Buyer's guide: Four fine used family cars

Hatchbacks from Audi, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen do battle on the second-hand market

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The Independent Online

Ten years ago, Honda launched the eighth-gen Civic. It got no end of attention – but today, they’re everywhere to be seen, and at bargain prices.

When we talk bargain prices, that’s just what we mean. Go for the 2.2i-CTDi ES we’ve lined up here and you’ll struggle to find one stretching into five figures. At the bottom end, meanwhile, they’re barely into four.

But the Civic is not alone in offering family car skills at budget money. Alongside it here we have similarly aged examples of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen Golf, all like the Civic in diesel form.

That’s the same diesel in the case of the Golf and A3, in the shape of the famous 2.0 TDI. It’s the best unit here, with excellent refinement and a broad sweep of responsive torque at all speeds. The similarly sized unit in the BMW 118d is a little faster, but make the most of the Civic’s endless mid-range reserves and you’ll give anyone a run for their money.

You will until the corners start happening, at least. Here, the BMW dishes up more entertainment than the rest put together – with rear-wheel drive and an aggressive suspension set-up, it’s very positive indeed.

You do pay for it with a ride that never really settles. The Civic is hardly stellar in this area either, though – and in stark contrast to the fine-handling 1 Series, it’s sorely short of grip, steering feel and cruising-speed composure. 

If you want a great ride, it’s got to be the Golf. This beats the A3, whose basics it shares, thanks to a chassis that doesn’t tie itself in knots trying to be sporty. It’s quieter than the Audi, as well as being smoother, comfier and more supple. Despite being in the company of two premium hatchbacks, the VW feels like the most premium car here.

We’d take its cabin over the 1 Series, too, and certainly over the eyeball-grabbing but cheap-feeling Civic. No surprises, though, that the A3’s interior is a cut above, with excellent materials and a top-notch feeling of quality build.

If boot space is inordinately important to you (and you’re somehow looking at a medium hatch rather than a big estate), the Civic will come roaring back when you open its tailgate. If being able to carry rear-seat passengers without them calling you names is what matters, on the other hand, buy whatever you want so long as it’s not the 1 Series.

And talking of buying things… let’s go back to 2009 and compare mid-range models with these engines. You’ll typically do around £6,500 on an A3, £6,000 on a 1 Series, £5,500 on a Golf… and just £4,000 on a Civic. That’s in spite of the cheaper pair having more kit – and being the most reliable, with the Civic a long way out in front.

Despite this, the Golf is our pick from these four. The BMW is by far the most entertaining drive, but the VW is pretty much bang on the money in every way that matters. The Civic is too much of an oddball, the A3 is too expensive, the 1 Series is too impractical as a family car – and the Golf is too good for any of them.



Specifications: Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI 140 SE 

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new £19,820

Price today £2,500-£12,000

Power 138bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-60mph 9.7sec

Top speed 129mph

Fuel economy 55.4mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 134g/km



Specifications: BMW 118d ES 5dr  

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new £19,885

Price today £1500-£11,000

Power 141bhp

Torque 221lb ft

0-60mph 9.5sec

Top speed 130mph

Fuel economy 62.8mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 119g/km



Specifications: Honda Civic 2.2i-CTDi ES 5dr 

Engine size 2.2-litre turbo diesel

List price when new £17,680

Price today £1,300-£8500

Power 138bhp

Torque 251lb ft

0-60mph 9.8sec

Top speed 127mph

Fuel economy 54.3mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 135g/km



Specifications: Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 140 SE 5dr 

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo diesel

List price when new £18,475

Price today £3000-£10,000

Power 138bhp

Torque 236lb ft

0-60mph 9.6sec

Top speed 129mph

Fuel economy 57.6mpg (Official average)




CO2 emissions 129g/km