Used test: Honda Civic vs Volkswagen Golf vs Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series

The new Honda Civic is just around the corner, but how does an older example stack up as a used buy against its rivals?

Words By What Car? team

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Volkswagen Golf Mk6 with rivals

Our Verdict

In last place must come the Audi A3. It's not that this generation of A3 is a bad car; more that it's an average one that's very expensive for what it is. It's the priciest to get your hands on, costs quite a bit to fuel and tax, and has the worst reputation for reliability. For all that, the driving experience is average, the amount of space it offers is average, and its running costs are... you guessed it: average. There are cheaper cars here that do the job better.

The Honda Civic is certainly cheaper; indeed, it costs less than any other car here to buy, by quite some margin, and while it's more expensive to fuel and tax, you'll have to do quite a few miles and use quite a lot of fuel before you completely negate your saving on purchase. What's more, the Civic has the best reliability reputation of any car here.

That might be enough for you, but if it is, you'll have to put up with a car that lacks headroom in the back, and is and endowed with an idiosyncratic dashboard. The Civic isn't all that enjoyable to drive, either, and around town it feels both unsettled and uncultured. And that styling might be stand-out, but it causes problems of its own, chiefly to do with rear visibility.

Which leaves the BMW 1 Series and the Volkswagen Golf. The 1 Series is the car that appeals to the heart here. It's actually not bad value; it's cheaper than the Audi, and doesn't cost a whole heap more than the Golf, and it goes some way toward mitigating that difference with its low running costs. It's also the most satisfying of the three to drive and the most sporting to sit in, with its low-slung driving position and driver-oriented dashboard.

But practicality matters in a family car, and that's where the 1 Series is lacking, with cramped passenger space and poor access. The boot's pretty titchy, too, not helping the BMW's family car credentials, and that harsh ride won't keep your nearest and dearest happy either.

That leaves the Golf to take top honours in this test. It's a delight to drive, the most comfortable to ride in, and manages to be quiet, gutsy and reasonably efficient all at the same time. Inside, the classy interior makes it a pleasure to live with, too. It isn't the cheapest car here, but it's cheaper than the 1 Series and the A3, and worth the extra over the Civic. It should make a very satisfying used purchase.

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Also consider:

1st – Volkswagen Golf

For Outstanding ride, handling and refinement; comfortable cabin; good compromise between purchase price and resale value;flexible engine; great image

Against Bland styling; pricier than some mainstream rivals

Verdict Desirable, refined, practical and great to drive, the Mk6 Golf is still one of the best all-rounders there is

Rated 5 out of 5

Read the used Volkswagen Golf review

2nd – BMW 118d

For Sharp handling and steering; cheap tax bills and low fuel consumption; good driving position

Against Harsh ride; poor access to rear seats; small boot; fiddly seat adjustment

Verdict Fun to drive and cheap to run, but the BMW isn't as good an all-rounder as the Golf

Rated 4 out of 5

Read the full BMW 118d review

3rd – Honda CIvic

For Much cheaper to buy than the others here; great reliability reputation; well-equipped as standard; engine has strong mid-range shove

Against Frustrating, cheap-feeling dashboard; poor visibility; vague steering; high fuel consumption; noisy ride; no diesel auto

Verdict On price alone, the Civic makes an appealing proposition, but factor in its foibles and the Golf is worth the extra cost

Rated 3 out of 5

Read the full Honda Civic review

4th – Audi A3

For Quality feel; top-notch image; decent-sized boot; punchy engine

Against Expensive to buy and run; poor reputation for reliability; average to drive; noisy; frustrating ride

Verdict The Audi isn't a bad car, but it'd have to be an excellent one for the amount it costs. It isn't.

Rated 3 out of 5

Read the full Audi A3 review

Specifications: Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI 140 SE

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new Β£19,820

Price today Β£2500-Β£12,000

Power 138bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-60mph 9.7sec

Top speed 129mph

Fuel economy 55.4mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 134g/km

Specifications: BMW 118d ES 5dr

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new Β£19,885

Price today Β£1500-Β£11,000

Power 141bhp

Torque 221lb ft

0-60mph 9.5sec

Top speed 130mph

Fuel economy 62.8mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 119g/km

Specifications: Honda Civic 2.2i-CTDi ES 5dr

Engine size 2.2-litre turbo diesel

List price when new Β£17,680

Price today Β£1300-Β£8500

Power 138bhp

Torque 251lb ft

0-60mph 9.8sec

Top speed 127mph

Fuel economy 54.3mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 135g/km

Specifications: Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 140 SE 5dr

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new Β£18,475

Price today Β£3000-Β£10,000

Power 138bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-60mph 9.6sec

Top speed 129mph

Fuel economy 57.6mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 129g/km

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