Believe it or not, you can join the money-saving club with a Volkswagen Golf. As well as having a desirable badge and one of the classiest interiors around, the compact family car puts paid to its rivals in our pence-per-mile play-off.
A diesel engine is a good start. And to chip some decent money off your monthly bills, you’ll need the 2.0-litre SDI oil-burner. That’s because the £12,280 car costs only 31.4 pence per mile to run. Fuel consumption is one mile per gallon worse than in the smaller, more hi-tech MINI One as well. So what’s the catch?
The answer is apparent as soon as you get behind the wheel of the VW. Its normally aspirated diesel powerplant can really struggle on the open road. With a power output of only 73bhp and 140Nm of torque at its disposal, performance is at best relaxed.
But while the 0-62mph sprint takes a leisurely 16.7 seconds – exactly the same amount of time as the 1.0-litre Smart ForTwo – you can revel in fuel economy of 52.3mpg, The 350-litre boot extends to 1,305 litres if you fold the rear seats, so luggage space is generous, too.
To minimise outgoings, you’ll also have to buy the cheaper three-door S model. It has just as much room as the five-door inside, but it’s the less versatile option of the two bodystyles.
And that’s not all, because VW has made other sacrifices to earn a good score in the pence-per-mile challenge. Open the door and you’ll find the same high-quality cabin that features across the Golf line-up... but look at the spec sheet and you’ll see lots of gaps.
While the soft-touch plastics, solid build and neat design all meet with approval, there’s no getting round the shortage of standard equipment. It does better than the entry Smart by providing air-con, six airbags and remote central locking as standard in entry-level S trim. If you want electric rear windows, alloys or cruise control, though, they’re all options. You also get a horrible plastic steering wheel to remind you every time you sit in the driver’s seat that you own the basic model.
The lacklustre performance can be overcome quite simply. Our advice would be to pitch in a few extra pence to get the more punchy 103bhp 1.9-litre TDI variant we’ve used in our pictures.
Running costs for this car start from just 36.8ppm (still bettering the majority of its rivals), and its turbodiesel engine is much punchier. It has more mid-range torque for overtaking and merging with fast-moving traffic – both unnerving experiences in the slower SDI. The TDI is 5.4 seconds quicker from 0-62mph, too. It even provides superior economy of 56.5mpg combined, as well as lower CO2 emissions, at 132g/km.
The 73bhp SDI gives the Golf victory in this part of our challenge, as it has the class’s lowest ppm figure. But the greater performance of the TDI makes it worth each one of the extra 5.4ppm it costs.
WHY: Golf blends quality and practicality. But is non-turbo engine a compromise too far?
* Price range: £12,280-£26,805
* Running costs: 31.4-55.2ppm
* Length/wheelbase: 4,204/2,578mm
* Height/width: 1,479/1,759mm
* Engine: 4cyl in-line, 1,968cc
* Peak power: 73/4,200 bhp/rpm
* Peak torque: 140/2,200 Nm/rpm
* Transmission: 5-spd man/fwd
* 0-62mph (claimed): 16.7 seconds
* Govt urban/extra-urban/combined: 41.5/60.1/52.3mpg
* CO2: 143g/km