Best buys: Premium hatchbacks
BMW 1 Series has transformed from an ugly ducking to ... a slightly better-looking duckling
BMW 1 Series
The best one: BMW 1 Series
For years, the 1 Series was the ugly duckling of the posh hatchback world, too hideous of visage to compete with the smooth-chinned likes of the Audi A3, and destined to be shunted to the back of group photos. Sorry love, you might crack the lens. BMW has kept at it, though, and has repeatedly updated and tweaked the 1 Series, so that while it’s not quite a swan, it is at least a better-looking duckling. Underneath, of course, it’s rear-wheel drive and so vastly better to drive than any rival, save the VW Golf GTI. That won’t last either: in 2018 a new front-drive 1 Series will take over, so snap this one up while you can. Extra space has been found in the cabin, making this one almost (but not quite) practical.
Best model: 116d M-Sport for €35,710
Price range: €29,910 to €53,840. Finance from €302 per month.
CO2 emissions: 89-179g/km
Sum up: Ugly but not fugly.
Worthy contender: Audi A3
The A3 is the smoothy of the pricey hatch class (although it does come as both a saloon and a convertible if you fancy). It’s perhaps neither the most engaging car in the world to drive nor the most dynamic, but it is, as are almost all Audis, incredibly well built. The cabin is gorgeous and assembled with care, and the way the ultra-thin central infotainment screen slips silently back into the dash when you’re done with it is delightful. The 1.6- and 2.0-litre TDI diesel engines provide thump with economy, but the sweet spot is the 150hp 1.4 turbo petrol, which is both silent but surprisingly economical (the dinky 1.0 TFSI petrol is also lovely). The A3’s Achilles heel is noise – there’s just too much tyre rumble (especially in the 310hp S3) for comfort on longer journeys. Half-electric e-Tron is an interesting choice.
Best model: 1.4 TSI 150hp Ultra Sportback SE for €31,450.
Price range: €26,960-€65,900. Finance from €POA per month.
CO2 emissions: 37-189g/km
Sum up: Good-looking. Shallow?
Worthy contender: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
There is something faintly disappointing about the current A-Class, and that’s mostly because it’s not the original A-Class. Don’t get me wrong, there were many bad things about the tiny, upright original A (it was ugly, it was slow, it rode and handled really quite badly) but it was exceptionally clever, exceptionally spacious and exceptionally well thought out. It was an engineers’ car. The current A-Class, by contrast, is a car designed for the marketing department. It’s low, sleek, handsome, reasonably engaging to drive, but not clever, not ridiculously roomy and not at all the product of lateral thinking. In that sense, more people will like it, but for us it’s a crushing blow.
Best model: A180 AMG-Line for €30,075.
Price range: €25,595-€56,755. Finance from €281 per month.
CO2 emissions: 81-156g/km.
Sum up: Lacks interest.
Wild card: Mini Clubman
The second generation of the Mini Clubman is a far more sober affair than the first. No more rear-hinged single back door, only on the driver’s side for a start. And there’s far more interior and boot space. Mini wants this car to be considered as a rival to the likes of a high-spec Golf or an A3, and so it proves. It’s actually roomy (only the second Mini in history you could say that about), but retains enough of that classic, pin-sharp steering response and agility to lay sufficient claim to the Mini name. The barn-door boot at the back is still the most tactile way ever to load up your shopping, and if the cabin is stylistically a mess (square screen in a round dash shape? Why, Mini, why?) then at least the quality is good. Diesels are frugal but the 190hp Cooper S is the one to have.
Best model: Cooper S for €36,865.
Price range: €29,100-€49,893. Finance from €POA per month.
CO2 emissions: 99-159g/km.
Sum up: Be more different.