Cut above the rest – We pick from two of the finest premium hatchback on the market
BMW looks dynamic, and is great to drive. Six-speed box standard
BMW 116d Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel
Insurance group: 20
Why?: Distinctive looks and sporty dynamics make 1 Series a perfect choice for keen drivers. Entry-level 116d serves up strong blend of great performance and low running costs.
Price from: 9,995 GBP
Traditional Audi is roomier, but has noisy diesel, only five ratios
Audi A3 TDIe
Years: 2007 to 2010
Engine: 1.9-litre 4cyl diesel
Insurance group: 18
Why? Premium appeal, a practical cabin and top build quality mark out the A3. Eco-friendly TDIe adds excellent fuel economy and low emissions to long list of strengths.
Price from: 6,500 GBP
It’s famous for its Ultimate Driving Machine slogan, but BMW is now as concerned with eco credentials as behind-the-wheel thrills.
Leading of the green crusade is the 1 Series, which mixes pace and poise with excellent economy and emissions – particularly the base 116d. The distinctive hatch is now a familiar sight on UK roads, yet still looks fresh and modern, even though it’s about to be replaced by a new car.
Inside, it has a classy design and solid construction, plus one of the best driving positions around. The cramped rear bench and small load bay limit versatility, but if driving fun means more to you that practicality, the rear-wheel-drive BMW won’t disappoint. The weighty steering is direct, body control is superb and grip strong. And while the ride is firm, it’s never harsh. Better still, the 2.0-litre diesel with stop-start is smoother and punchier than the Audi unit.
To add to the appeal, many cars will have some of BMW’s five-year pre-paid servicing deal remaining. Compared with the sleek and eye-catching 1 Series, the Audi A3 has more in common with a traditional family hatch. Even so, the understated looks and trademark gaping grille provide the car with a classy and upmarket image.
It’s a similar story inside, where the mix of high-quality materials and top-notch build gives the A3 an edge. It also trumps its rivals for space, with rear occupants getting 50 mm more legroom.
Lift the tailgate, and there’s a 350-litre luggage bay – that’s 20 litres more than in the BMW. However, the Audi doesn’t offer as much driver appeal as its rival. While the handling is safe and predictable, it lacks the polish and involvement of the 116d.
Yet the biggest black mark is reserved for the ageing 1.9-litre TDI unit, which is unresponsive, noisy and hampered by a five-speed manual gearbox. Still, it’s extremely economical and emits only 119 g/km of CO2.
If you often carry passengers, the more practical A3 makes greater sense. It’s comfortable, classy and efficient, too. And as the eco-friendly TDIe debuted more than a year before the 116d, there are more models to choose from, and prices start at a tempting 6,500 GBP.
You’ll need to find another 3,500 GBP to get your hands on a 116d, but it rewards with better driving dynamics, performance and economy. It also looks sharper and promises lower running costs. If your budget can stretch to it, the BMW is worth every extra penny.