Car group tests

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. 

• Best hatchbacks

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.

• Best family cars

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?

BMW 1 Series review

VW Golf review

Mazda 3 review

Click the links above to read individual reviews, and scroll down to find out which hatch wins this test...

Head-to-head

Family friendly

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.

Driving fun

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.

Company costs

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.

Verdict

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

Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI front tracking

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.

Key specs:

 BMW 116d EfficientDynamics PlusMazda 3 2.2D 150 Sport NavVW Golf Match 1.6 TDI 105
On-the-road price/total as tested£22,560/£27,095£22,545/£23,545£21,960/£22,220
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)£10,874/48.2%£8,824/39.1%£10,525/47.9%
Depreciation£11,686£13,721£11,435
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£720/£1,440£855/£1,709£725/£1,451
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,068/£1,780£1,364/£2,274£1,433/£2,389
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost15/£334/A/£024/£351/B/£2013/£343/A/£0
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£425 (5yrs)£207/£286/£287£15.99 pm (2/3/4 yrs)
    
Length/wheelbase4,324/2,690mm4,465/2,700mm4,255/2,637mm
Height/width1,413/1,765mm1,465/1,795mm1,452/1,763mm
Engine3cyl in-line/1,496cc4cyl in-line/2,191cc4cyl in-line/1,598cc
Peak power114/4,000 bhp/rpm148/4,500 bhp/rpm104/3,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque270/1,750 Nm/rpm380/1,800 Nm/rpm250/1,500 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/rwd6-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel52 litres/repair kit51 litres/repair kit50 litres/space-saver
Boot capacity (seats up/down)360/1,200 litres364/1,263 litres380/1,270 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,395/565kg/N/A1,395/440/1,500kg1,295/580/1,500kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.9 metres/N/A11.4 metres/N/A10.9 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unltd)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/15312,500 (1yr)/17010,000 (1yr)/223
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.14th/22nd*9th/12th*22nd/31st*
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./points91/83/63/86/593/86/65/81/594/89/65/71/5
    
0-60/30-70mph9.7/9.7 seconds8.3/7.9 seconds10.9/10.9 seconds
30-50mph in 3rd/4th4.7/7.0 seconds3.3/5.1 seconds4.8/8.1 seconds
50-70mph in 5th/6th10.1/16.9 seconds6.5/8.8 seconds10.7/N/A seconds
Top speed/rpm at 70mph124mph/1,700rpm130mph/1,800rpm119mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph48.2/35.4/9.2m51.5/38.7/9.7m52.8/37.2/9.5m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph69/49/62/69dB66/44/63/72dBN/A
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range61.2/13.6/700 miles47.9/10.6/537 miles45.6/10.1/502 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined72.4/91.1/83.1mpg57.6/78.5/68.9mpg61.4/85.6/74.3mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined15.9/20.0/18.3mpl12.7/17.3/15.2mpl13.5/18.8/16.3mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket124/89g/km/16%158/107g/km/19%166/99g/km/17%
    
Airbags/Isofix/parking sens/cameraSix/yes/yes/£330Six/yes/yes/noSeven/yes/yes/£165
Auto gearbox/stability/cruise controlNo/yes/yes£1,200/yes/yes£1,415/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/£1,160/£295Yes/£1,000/yes£415/£2,115/£400**
Metallic paint/xenons/keyless go£550/£645^/£350£540/yes/yes£540/£820/£365
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/no/yes£750/yes/yes/yes

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