Buying used: VW Golf vs BMW 1 Series

Buying used: VW Golf vs BMW 1 Series
Buying used: VW Golf vs BMW 1 Series

Thinking of going petrol for your next high-quality used hatchback? VW and BMW have a couple of crackers for you to choose from

If you believe everything you read, diesel’s days are numbered. That’s probably an overstatement, but considering a smooth and quiet petrol-powered car for your next quality hatch is not a bad idea for plenty of other reasons.

Driving experience

Excellent petrol variants of BMW’s 1 Series and Volkswagen’s Golf are on offer. The BMW promises a good drive and, in 116i form, decent value compared to the diesel models. The Golf is cheaper to buy than the BMW, but it doesn’t feel cheap inside, and the flexible 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine is rightly popular.

In fact, both these cars have turbocharged petrol engines, providing plenty of urge in the commonly-used midrange. The BMW’s additional 13bhp gives it an overall performance advantage over the VW, but its ‘longer’ gearing means you have to rev it harder to access that performance. The upside is more relaxed cruising in the 1 Series, whereas the Golf feels more sprightly at lower speeds.

The Golf wins on refinement too. Even when you’re trying hard, its engine stays more hushed than the BMW’s, and the Golf suffers from less wind, road and suspension noise.

As the only rear-wheel drive family hatchback, the 1 Series has a better balance to it than the Golf, although it does lean more through corners. Its Drive Control system let you alter the steering and throttle response (and that of the automatic gearbox, if it had one) to suit your preferred driving style. Put it in Sport or Sport Plus mode and you’ll notice a welcome weightiness coming to the otherwise light steering. It’s a bit more nervous-feeling than the Golf on the motorway, but at least the BMW tells you more about what’s going on under its wheels. The Volkswagen fights back with a cushier ride at all speeds, although the 1 Series is by no means rough, even with the notoriously ride-affecting non-standard run-flat tyres that our car had.

Interior

We like the 1 Series’s nicely designed interior, and the quality that’s on display. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics and the switchgear operates precisely, but even the BMW is upstaged by the beautifully-finished (if quite plain) Golf interior. You’ll have no trouble finding a perfect driving position in the VW thanks to a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustments, but the 1 Series is compromised by right-offset pedals which force you to sit on the squint.

This later version of the 1 Series beats its predecessor hands down on rear space, but it is in turn well beaten by the Golf on leg, head and shoulder room, and on boot space, where the BMW’s high lip turns heavy item lifting into a chore.

Running costs

The difference in purchase costs for same-year models of these two cars is surprisingly great. The BMW is a lot dearer. When they were new, the price difference was much smaller, which tells you that the BMW holds its value better. The thing is, though, that it will lose more cash than the Golf from this point on, because it’s starting from a higher figure and therefore has further to fall. In addition, the BMW’s servicing costs will be higher and, according to two major dependability and reliability studies, it’s more likely to break down than the Golf.

The good thing about the 1 Series is that its average mpg figure is 49.6mpg, 4mpg better than the VW’s. Its car tax is £130 a year versus the Golf’s £145, but you’d need to be doing very high mileages to claw back its extra costs. Of the two, the Golf looks like the cheapest purchasing and ownership proposition.

Verdict

As a heart choice, the BMW 1 Series delivers character, cabin style, driver engagement, a good range of petrol engines, and no shortage of nice examples on the used market. It’s usable for small families, but it’s not super-spacious, and there are some hard plastics in view.

The Volkswagen Golf doesn’t provide as much driving fun or fuel efficiency, but in the other key aspects of practicality, comfort, peace, and quality of interior finish, it triumphs over the BMW. On top of that, it’s cheaper to buy and will leak less of your money over time.

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