Used group test: BMW 1 Series v Lexus CT200h v Volkswagen Golf v Volvo V40

Used group test: BMW 1 Series v Lexus CT200h v Volkswagen Golf v Volvo V40
Used group test: BMW 1 Series v Lexus CT200h v Volkswagen Golf v Volvo V40

Four fashionable and family-friendly all-rounders at the right price

Just because you need a roomy family car doesn’t mean you have to give up on style or fashionable appeal. Car manufacturers know that not all of us wants a humdrum box on wheels, so there are plenty of hatchbacks out there that blend usability with genuine premium appeal.

Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI 105 Bluemotion

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel
List price when new: £20,015
Price today: £7500
Power: 103bhp
Torque: 184lb ft
0-60mph: 10.8sec
Top speed: 118mph
Fuel economy: 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 99g/km

One of the first of the breed was the BMW 1 Series, the German firm’s first family-focused five-door hatch. A later addition to the premium ranks was the Volvo V40, while the Lexus CT200h offers a petrol-electric hybrid twist. All three target the class leader for cut-above family hatchbacks, the Volkswagen Golf. That’s been the standard-setter for four decades: can any of these new upstarts topple it?

Driving experience

The Lexus is a hybrid but the other three are traditional turbodiesels – and, if you drive it sportily, the BMW is the fastest from 0-60mph. However, it has economy-focused gearing, so you have to rev it quite a lot to get the best from it: many may well find the more relaxed setup of the Volvo delivers better real-world performance. Because it only has five gears, the VW isn’t as fast or as flexible, although its TDI engine is still a decent perfomer.

And the Lexus? Initial pickup is the quickest, thanks to the electric motor, but it’s ultimately the most lethargic, not helped by the lengthy pause while the 1.8-litre petrol engine kicks in – with a loud roar that never fades, even when cruising. Things don’t improve when you consider how it drives: frankly, the Lexus is, compared to the others, terrible, with a stiff ride and lifeless handling.

BMW 116d Efficient Dynamics

Engine:1.6-litre diesel
List price when new: £20,885
Price today: £9000
Power: 114bhp
Torque: 192lb ft
0-60mph: 9.9sec
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel economy: 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 99g/km

Surprisingly, the V40 has a firm ride too, and while it corners flat, its vague steering doesn’t help you take advantage of it. The BMW is much more eager through the bends, with incisive steering (it’s perhaps a bit too nervous on the motorway, though), and impressively manages to combine this with a decent ride quality. The Golf? Ordinarily, it’s an exemplar, but in this Bluemotion guise, it’s not quite as brilliant: while good, the ride could be better in town and its handling isn’t exactly thrilling.

No car scores top marks for refinement. We’ve covered the woeful Lexus; the V40 has a quiet engine but too much tyre and wind noise, while the BMW has a lot of wind noise as well. The Golf’s diesel engine isn’t as quiet as the others, but it does fare better than them for overall noise levels at speed.

Interior

The VW easily has the most logical and well-planned interior. Its driving position is perfect, it’s easy to see out of and the dashboard is easy to use. Sadly, its infotainment system is sorely lacking: it doesn’t even have USB or Bluetooth connectivity. It’s worthwhile searching out for a used model with an upgraded stereo system. In this regard, the BMW is leagues ahead: its iDrive system is intuitive and nice to use, while its driving position feels sporty. Shape about the pedals that are seriously offset to the right, spoiling comfort.

Volvo V40 1.6D D2 ES

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel
List price when new: £19,745
Price today: £7500
Power: 113bhp
Torque: 199lb ft
0-60mph: 11.8sec
Top speed: 119mph
Fuel economy: 78.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 94g/km

The Volvo has a higher-set driving position, with great seats, although its visibility isn’t great. It comes with a screen-based infotainment system that, apart from too many buttons on the centre console, is straightforward to use: the same can’t be said for the Lexus’ appallingly fiddly mouse-based setup. Here, we actually prefer the standard setup without sat nav…

You’d expect the two premium brands to lead the way for quality but, while it’s good in places, the BMW has too many hard, scratchy plastics – as does the Lexus. The Volvo is far swankier, while the Golf does Volkswagen’s classic integrity to a tee. It’s great for rear passengers as well with loads of space and a light, airy feel. As for the others, neither is brilliant – the Lexus is the smallest, the Volvo is surprisingly cramped and the BMW is hard to get in and out of. Only the Golf has a genuinely practical boot, too.

Running costs

Lexus CT200h SE-I

Engine: 1.8-litre hybrid
List price when new: £23,786
Price today: £10,500
Power: 134bhp
Torque: 105lb ft
0-60mph: 12.1sec
Top speed: 110mph
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions: 94g/km

We’re looking at five-year-old models here and, in terms of cost, both the Volkswagen and Volvo cost around £7500. The BMW is pricier, and the Lexus pricier still: blame its rarity, which helps cap its depreciation. All should lose money at a similar rate from this point on, but the Lexus may still save you cash – although official fuel economy figures suggest it’s the least efficient, real-world testing indicates it’s the one most likely to deliver close to its claimed figures. All four cars emit less than 100g/km CO2 though, so are exempt from VED road tax.

Reliability? An easy win for the Lexus, with the Golf next-best, leading the Volvo and the BMW which languishes near the bottom of reliability surveys.

That’s not enough to give the Lexus a lead, though. It may be a clever petrol-electric hybrid, and so exempt from the current anti-diesel backlash, but it’s simply not good enough to recommend. The Volvo is much better, but even this isn’t as well rounded as the other two cars.

The BMW costs more, but serves up a barrel-load of fun, and it also has easily the best infotainment system. What a pity its quality is poor, driving position offset and rear practicality not better. This leaves the way for the Golf to draw ahead as the stand-out model here. Even though this Bluemotion isn’t the best VW family hatch in the range, it still does enough across the board to lead the others and be the best all-rounder by some margin. It’s a clear winner.

Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

 

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