s standard on the Civic and Golf costs extra on the Audi. Over the shoulder visibility isn’t brilliant in the Honda as a result of its sloping back end, but a reversing camera is standard equipment.

Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo SR

Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Price: £20,340
Power 127bhp
Torque: 148lb/ft
0-60mph: 10.7sec
Top speed: 126mph
Economy: 55.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 117g/km

On cabin quality, the A3 looks and feels like a far more expensive car than it is. Its materials are plush, and the switchgear operation reassuringly solid. Soft-touch plastics are in shorter supply in the Civic, but again the switches have a lovely heft to them and the cabin feels well put together. In this company the Golf comes across as rather plasticky, but thanks to its more substantial-feeling dashboard and nicer steering wheel leather it just edges the Honda.

The A3’s infotainment system is an object lesson in how to do it, with a high display position and a rotary dial to control the menus. The system in the Honda Civic is disappointingly out of kilter with the rest of the car, with a low-res screen that picks up a lot of reflections, ridiculously complicated menus and slow response, unlike the sharp eight-inch touchscreen you get with SE Navigation Golfs. It should be higher on the dashboard, but operating it is easy. All three cars have standard sat-nav, digital radio, and smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

For space, the Golf is best for back seat passengers, closely followed by the A3. Rear head room in the Civic might be a problem for six-footers, especially if it has the EX-spec car’s panoramic glass roof, but the Honda fights back with the longest and widest boot and a massive underfloor storage area big enough to take plenty of shopping bags.

60/40 split-folding rear seats are standard on all three cars, with the option of a 20/40/40 system on the A3 at an extra £250. They all have alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers and cruise control, but the A3’s cruise is fairly basic compared to the radar-based distance control systems in the Civic and Golf.

Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI 110 SE Navigation

Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Price: £20,260
Power: 108bhp
Torque: 148lb/ft
0-60mph: 10.0sec
Top speed: 122mph
Economy: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 109g/km

If you want front and rear parking sensors and power-folding door mirrors in your A3, you’ll have to pay extra for them. If you want front foglights and dual-zone climate control, they’re extras in the Golf. The well-equipped Civic is the only one to include a reversing camera and privacy glass. It also has automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. The Golf gives you AEB, but specifying any of these driver support features on the A3 will cost you.

Running costs

On a cash purchase, the Golf is the cheapest and the Audi the dearest even when you include the big discounts on offer. For those buying outright, the Golf will suffer the least depreciation over three years and will be the cheapest to insure and service. Sitting at the other extreme of the 3-year depreciation and fuel graphs is the Civic.

If you’re going down the finance route, there’s nothing to separate them on monthly PCP repayments. Assuming a £4800 deposit on a 36-month, 10,000-mile a year deal, the Civic will be £209, the Golf £213 and the A3 £216.

Verdict

In this market sector, think carefully before picking a diesel. A petrol will cost you less, emit less NOx, dodge any upcoming diesel legislation and usually incur less tax, even for company car drivers.

Of these three contenders, we’d pick the new Golf. The A3 is still slightly posher and has a better infotainment system, but the Golf is now a lot cheaper to buy and own than the A3. The Golf’s smoother ride, slightly roomier rear and bigger list of standard features take it over the winning line just ahead of the Audi.

Which puts the Civic last, but the Honda would beat most other cars in this class. It’s so much better than its predecessor and very well equipped. It’s just a shame that the infotainment system is so poor.

 

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