BMW 1 Series vs VW Golf & Mazda 3
Is the BMW 116d ED the best compact hatch for business and family buyers? We find out as it takes on VW and Mazda
Upmarket compact family hatchbacks are all the rage these days, particularly among business users looking to slash their costs without sacrificing luxury and premium kerb appeal.
Until recently, the undisputed king of the class was the BMW 1 Series, which combined the brand’s hallmark quality and thrilling rear-wheel- drive handling with low running costs and decent practicality.
However, the arrival of a host of talented rivals has forced BMW to give its entry-level model a mid-life refresh.
The biggest changes have been made under the skin, with the adoption of a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel in the tax-friendly 116d EfficientDynamics model tested here.
Setting the benchmark for desirability and affordability in this sector is the Volkswagen Golf. Spacious, refined and good to drive, it’s a great all-rounder, while the 1.6 TDI is a frugal performer and new Match trim brings all the essential kit.
The Mazda 3 doesn’t have the upper-class heritage of its rivals here, but it’s stylish, beautifully built and great to drive. Better still, its 2.2-litre diesel effortlessly blends performance and economy, while the flagship Sport Nav version represents excellent value for money.
So, which of our talented trio edges ahead in this encounter?
Car group tests
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- Cupra Leon vs BMW 118i vs Mazda 3: 2023 group test review
- BMW 128ti vs Volkswagen Golf GTI
Used car tests
Click the links above to read individual reviews, and scroll down to find out which hatch wins this test...
When it comes to family friendly versatility, the Golf still takes some beating. It offers the biggest boot on test, and access to the interior is easy thanks to large door openings. There’s little to separate the Mazda and BMW for space, but the 116d’s cabin is hobbled by a large transmission tunnel, while the 3 could do with more storage.
Both the BMW and Mazda serve up plenty of driver involvement on twisting back roads. The 116d benefits from well weighted controls, while the Mazda has stronger performance and grip, plus better body control. The VW isn’t as sharp, but it offers a more composed ride.
The BMW makes the most financial sense for business users, thanks to its low CO2 emissions. The Golf will increase your Benefit in Kind bills by a few pounds, but you’ll have to go for a cheaper Mazda 3 SE Nav to rival the 116d’s low tax bills.
1st place: BMW 1 Series
The BMW 1 Series wins, but its margin of victory is paper thin. Company car users will love the 116d’s low running costs, classy cabin and upmarket appeal, while driving fans will revel in its balanced handling and engine that’s happy to be worked hard and feels more muscular than its small capacity would suggest. It also comes with all the kit you need, and is roomy enough for most families.
2nd place: Mazda 3
If you’re spending your own hard-earned cash, then the Mazda 3 deserves serious consideration. Not only does it undercut the BMW on price, it comes loaded with kit. On top of that, the 2.2-litre diesel delivers thumping pace, plus the 3 is as agile as a hot hatch in corners. Yet it’s costly for business users, it has weak residuals and its cabin doesn’t feel as upmarket.
3rd place: VW Golf
There’s no wooden spoon in this encounter, because the Golf is still a brilliant all-rounder. With its classy image, composed driving dynamics and low running costs, it ticks almost all the compact family hatch boxes. Yet the 1.6-litre TDI is the weakest engine here, plus you’ll have to spend quite a bit to match Mazda’s kit count, wiping out the price advantage in the process.
Other options in this category
Audi A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI Ultra SE Technik
Price: £22,235 Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 108bhp
The refined and practical A3 Sportback is based on the same MQB platform as the Golf, while its 1.6 TDI emits just 89g/km of CO2 and promises 83.1mpg. Business-focused SE Technik model has sat-nav and cruise control.
SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI SE
Price: £20,285 Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 148bhp
The SEAT Leon is our current compact family hatch champ because it's stylish, practical and great to drive. Plus, top-value pricing means you can buy the 148bhp 2.0 TDI and rival the BMW for Benefit in Kind bills. Buy on finance and you get sat-nav, LED lights and DAB for free.
|BMW 116d EfficientDynamics Plus
|Mazda 3 2.2D 150 Sport Nav
|VW Golf Match 1.6 TDI 105
|On-the-road price/total as tested
|Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service
|£15.99 pm (2/3/4 yrs)
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel
|52 litres/repair kit
|51 litres/repair kit
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)
|Turning circle/drag coefficient
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery
|Service intervals/UK dealers
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./points
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th
|50-70mph in 5th/6th
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph
|Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket
|Auto gearbox/stability/cruise control
|Climate control/leather/heated seats
|Metallic paint/xenons/keyless go