New Honda Civic and new Vauxhall Astra vs Seat Leon
This trio of family hatchbacks each takes a different approach to maximising efficiency. Let's see which one is the best choice...
New Honda Civic e:HEV Sport
List price £30,595
Target price £30,595
The previous Civic lagged behind rivals in most areas, but the latest version is fighting back with fuel-efficient hybrid tech and a much-improved interior.
New Vauxhall Astra 1.2 Turbo 130 GS Line auto
List price £29,060
Target price £27,905
The popular Astra now has sharper looks and up-to-date tech. It’s a familiar name, but is it still worth knowing?
Seat Leon 1.5 eTSI Evo 150 FR Sport DSG
List price £31,205
Target price £29,405
Great to drive and remarkably practical, our 2022 Family Car of the Year is back to fend off fresh competition
As the future of motoring is heading towards the world of electric propulsion, we find ourselves in a transition period. You see, while some family cars have already made the fully electric leap (such as the Renault Megane E-Tech), others aren't quite ready to leave the internal combustion engine behind.
So, if you're not quite ready to step away from a routine involving petrol pumps, what are your options? Well, the new Honda Civic would seem to make a good case for itself. It runs on petrol but uses clever fuel-saving hybrid technology to minimise running costs and reduce emissions.
The Vauxhall Astra is another new arrival with a venerable nameplate, but it keeps things rather more conventional with a small-capacity petrol engine that's free from any electrical assistance. Yet it still promises to be affordable to run, so is the Civic merely over-complicating matters?
Finally, the Seat Leon, with its 'mild' hybrid technology, slots in between the other two. Its tiny electric motor lends the petrol engine a helping hand but can't drive the car along on its own. Still, it promises to contribute towards bringing your fuel bills down.
We're testing all three in trims that mix a good level of equipment and a dose of sporty styling for a list price of around £30,000. So, which is best?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
The hybrid system in the Civic works in a different way from the more conventional one found in, for example, a Toyota Corolla. That’s because the Civic’s petrol engine drives the wheels directly only at high speeds; the rest of the time it acts as a generator to power two electric motors, sending 181bhp to the front wheels.
Meanwhile, the Leon’s mild hybrid engine has 148bhp and the Astra’s conventional engine has 129bhp. Unsurprisingly, then, the Civic’s 0-60mph sprint time of just 6.8sec thrashes the Leon’s respectable 8.3sec and the Astra’s more casual 9.5sec.
The Civic is also the most effortless to drive at low speeds, because its electric motors deliver instant oomph. While both the Leon and Astra are perfectly capable around town, the Astra soon runs out of puff when overtaking or sprinting down a motorway slip road.
The Astra’s conventional automatic gearbox doesn’t help matters; it’s slow to downshift and occasionally jerky when swapping gears. The Leon’s snappier dual-clutch automatic gearbox is far better in both respects. However, because its hybrid set-up doesn’t have any actual gears to shift through, the Civic makes for the smoothest progress.
When it comes to noise levels, all three cars show similar decibel readings at a steady 30mph, but the Civic gives you the sensation that it’s the quietest simply because, much of the time at that speed, the petrol engine isn’t running. By contrast, the old-school hum from the Leon’s engine is comparatively grating.
At motorway speeds, the Leon and Astra suffer from some wind noise. However, the Civic is noisiest in this environment, because it generates the most road roar from its tyres.
The Leon is the most agile of our contenders; it feels light and eager to turn in to bends, with minimal body lean. With heavier and slightly slower steering, the Civic isn’t as willing, but it isn’t too far behind. It grips well and can carry a surprising amount of speed through corners.
Meanwhile, the softer, more relaxed set-up of the Astra is compounded by numb, overly light steering that gives you little sense of what the front wheels are doing. As a result, it’s the least inspiring car of the group to drive.
For those who value comfort over entertainment, the Astra compensates by having the most supple ride. It’s softer and better at isolating occupants from bumpy roads than the other two contenders, yet its body control on undulating roads is tight enough to prevent it from wallowing about.
The Leon has the bumpiest ride, largely because it’s the only car here with sports suspension fitted as standard; all FR models have it, and this FR Sport trim adds larger, 18in wheels. It’s not punishing, but larger impacts can throw you around in your seat. The Civic, although still fairly firm, is much more settled and calm.
Next: What are they like inside? >>
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