Vehicle Comparisons

Honda Civic four-door

Honda Civic four-door

We miss Honda's Accord medium-sized model. The Japanese brand hasn't revived it - but it has done then next best thing, bringing us a four-door version of its tenth generation Civic. It's a model large enough to satisfy you if you used to own an Accord. And if you didn't but want something a little different with four doors and a boot, it might be worth a look.

The engine range on offer here is pretty much the same as you get in the five-door hatch, expect that you don't get the 182PS 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo petrol unit that's offered with that hatch model. And obviously, there's no 2.0-litre petrol Type R hot hatch variant. This means that Civic four door customers are faced with a choice of two very different powerplants. Either a 129PS 1.0 VTEC Turbo petrol unit. Or a 120PS 1.6 i-DTEC diesel. Both come with the choice of either 6-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission.

This Honda's easy to manoeuvre around town, though it does have a slightly larger turning circle than some of its rivals. What we particularly like though is the way his car feels so driver-centric right from the moment you first set off in it. The perfectly positioned seat and pedals help here. So does the manner in which the gear lever falls beautifully to hand and the way in which the futuristic dash delivers everything you need to know in perfect line of sight. As the miles roll by, you'll also be struck by the near-perfect weighting and smoothness of the brake and clutch pedals and, we'll say it again, the lovely, snickety precision of the six-speed gearbox. In short, you don't need an expensively powerful engine to feel fast in this car. Which is one of the things we like most about it.

Wider, longer, and lower than any of its predecessors, this Civic saloon has a short front overhang and taut lines that claim to reference strong aerodynamic efficiency. A sharp and aggressive 'face', along with pronounced wheel-arches aim to hint at what Honda calls this saloon's 'sporting character'.

Similar to the hatchback, this model's wide, long platform results in impressive interior space for this class of car - almost as much in fact, as you'd get from a 'D'-segment Mondeo or Insignia-style model. The interior features a simple, uncluttered layout and a sophisticated design theme that includes a digital instrument binnacle. At the top of the centre console, there's a 7-inch Honda Connect 2 colour touchscreen display. The seating position is low-set to give the driver a greater feeling of connection with the car, and there's a big boot.

Though we'd have preferred to have seen the return of the Accord, we welcome this four door Civic body style as the next best thing. The bigger size that the Civic has grown to in its tenth generation guise makes this three-box model basically as big as a Mondeo-segment car inside, yet it offers a useful saving on models like that - and will be more cost-effective to run.

A lot of boxes have been ticked then - and it's clear that Honda has also worked hard to maintain a characterful approach in this segment. Add in British build quality, a great driving position and strong standards of safety and media connectivity and you've got a potentially very appealing package.

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Mercedes-Benz CLA

Mercedes-Benz CLA

The CLA Coupe - a rather different kind of Mercedes. This second generation version, like the model that inspired it, is compact and coupe-like, yet has four doors and a decent boot. And it'll set the neighbours talking far more than if you simply bought yet another mid-sized German-badged executive saloon. It's a model to challenge your preconceptions, that's for sure.

Mercedes markets this car as a 'sporty' alternative to its more conventional C-Class saloon. The CLA Coupe's sporty styling leads you to expect that. Though this car shares its chassis, steering and braking architecture with A and B-Class models, it does get its own suspension set-up, with various changes made to improve comfort and make it a bit less crashy over poorer surfaces. There's torque vectoring to help with the handling and 'Direct Steering' to sharpen things up at the helm.

The range kicks off with CLA 180 and CLA 200 variants that both use a 1.3-litre petrol engine co-developed with Renault and are respectively capable of producing either 136hp and 200Nm of torque or 163hp and 250Nm. Next up is the CLA 220, which features a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an output of 190hp and 300Nm, this variant available in both two-wheel and four-wheel drive. Beyond that lies another petrol-powered front-driven variant, the CLA 250, which uses a 2.0-litre engine and can generate 224hp and 350Nm. You can also talk to your dealer about diesel-powered CLA 200d and CLA 220d variants. All models were initially launched with a 7G-DCT seven-speed automatic transmission, but you can also talk to your dealer about a 6-speed manual stick shift for lower-range variants.

By any measure, this is a handsome car. Purposeful, with sporting proportions and a potent long stretched bonnet. Hi-tech too, with jewel-like LED daytime running lamps fashioned to create a flare effect around the diamond-shaped grille. It's not just about aesthetics either. The combination of the long, stretched entry line above the windows and frameless doors give the CLA Coupe a sporty and elegant character. And the super-sleek drag factor makes this one of the most aerodynamic production cars you can buy.

The cabin's very similar to that of an A-Class - which these days is a very good thing indeed. The designers have completely dispensed with the usual instrument binnacle cowl, so as a result, the wing-shaped main body of the dashboard extends from one front door to the other with no visual discontinuity. The widescreen display is completely free-standing. And the lower section of the fascia is visually separated from the main body of the instrument cluster by what the designers call a 'trench', and it appears to float in front of the instrument cluster. The standard ambient lighting enhances this effect and the air vents, finished in a sporty 'turbine-look' are another highlight. There's a 460-litre boot, but if that's not enough, talk to your dealer about the CLA-Class Shooting Brake estate variant. Here, there's a 505-litre boot (which is 10-litres larger than the previous generation model).

If you're in the market for a compact, prestigiously-badged stylised saloon and like the look of this one, then nothing I'm going to say here is likely to dissuade you away from CLA Coupe motoring. Unlike Mercedes, I think this car does have some direct rivals, but I'd agree that there is quite a lot that's unique about the way it looks. This design really is a breath of fresh air in what can otherwise be rather a staid market sector.

Which is why it's very likely to sell as intended - to people who never intended to drive a Mercedes. Younger folk who don't care about the abandonment of the rear wheel drive layout that was once considered conditional for a car of this type. They'll probably care just as little about the rear seat packaging compromises and the rather firm ride. They might not even mind the premium pricing. It's all about emotional appeal you see, as I said at the beginning.

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Audi A3 Saloon

Audi A3 Saloon

The Audi A3 Saloon might look like a shrunken A4, but it offers some of the very best efficiency measures in its class and brings a cool elegance within the reach of those who might find an A4 a bit of a stretch. This rejuvenated version gets a more advanced 2.0-litre petrol engine, plus innovations like the Audi Smartphone interface and the clever 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument layout. All of this embellishing a classy, stylish and pretty practical basic package.

Design-wise, the A3 Saloon does look astonishingly like an A4 that's been scaled down slightly. Some might not be fans of Audi's Russian Doll styling approach and sure enough, there aren't too many surprises about the look and feel of this one. Still, given the upward trajectory of Audi's sales figures, perhaps that's no bad thing. Exterior changes to this revised version are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Singleframe grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - hence the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights. Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. As before, the boot's carrying capacity amounts to 425-litres with the seats up - 45-litres more than the A3 Sportback. This capacity can be increased by folding down the split rear seat backs.

On to engines. Many will want to avoid the entry-level unit (a 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel) in favour of the two powerplants that make up the heart of the range. The most obvious choice is the one most buyers will probably make, the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel. Personally though, if we were buying this car, we'd take the other mainstream option, a 150PS version of the 1.5 TFSI petrol unit with clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology.

We're not sure we'd really want to go much faster than that in this car, but Audi centres are ready and willing to oblige those with a further need for speed. Diesel folk prepared to special quattro 4WD and tronic auto transmission get a pokier 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI unit. While those preferring petrol have the further option of an all-new 190PS 2.0-litre TFSI powerplant, the engine you have to have if you're looking for a mainstream petrol-powered A3 Saloon with the option of quattro 4WD. This variant also gets a slicker 7-speed S tronic auto transmission set-up than diesel drivers can have and with this fitted, 62mph is just 6.8s away en route to 155mph. The same system is also an option on the ritziest version of this car you can buy, the potent S3 flagship model, which mates quattro 4WD to an uprated 310PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo engine able to power you to 62mph in a fraction over 5s.

The A3 Saloon replicates the already excellent economy and emissions figures of the rest of the A3 range. The 1.4 TFSI engine with the cylinder on demand system is particularly interesting. This offers 150PS of power so it's fairly brisk, but when you're cruising along a main road, it imperceptibly cuts power to two of the cylinders, so you'll be running along on two. This car can average 60.1mpg and emits just 109g/km of carbon dioxide. It almost makes you wonder whether it's worth springing the extra for the diesel engine.

The frugal 1.6-litre TDI unit may be worth looking at but the 2.0 TDI variant is notable less economic, delivering 67.3mpg and 107g/km which is only a modest improvement on the petrol 1.4. Even the punchy new 2.0TFSI petrol unit will do 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits 128g/km. Overall, it's easy to get a little blase about cars like the Audi A3 Saloon, to take its achievements for granted somewhat but let's pause for a minute and consider not the numbers but the philosophy behind this car. It's properly smart, offering a compact, light and efficient car without being overblown. Its key problem is probably the A3 Sportback, a car that's all of these things and which offers the added practicality of a hatchback.

Still, there's little doubt that the A3 Saloon looks a good deal more upmarket than a Sportback. In fact most would have difficulty distinguishing it from an A4 without a sneaky look at the badge on the back. While it won't turn your head like a Mercedes CLA, there are many who prefer Audi's more discreet take on this more compact compact executive saloon. As the A4 has become bigger and more sophisticated, it has created a space below it for Audi to demonstrate how well it does clean and elegant.

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