Car group tests

Peugeot 308 vs Volkswagen Golf vs Honda Civic

Don’t want a diesel family hatch? We test the top petrol choices as Peugeot’s revised 308 battles the VW Golf and Honda Civic

As diesel continues to be demonised, there’s a growing trend of buyers making the switch to petrol power. From superminis to SUVs, efficient, downsized turbo petrol engines are putting forward a case for themselves, but the evergreen family hatchback is one of the sectors where they make most sense.

This is one of the most competitive areas of the new car market, and as a result the models available are constantly getting better – as proven by the trio of great cars we’re testing here.

Best hatchbacks on sale

The latest Peugeot 308 is the newest of the three, and while its recent facelift was only mild, the French hatch continues to offer a top mix of space, comfort and equipment. Then there’s the Volkswagen Golf. It was updated last year with some new tech and a subtle revised look, just like the Peugeot, but here we’re testing the latest 128bhp 1.5-litre petrol version for the first time. It goes up against the proven 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder petrol 308, but it also faces competition from Honda in the form of its Civic, which has a 1.0-litre unit that matches the other cars for power.

If you don’t want to buy a diesel due to fears about taxation in the future, these are three compelling choices. But which one comes out on top? 

Peugeot 308

Model:Peugeot 308 1.2 PureTech 130 GT Line
Price: £22,390
Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl petrol, 129bhp 
0-60mph: 9.5 seconds
Test economy: 38.5mpg/8.5mpl 
CO2: 120g/km 
Annual road tax: £140

The Peugeot 308 has been around since 2014, but a facelift in 2017 brought it back up to date with revised infotainment and some subtle exterior changes. Here we’re testing the 129bhp 1.2-litre petrol model in GT Line trim, which costs from £22,390.

All three of our contenders here have just under 130bhp on tap, but the 129bhp Peugeot is the most powerful choice, by just 1bhp, and has the most torque at 230Nm; the Civic and the Golf both serve up 200Nm.

That helped the 308 to sprint from 0-60mph at the test track in 9.5 seconds, which was a tenth faster than the Golf and six tenths up on the Civic. This advantage is also partly down to a low kerbweight of just 1,089kg, compared with the Golf’s 1,280kg and the Civic’s 1,275kg.

However, it wasn’t the best performer going up through the gears: the 308 took 9.1 seconds to cover 30-70mph, slightly slower than the Honda’s 8.9 seconds and the Golf’s 8.8 seconds. It also matched the heavier Honda from 30-50mph in fourth and 50-70mph in fifth: both cars took 6.3 seconds and 8.9 seconds respectively, while the Golf completed those tests in 6.1 seconds and 9.3 seconds.

Even if the French model’s six-speed box isn’t the nicest to use, it’s no chore to drop down a gear and accelerate with the 308’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit. It’s definitely the most engaging engine of the three in this test as it feels more responsive and revvier, while also serving up good mid-range grunt.

The 308’s low kerbweight helps its handling. Its quick steering and that small wheel contribute towards a relatively nimble feel, but there’s not much feedback with the Peugeot and the chassis isn’t as grippy as the Honda’s.

It’s closer to the Golf’s more neutral feel, but ultimately the 308 ends up in between the more comfortable Golf and sportier Civic. The difference really is minimal, though, and all three models are comfy enough, but can still satisfy keen drivers.

Testers’ notes: “Despite infotainment system updates, Peugeot hasn’t fixed one of the unit’s major flaws: the laggy screen that controls the heating and ventilation, which isn’t separate to the rest of the set-up.” 

Volkswagen Golf 

Model:Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI EVO 130 SE Nav 5dr
Price: £22,255
Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl petrol, 128bhp 
0-60mph: 9.6 seconds
Test economy: 35.4mpg/7.8mpl 
CO2: 113g/km
Annual road tax: £140

The Volkswagen Golf was the second most registered car in Britain in 2017, and it’s easy to see why: the evergreen hatchback is as spacious, comfortable and good to drive as ever. Last year’s facelift added this new 1.5-litre engine, updated infotainment and more safety features. Here we’re testing the 1.5 TSI EVO 130 model in SE Navigation spec, which costs from £22,255.

The minor changes to the Golf’s appearance are mirrored in the way it drives, because the VW is comfortable and refined, but also great from behind the wheel.

The 1.5-litre TSI engine is a brilliant addition to the range; it’s very quiet, smooth and put in a good showing in our performance tests. It was the fastest car of the three from 30-70mph through the gears, taking 8.8 seconds to the Honda’s 8.9 seconds and the 308’s 9.1 seconds. That’s helped by the sweet six-speed manual’s shift action, whereas you have to be more methodical with the box in the Peugeot.

Even so, the Golf did fall behind the 308 and Civic from 50-70mph in fifth gear, taking 9.3 seconds, while its rivals both completed the test in 8.9 seconds. In the real world there’s very little to separate them, however, and all feel punchy enough.

You don’t need to work the engine too hard to make progress, because maximum torque of 200Nm arrives at just 1,400rpm; much lower than in either competitor. That means the car picks up pace easily without having to shift down, and it also helps keep things quiet inside; it’s one of the 1.5 TSI’s best aspects, and the Golf is quieter than both rivals as a result.

The direct and well weighted steering means the Volkswagen responds well on turn-in, plus there’s plenty of grip and good body control. It’s not quite as engaging to drive quickly as the Honda, but there’s not much in it. The real strength of the Golf is the way it blends that ability with refinement and comfort; it rides more smoothly than the 308 in particular, absorbing bumps in the road surface admirably.

Testers’ notes: “The Golf’s 1.5-litre TSI engine is the only four-cylinder unit here. It features clever tech that can deactivate two cylinders to help boost efficiency, shown by its low claimed CO2 emissions.” 

Honda Civic 

Model:Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo EX
Price: £23,615
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl petrol, 127bhp 
0-60mph: 10.1 seconds
Test economy: 44.1mpg/9.7mpl 
CO2: 117g/km
Annual road tax: £140

The 10th-generation Honda Civic impressed in 2017 thanks to its engaging handling and spacious interior. The sporty Type R version is our favourite hot hatch, and its DNA filters down into this standard model. Here we’re testing the 1.0-litre version in EX trim, which starts from £23,615 (although our pictures show an SR model).

Honda has followed the industry trend of downsizing its engines for the latest Civic, so this one is powered by a 1.0-litre petrol motor with a turbocharger to improve power and torque lower down in the rev range. It’s punchy from 2,250rpm, where the maximum torque is delivered from, and feels able to keep up with its larger-capacity rivals on the road, although it did trail them in some of our performance tests.

It was half a second slower from 0-60mph than the Golf, with a time of 10.1 seconds. However, the Honda was only a tenth behind the VW in the 30-70mph sprint and two tenths faster than the 308, helped by that lovely, accurate gearbox.

The close figures show that there’s not too much difference in terms of performance between our three rivals, but the Honda does have the advantage here for keen drivers because it’s the most fun car.

The low driving position is comfortable and feels sporty, while the steering is well weighted and fast in its response, offering the best feel. There’s lots of grip on offer and the clever torque vectoring technology helps the car hold its line through corners. It’s well controlled in terms of body roll thanks to the dampers’ sportier setting, and the Honda is more agile than either rival in this test as a result.

In comfort mode it’s refined and smooth, with a relatively compliant ride, although our noise tests showed the Civic was a little louder at 70mph than its rivals. The 1.0-litre turbo sits at higher revs at that speed, which contributes to that extra noise.

However, it’s a willing engine and is more characterful than the Golf’s four-cylinder 1.5-litre unit, but not as fun as the 1.2 in the 308. The manual gearshift is fantastic, and has a precise action that’s better than in almost any other hatchback on sale. 

Testers’ notes: “The Honda has the smallest fuel tank of the three cars here, at 46 litres. That means you’ll actually end up filling it up more often than the 308, despite its better economy figure.” 

Verdict 

First place: Volkswagen Golf

It’s a very close result between these three family hatchbacks, but the Golf is so good in so many areas that it will make the most sense for more people. It’s comfortable, refined, good to drive, well equipped and great value, and the latest infotainment system is one of the best on the market at any price. The Golf manages all that while still being practical enough for most owners. 

Second place: Honda Civic

The latest Civic isn’t as well rounded as the Golf, while its infotainment system is a real letdown, but it’s more practical and fun to drive than the VW. It finishes ahead of the 308 thanks to lower running costs and engaging handling, while its performance is strong enough to match the 308. Although it’s not as polished as the VW, it’s still refined and comfortable. 

Third place: Peugeot 308

The 308 is practical and stylish, but not as accomplished as the Golf, so it loses out here. It’s not as good to drive as the Civic, and although the list price is competitive, Peugeot’s PCP deals can’t match Honda’s. The PureTech is the best engine of the three and the 308 performed well, but it trails on value, while its updated infotainment isn’t enough of an improvement. 

Other options in this category... 

Vauxhall Astra 1.4i Elite Nav 150PS

Best hatchbacks 2017/2018  - Vauxhall Astra

Price: £22,135Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl, 148bhp

With its solid driving dynamics, strong comfort and impressive space, the Vauxhall Astra is worth a look. The 1.4-litre petrol in Elite Nav trim is good value, because it’s as well kitted out as our pricier test cars. You also get more power.

Renault Megane 1.2 TCe Signature Nav

Renault Megane long term test - front

Price: £21,790Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl, 128bhp

The 1.2-litre petrol Megane is a match for the three contenders in our test, and it’s nearly as well equipped as the Astra, too. In addition, the Renault has style on its side, and offers something different again in this class. 

Figures

 VW Golf 1.5 TSI EVO 130 SE Navigation 5drHonda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo EXPeugeot 308 1.2 PureTech 130 GT Line
On the road price/total as tested£22,255/£26,140£23,615/£24,140£22,390/£25,835
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£9,565/43.0%£10,126/42.9%£8,042/35.9%
Depreciation£12,690£13,489£14,348
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£906/£1,812£1,030/£2,059£1,064/£2,127
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,865/£3,109£1,497/£2,495£1,714/£2,857
Insurance group/quote/road tax cost15/£567/£14015/£1,213/£14018/£595/£140
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£164/£309/£164£195/£265/£245£13pm (3yrs)
    
Length/wheelbase4,258/2,620mm4,518/2,697mm4,253/2,620mm
Height/width1,492/1,799mm1,434/1,799mm1,457/1,804mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,498cc3cyl in-line/998cc3cyl in-line/1,199cc
Peak power/revs 128/5,000 bhp/rpm127/5,500 bhp/rpm129/5,500 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 200/1,400 Nm/rpm200/2,250 Nm/rpm230/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel50 litres/space saver46 litres/repair kit53 litres/space saver
Boot capacity (seats up/down)380/1,270 litres478/1,245 litres470/1,309 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,280/575/1,400kg1,275/427/1,200kg1,089/661/1,300kg
Turning circle10.9 metres11.0 metres10.4 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs3yrs (unlimited)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers10,000 miles/(1yr)/22312,500 miles (1yr)/19616,000 miles (1yr)/283
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.14th/20th16th/2nd13th/9th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars94/89/65/71/5 (2012)92/75/75/88/5 (2017)92/79/64/81/5 (2013)
    
0-60/30-70mph9.6/8.8 secs10.1/8.9 secs9.5/9.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th4.4/6.1 secs4.6/6.3 secs4.1/6.3 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th9.3/12.1 secs8.9/11.0 secs8.9/11.1 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 130mph/2,250rpm126mph/2,500rpm130mph/2,300rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 53.7/37.0/11.8m44.1/31.1/8.2m54.4/35.4/11.6m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph61/51/62/71dB59/41/63/72dB64/50/64/71dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range35.4/7.8/389 miles44.1/9.7/446 miles38.5/8.5/449 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 44.8/68.9/58.9mpg44.1/64.2/55.4mpg43.5/62.8/54.3mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 9.9/15.2/13.0mpl9.7/14.1/12.2mpl9.6/13.8/11.9mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket184/113g/km/21%148/117g/km/22%170/120g/km/23%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSeven/yes/yes/£265Six/yes/yes/yesSix/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB£1,395/yes/yes/yes£1,400/yes/yes/yes£1,150/y/y/£800^
Climate control/leather/heated seats£425/£2,115/£400*Yes/yes/yesY/£1,200/£1,200**
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£575/£995/£375£525/£600/yes£525/yes/£350
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes

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