Two French contenders take on their stalwart German rival in this 1.2-litre European hatchback contest.
STORY JEREMY CHUA PHOTOS TAN MENG CHOON ART DIRECTION SEAN LEE
THE Volkswagen Golf is the benchmark in its segment because it offers the most complete package. It may not be the most stylish continental hatchback, but it is well made, well equipped, relatively roomy and efficient – attributes that matter most to Euro-hatch buyers.
Roaring at the Golf is the lion-badged Peugeot 308. Like its German rival, the 308 also has a European “Car of the Year” award (2014) under its belt. It aims to impress with its design, amenities and performance. We tested the higher-spec variant, but a simpler version (with one-inch-smaller wheels and without panoramic sunroof and sat-nav) is available for $5000 less.
Back in Singapore’s new car market is the 308’s corporate cousin, the Citroen C4. The C4 uses the same 1.2-litre drivetrain as the 308, but is claimed to be slightly more powerful and economical. The C4 promises to be comfortable as well.
Will the Golf outshine its competition yet again? Or will either of these French contenders put it in the shade for once? Keep reading to find out.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 1.2
ENGINE Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.2-litre 4-cylinder with 110bhp and 175Nm is the sweetest here and has the broadest powerband, too.
Golf’s dual-clutch 7-speeder is the snappiest gearbox.
COCKPIT Best of the three cabins in quietness, roominess and overall visibility. But it feels less classy than its two rivals, because of the steering wheel’s missing buttons and the manual air-con controls.
BACKSEAT Golf’s backseat is best for taller occupants as it has the tallest backrests and the most space. But the obstructive floor protrusion means it’s better for two sets of legs than three.
BOOT Golf’s 380-litre boot is the smallest of the three but the cleverest, thanks to its dual-deck configuration that lets users stow the parcel shelf beneath the cargo floor.
CITROEN C4 1.2
ENGINE Citroen’s turbo engine is essentially the same as the Peugeot’s, but with 1bhp more on paper, better efficiency and worse acceleration.
C4’s 6-speed automatic is as smooth as the 308’s.
COCKPIT The cushiest seats and the most user-friendly environment, with the largest gauges and most intuitive switchgear. But it’s also the only cockpit here without an electric parking brake.
BACKSEAT C4 is as roomy as the 308, but less practical because it lacks the Peugeot’s armrest with covered storage bin.
BOOT C4’s 408-litre boot offers the added utility of elastic straps and a netted area for securing loose items, which tend to accumulate in a family car.
PEUGEOT 308 1.2
ENGINE Peugeot’s turbocharged 1.2-litre 3-cylinder with 129bhp and 230Nm sounds the sportiest.
308’s 6-speed auto is the only one with petrolhead-oriented “–/+” DIY shifting – push to downshift, pull to upshift.
COCKPIT Sportiest dashboard of the three has the coolest-looking steering wheel, most supportive seats and most attractive infotainment system. The instrument meters are the hardest to read, though.
BACKSEAT Parents will love the 308’s prominent Isofix markings, which make it easier to secure child seats. But like the C4, the rear backrests are too upright.
BOOT 308’s capacious 470-litre boot has the least amount of wheel-arch intrusion. It’s also the only one here with a pass-through aperture for stowing longer items.
The Volkswagen Golf’s main disadvantages in this contest against the two French rivals are its comparatively low power and ungenerous equipment (for instance, it has halogen headlights, while the C4’s are HID and the 308 uses LED).
But the lack of ponies is compensated by the rapid-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, which gives the Golf the quickest pick-up. And while its cabin is the most basic, it’s still the most spacious of the bunch.
The Citroen C4’s friendliness towards its driver (or drivers) is its most appealing trait. The instrumentation and ergonomics are excellent, while the cushy seating is great for short and long rides alike.
The C4 is also a good “shopping trolley”, thanks to its multi-item cargo hold. Too bad its rear cabin is relatively impractical.
Even more appealing than the C4 and Golf is the Peugeot 308. We like its stylish exterior and designer cockpit, but dislike how the funky steering wheel blocks some part of the instrument panel, no matter how you adjust the wheel and your driving position.
The 308 would have been the clear winner in this comparo, if not for its much higher sticker price. At press time, the Peugeot hatchback costs almost $19k more than the C4 and $14k more than the Golf.