Used test: Audi A3 vs Honda Civic vs Volkswagen Golf

These used family hatchbacks all have frugal three-cylinder petrol engines and cost a fraction of what they did new, but which is the best buy?...

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

The Contenders

Audi A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI Sport

  • List price when new - £22,135
  • Price today - £13,500*
  • Available from - 2013-2020

Our overall Used Car of the Year sets the benchmark for interior quality, but is it still the best all-rounder?

Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo SR

  • List price when new - £20,340
  • Price today - £12,500*
  • Available from - 2017-present

The British-built Honda Civic promises class-leading space and comes really well equipped.

Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI 110 SE Navigation

  • List price when new - £20,260
  • Price today - £13,000*
  • Available from - 2013-2020

It may look the same as ever, but VW’s best-selling model is still a class act

*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Diesel is evil. It fills our lungs with deadly poisons and should be banned immediately. That’s probably what you’ve read if you’ve opened any newspaper since the notorious Volkswagen emissions scandal broke a few years ago.

It is, of course, an overreaction. But the truth is that sales of diesel-engined cars have dipped, meaning that there are fewer examples available used – especially if you’re in the market for a family hatchback. However, there are a number of very rational reasons for choosing a petrol engine in your next car. 

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

The three we’ve lined up here are particularly compelling. All have turbocharged 1.0-litre engines that deliver reasonable performance, and with the promise of more than 55mpg, you won’t even miss your old diesel’s fuel economy. But which is best: the homegrown Honda Civic that’s built in Swindon, the facelifted version of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf, or the classy Audi A3 Sportback

What are they like to drive?

Because it has the most power and the shortest gearing of this trio, you might expect the new Civic to romp away from its rivals when you put your foot down. Surprisingly, though, it’s actually the slowcoach in this comparison. Accelerate from low revs in third, fourth or fifth gear and it slowly but surely loses ground to the lighter A3 and Golf, both of which are closely matched for performance. Even when you rev the Civic hard, it still gets left behind, and its engine always sounds a bit more gravelly than those of its German rivals.

All of our contenders have slick six-speed manual gearboxes and positive clutch pedals, making them easy to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic. However, you have to be a bit careful not to stall the A3 and Golf when pulling away quickly; it’s easy to do if you let the revs drop too low. Then again, the Civic’s brake pedal is a bit spongier than we’d like.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

‘Predictable’, ‘composed’ and ‘competent’ are all words that neatly sum up the way the Golf handles, because VW’s cash cow grips well, steers precisely and is generally excellent to drive.

Most of the above also applies to the Civic. However, if you tackle a corner with vigour you’ll wish the steering weighted up more consistently to help you gauge how well the front tyres are gripping.

Meanwhile, the A3 is the most agile of our trio, responding quickest to steering inputs, gripping the hardest and staying the most upright through tight corners. For all those reasons, it’s the most fun to drive along a twisting country road, but the price you pay for that nimbleness is a slightly firm ride – particularly at low speeds.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

The Civic is fractionally more supple than the A3 around town (it’s important to note that our test car was a high-spec EX model with adaptive suspension, which isn’t available on SR trim), although it’s a little more unsettled on fast A-roads and motorways.

However, it’s the Golf that glides over lumps and bumps in the most composed fashion. Few cars in any price bracket ride as comfortably. The Golf has the quietest road manners, too – mainly because you barely hear a peep from its tyres as they roll on the surface of the road. Road noise is more of an issue in the Civic and A3, although the latter is the best of our trio at shutting out wind flutter, so it was noticeably quieter than its Japanese rival at a steady 70mph in our noise tests.

Next: what are they like inside? >>

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