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

What are they like inside?

Getting comfortable behind the wheel isn’t too tricky in any of our contenders, although none of them quite earn full marks for one reason or another.

The Volkswagen Golf drops its fifth star because most taller drivers will wish their seat dropped a little lower, and because the sides of the seat could do with more support to hold you in place when cornering. The Audi A3 Sportback’s sports seats provide much better lateral support and drop lower into the car, but you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support, which is standard on the Honda Civic and Golf. The Civic’s problem? Well, that coupé-like rear styling doesn’t exactly aid over-the-shoulder visibility, although you at least get a reversing camera as standard to help mitigate this.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

If interior quality is high on your list of priorities, the A3 might seduce you into signing the cheque before you’ve even gone for a test drive. It looks and feels like an expensive executive car inside, from the plushness of the materials to the solidness of all the switches.

The A3 also shows the others how it should be done when it comes to infotainment. Instead of a fiddly touchscreen, the A3 has a rotary dial interface between the front seats; you simply twist to scroll through the menus and press down to make a selection. Also, the fact that the display (which lowers itself into the dash when it isn’t required) is positioned so high up means you don’t even need to divert your eyes far from the road to see it.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

There aren’t as many soft-touch plastics in the Civic, but its interior feels really well screwed together and the rotary controls for the climate control are pleasingly weighty and click reassuringly when you twist them. 

However, the Civic has one of the worst infotainment systems in any modern hatch – all the more frustrating when you consider how good the rest of the car is. The screen is disappointingly low-res, and the fact that it’s angled up towards the sky means it picks up sunlight reflections badly. The menus are hopelessly complicated, the screen is often slow to respond and even tweaking the volume is immensely frustrating.

Meanwhile, the Golf’s air-con controls actually feel a bit cheap and plasticky, but in other respects, it just edges the Civic, thanks to its denser-feeling dashboard and the finer-grain leather covering its steering wheel.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

The Golf has a bright, quick-responding 8.0in touchscreen as standard with SE Navigation trim. We wish it was positioned a bit higher up on the dashboard but, as touchscreens go, it’s an easy one to operate. As with all of these cars, sat-nav, a DAB radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring software come as standard. On the whole, the standard system is so good that we’d suggest it’s not worth looking out for the Discover Pro system upgrade.

Of this trio, the Golf is the one you’d choose if you had to sit in the back on a long trip. The advantage it has here over the A3 isn't huge, but its extra centimetre or two of leg and head room make a difference. The Civic is the most cramped in the rear; head room is quite poor for anyone approaching 6ft tall, although our EX test car’s panoramic glass roof certainly didn’t help matters.

New Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic vs Audi A3 Sportback

It’s a clear win for the Civic when it comes to boot space, though. Its luggage area is longer and wider than those of its German rivals – and that’s before you’ve factored in the huge underfloor storage area, which can itself swallow several bags of shopping. The A3 has the smallest boot, but again, the margin by which it loses out to the Golf is small – hardly surprising, given that both cars share the same basic underpinnings.

All of our contenders have 60/40 split-folding rear seats as standard, although, the A3 was offered with a more convenient 40/20/40 as an option, most buyers most didn’t bother to tick that box so it's hard to find an A3 with it. 

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