What are they like inside?
The Honda Civic's sci-fi styling is matched inside by an equally radical dashboard. Its sweeping lines look great, as do its funky three-dimensional instruments, but the latter reflect in the windscreen, and the former are constructed from some slightly cheap-feeling plastics. The same goes for the switchgear, which looks unusual but isn’t very intuitive to use.
By contrast, the Volkswagen Golf’s interior is about as radical as a cereal breakfast, but the layout is appetising. Chunky stereo buttons are combined with colour-coded heater dials and well-sited minor controls. Look out for examples that come with the touchscreen entertainment system; it was an optional extra, but nice to have as it's a slick and easy-to-use system.
You’d usually expect an Audi’s interior to better its Volkswagen contemporary’s, but that’s not the case with the A3. While its dashboard is built from high-quality plastics, the layout is fiddly and the instrument lighting, which is a monotone red, makes some of the screens and dials hard to read at night. Most annoyingly of all, though, the stylistic struts on the side of the centre console can dig into a taller driver’s left leg.
The dashboard of the BMW 1 Series is generally good, with a centre console tilted slightly toward the driver, as per BMW tradition. Most of the controls are labelled clearly, and the plastics are generally robust and appealing, though the row of identical switches for the radio presets let the side down a little.
Each car has two-way steering wheel adjustment and a driver’s seat that moves up and down. In the A3, Civic and Golf, this is done using a ratchet lever, but BMW persists with a more awkward system whereby you lift yourself off the seat to raise it, or push down to lower it.
The 1 Series and Civic employ a similar arrangement to adjust the angle of the backrest, whereas the A3 and Golf have a rotary wheel that’s both easier to use and more precise.
Visibility isn’t a problem in the A3, 1 Series or Golf. However, the Civic’s front pillars are rather thick, and rear vision is appalling. Its rear spoiler slices right across your line of sight, while the absence of a wiper or heating elements in the lower part of the glass make the problem worse when it’s wet or cold.
All four cars give the driver plenty of legroom, and although the A3 provides the most headroom, the 1 Series and Golf have more than enough. The Civic, on the other hand, feels a bit cramped, though that probably wouldn’t be the case without the sunroof fitted as standard to our test car.
Switch to the rear and the Honda continues to trail for headroom, but at least there’s loads of legroom. A pair of gangly teenagers will be equally comfortable in the back of its rivals. However, the Civic is the only car here without a bulky transmission tunnel, so it’s the best choice for anyone stuck in the middle rear seat.
Getting into and out of the back of the Civic requires a bit of suppleness because the rear door aperture is small. It isn’t as bad as the 1 Series, though. You’ll need to pop plenty of cod liver oil tablets if you want to make frequent use of the BMW’s rear seats; you have to stoop to avoid banging your head, and the wheel arch cuts into the opening.
The Civic recovers ground by offering a whopping boot, which also features a large well beneath the boot floor. The A3 is next best and the Golf fractionally smaller, leaving the 1 Series trailing with its relatively titchy luggage compartment.
In each car, the rear seats are split 60:40 and foldable, so you can carry longer items, but there’s a step in the Golf’s extended load bay, and the A3’s backrests lie at an awkward angle.
It’s better in the 1 Series, where you’re left with a slightly sloping floor. The Civic’s seats lie completely flat because its bases cantilever down and out of the way when you lower the backrests. As a bonus, you can flip the bases up, like cinema seats, to fit tall items in the rear seat area.
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