Peugeot 308 1.2 THP 130 Allure
List price £20,440
Target Price £19,412
Facelifted 308 has a frugal little engine and is the cheapest car here, but is it any good?
Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI 150 SE L
List price £21,865
Target Price £20,075
Octavia is back to defend its class-leading position with a new 1.5-litre engine.
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo 130 SE Navigation
List price £21,790
Target Price £19,902
Recently facelifted Golf, also with a new 1.5 engine, is out to steal the Octavia’s crown.
Typical. Just as everyone was getting used to family hatchbacks and even SUVs being fitted with smaller, turbocharged, often three-cylinder engines in search of better fuel economy and CO2 emissions, the Volkswagen Group goes and bucks the trend.
We’ll explain. You see, Skoda and Volkswagen are replacing their clever turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine with a 1.5-litre unit that, despite being bigger, is officially both cleaner and more efficient.
Completing our trio is the Peugeot 308, which has recently been refreshed with new front and rear-end styling and updated infotainment. It also offers one of the most frugal petrol engines in the class, the turbocharged petrol 1.2 we’re testing here. So, which petrol-powered family hatchback makes the most sense?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
The Octavia’s extra 20bhp over the Golf and better pull from low revs can certainly be felt on the road, helping it drag itself up to motorway speeds more quickly in the higher gears and sprint from a standstill with more verve. That said, the Golf never feels out of its depth, whether around town or when trying to keep pace with faster-moving traffic on A-roads. Both cars rev smoothly and also stay vibration-free at high revs.
The 308’s three-cylinder engine matches the outright power of the Golf’s four-cylinder unit. Unsurprisingly, it therefore matched the Golf in a drag race from 0-60mph, but the 308 doesn’t pull as hard at very low revs, which means you need to change gear more often when driving around town. There’s also noticeably more noise and vibration from the 308’s engine under hard acceleration.
The Golf’s steering is nicely weighted and feels natural, complementing the car’s eagerness to change direction, tidy body control and strong grip. The Octavia isn’t far behind, with steering that’s almost as agreeable and just as much grip, but you can feel its larger body moving about more when you’re cornering. The 308 is some way adrift; its overly quick steering is designed to make it feel agile but, in reality, just makes it feel nervous. Unfortunately, it’s also the first to give up grip through corners, so all told, it’s the least capable and least enjoyable-handling car here.
The 308 also has the worst ride. It fails to satisfactorily deal with larger obstacles, such as speed humps, and is the most unsettled around town. The Octavia does a much better job of sponging away surface imperfections on any road at any speed, even if its rear suspension can be heard going about its business.
The Golf rides most comfortably, staying neatly composed, even along badly pockmarked roads. The Golf is the quietest car to be in, too, keeping road and wind noise at bay on the motorway better than the others.
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