Fleet News

Volkswagen Golf v Mazda3 v Renault Megane

Volkswagen

Review

Volkswagen launched its fifth-generation Golf in January, in a few months the new Vauxhall Astra will be on sale and we will have a new Ford Focus by the end of the year.

In the meantime, we have decided to pitch the new Golf against another new arrival in the sector, the Mazda3, with low entry prices and a focus on driver enjoyment. Joining the battle is one of the best all-round packages in the lower-medium sector for driver appeal and running costs, the Renault Megane.

All three cars are equipped with 1.6-litre petrol engines (a fuel efficient FSI engine in the Golf), but the P11d prices throw up the first dilemma in the comparison. With similar power outputs, to match the £14,000 of the Golf the Mazda3 has been selected in range-topping TS2 trim, while the Megane features in high-specification Privilege trim.

The Golf, on the other hand, is in entry-level S specification and doesn't even offer air conditioning as standard.

When it comes to depreciation though, the Golf is in a class of its own with a predicted residual value of 40% over three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP Monitor and our figures suggest a pence per mile cost of 12.82.

The Mazda3, on a CAP retained value of 36%, is thoroughly respectable in this sector and easily outshines the Megane on 31%. The difference between the Megane and the Golf in cash terms over three years/60,000 miles is £1,380.

All three are evenly matched on SMR costs, with both the Mazda and Renault on 2.12 pence per mile while the Golf is on 2.08ppm. This gives the Golf a wafer-thin £24 advantage over the others on a three-year/60,000-mile term.

When it comes to fuel consumption, the variable valve timing of the Megane 1.6-litre engine matches the Golf's fuel-saving FSI motor on an official combined fuel consumption figure of 41.5mpg. This is expected to incur a 60,000-mile bill of £5,520. Meanwhile, the Mazda just dips below 40mpg, giving it a fuel bill of £5,874 – an extra £354 over the other two.

Adding up all the figures, the Golf wins with a victory margin of £282 over the Mazda3 over three years/ 60,000 miles. The Megane is a further £726 adrift of the Mazda, hurt by its heavier depreciation.

Our leasing rates from HSBC DriverQuote tell a different story, with the Megane the least expensive at £268 per month. The Mazda3 incurs a monthly bill of £285, while the Golf is £287.

While the Golf is a clear winner on costs, the equation must also be balanced on how the cars drive.

Volkswagen Golf 1.6S FSI

##GroupGolf04--none##

THE new fifth-generation model is much improved and boasts class-leading residual values and that rock-solid Germanic build quality.

Delivered price, standard car (P11d value): £14,042
CO2 emissions (g/km): 163
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £125
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 41.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,617/40%
Depreciation 12.70 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,620
Maintenance 2.08 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,248
Fuel 9.20 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,520
Wholelife cost 23.98 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,388
Typical contract hire rate: £287 per month

Mazda3 1.6 TS2

##GroupMaz304--none##

THE new arrival in the sector from the much-improved Japanese manufacturer sees low entry level prices and high levels of standard specification.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £13,417
CO2 emissions (g/km): 172
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 20%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 5
Combined mpg: 39.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,830/36%
Depreciation 13.02 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,812
Maintenance 2.12 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,272
Fuel 9.74 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,844
Wholelife cost 24.88 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,928
Typical contract hire rate: £285 per month

Renault Megane 1.6 VVT

##GroupMeg04--none##

THE Megane may be the oldest car here but it is still arguably the most stylish. Sales figures seem to back this view – the diesel version saw a 260% sales rise in January.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £13,700
CO2 emissions (g/km): 163
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £125
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 41.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,110/30%
Depreciation 14.81 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,886
Maintenance 2.12 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,272
Fuel 9.20 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,520
Wholelife cost 26.13 pence per mile x 60,000: £15,678
Typical contract hire rate: £268 per month

  • Volkswagen Golf

    WHAT is immediately apparent about the new Golf is that as a driver's car there is no comparison with the last model. The steering is nicely weighted, the ride is excellent and it handles well.

    The performance of the Golf is helped by its six gears, masking the fact that the 1.6-litre engine is a little overwhelmed in this chunky car.

    All Golf models come with the ventilation system that automatically switches to recirculate when reversing or when the screen wash is used to prevent unpleasant fumes from creeping inside the cabin. Very thoughtful.

    However, the S specification does without air conditioning. Volkswagen explains it is because there is no E specification entry level to the range as there was before and some drivers will not be prepared to pay for air conditioning.

    But VW also reckons 86% of Golfs will be SE specification – an extra £1,080 on the list price of this car, which would widen the price gap to its rivals.

    The interior surprised us. At the launch events the cars were faultless, but this car had rough seams on some of the plastics (the handbrake button and door bin were the principal offenders) and some of the switches and dash covers were wobbly.

    The S model also has one of the nastiest plastic steering wheels we have come across, a real fault considering the wheel is the main contact point and influences drivers' quality perceptions of the car.

    The new Golf still feels and looks the classiest of the cars in this test, but the gulf between it and its competition has narrowed considerably.

    At a glance

    For

  • Aspirational vehicle
  • Unrivalled residual value
  • Spacious

    Against

  • Patchy interior quality
  • Poorly equipped
  • Plasticky steering wheel

  • Mazda3

    The Mazda3 is the best handling car in this test. Using an adaptation of the chassis system in the forthcoming Focus, it is planted with plenty of grip and the steering has more feel than the other two cars here (although less than the Mazda6).

    It also has a gearbox that feels well-engineered and excellent brakes, which Mazda claims are best in class. They certainly feel like some very powerful stoppers.

    The 1.6-litre engine needs to be revved hard, as all of these cars do. As lower medium cars have got heavier, 1,600cc is no longer a more than adequate performance motor and needs to be kept on the boil to ensure there's no sluggishness.

    From a design point of view, the 3 gets blander the further back you go and will suffer from not having the Megane's striking style or the Golf's iconic chunkiness.

    Inside, the Mazda3 is much more individualistic. The dials are in deep, dark pods and the red-on-black switchgear is all nicely integrated, although it does have a 1980s feel about it. Although the plastics are generally not up to the same standard as the Golf's – the odd seam and wobble aside – it is still very well built.

    The steering and seating adjusts more than the Golf or Megane, and the driver can really snuggle into the seats and feel the car wrap around them. It makes the Mazda3 an inviting drive.

    And another feature to show off is the audio system. Switching it on illuminates a red LED strip which runs from the button in the centre to both sides of the stereo.

    Switching it off has the LED illuminations run back in. Apparently it was inspired by the LED in the bonnet of KITT in the 1980s TV series Knightrider.

    At a glance

    For

  • Best to drive
  • Competitive wholelife costs
  • Well-equipped

    Against

  • Engine needs revving
  • Fuel consumption
  • Inconsistent styling
  • Renault Megane

    WHEN it comes to electronic gubbins guaranteed to entertain the kids, the Megane has this comparison licked. It has a card instead of a key, automatic rain sensing wipers, automatic halogen headlights and a cooled glovebox.

    Its curvaceous rear has compromised luggage space over the previous model, although in this comparison it's equal to the boot volume in the Mazda3. Much has been learned from Volks-wagen by other mainstream manufacturers over the past few years in spending money on parts of the car directly visible to, or in direct contact with, its occupants.

    The Megane has been put together using soft-touch mouldings in the dashboard and switches that feel pleasant to the touch.

    The card only has to be in the vicinity of the car to start the engine – standard on every Privilege model. Except, like every Megane hatchback we have had at Fleet News, we had electronic problems. The alarm had a mind of its own and would blast into life while you were driving along, causing the lights to flash.

    While it was working, the Megane proved to be a good car to drive. It handles well and is different enough from the rest to give it a character all of its own. The driving position is good, the seats are very comfortable, it had excellent brakes and performance from the 1.6-litre engine is more than adequate.

    The steering is its only weakness – it feels overly light and detached. The question remains: are we extremely unlucky or are there serious reliability issues to be addressed, particularly with the electronics? Answers on a postcard, please.

    At a glance

    For

  • Styling
  • Good to drive
  • Equipment

    Against

  • Marginally higher costs
  • Electrics on test car
  • Light steering Verdict

    SUCH is the narrowness of the Golf's victory in the running costs battle, and the difference in equipment between the entry-level VW and the range-topping Megane and Mazda3, we award victory to the Mazda3. While elements of its styling are a little incongruous, it is great to drive with excellent running costs. We would place the Golf second over the Megane through the greater difference in costs.

  • WINNER: Mazda3
  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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