Spoilt For Choice

When it comes to choosing a new motor vehicle today, whether new or used, one is literally spoilt for choice. There are vehicles covering all market segments ranging from small so-called city cars to the almost incongruous off road vehicle that spends most of its life on the school run! In between, there are the more traditional family hatchbacks and saloons and an ever-increasing array of multi purpose vehicles aka people carriers.

There are now approaching 34 million licensed vehicles on the roads of the United Kingdom. Fifty years ago, this figure stood at 10 million and grew during the boom period of the 1970s to stand at over 20 million by 1983. It is fair to say that this phenomenal growth rate cannot be sustained by our overcrowded road network, not to mention dwindling supplies of motor fuel. Despite ever increasing demand and very high prices, the most popular choice of vehicle is still the conventional family hatchback or saloon. The only difference today is that approximately 50% of all new vehicles sold are powered by diesel engines. Such an option was unheard of in the 1960s with only a trickle of diesel-powered cars being available in the 1970s. As these engines have become far more refined coupled with the ability to offer exceptional miles per gallon, so has their popularity. In addition, diesel engines have lower emissions as measured by a European Directive and therefore attract lower annual road fund licence fees.

According to a statistical report, in 2010 the average engine size of all licensed cars was 1750cc. With the advent of smaller engines with turbochargers, this figure is likely to fall. In the UK that year, Ford manufactured 15% of all licensed cars with GM Vauxhall making 12%. According to the report, almost 50% of all licensed cars in the UK are manufactured by Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Renault.

On the basis that the most popular choice of vehicle is still a traditional car, this article is looking at three latest offerings from the Volkswagen Group, namely the Audi A3, Škoda Octavia and VW Jetta. I make no apology for selecting models from this major manufacturer as they constantly outshine models from competitors especially in terms of reliability. To some, their designs may appear rather staid, but this is a long term bonus as they hold their value better than current avant garde designs on offer from some manufacturers, notably Ford and Peugeot to name but two.

Given that the models all come from the same group stable, final choice can be quite daunting as in many respects the vehicles offer a choice of the same engines and transmission, even sharing the same or modified platform. So what do the individual models have to offer?

First is the Audi A3, the design of this third generation car still looking similar to the original model. This is a general trend of VW Group cars whereby their conservative styling evolves rather than changing dramatically. Not only does this maintain easy recognition of a brand name, it also helps older models retain their value. This latest model provides a stylish exterior with an excellent interior made of high-quality materials. There is plenty of kit for the enthusiast but even base models come equipped with stop-start technology for fuel saving, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and air conditioning.

Comfort in the revised A3 has been improved by tweaking the suspension settings although the firmer sport settings are available in the top end models. The stiff suspension and lack of equipment were hallmarks of the previous model so great attention has been paid to rectifying these deficiencies. Whilst the car is the same length as its predecessor, the wheelbase has been stretched to provide more interior space as well as offering a slightly higher boot capacity. This now stands at 365 litres with the rear seats in place and 1100 litres with them folded. This new model received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. This is the only car in this review to come with a choice of three or five door bodywork.

Next is the all-new Škoda Octavia. Once again this model is something of an evolution of the previous model but unlike the Audi A3, the car is considerably larger than the one it replaces. Whilst giving the impression of a booted car, the Octavia is, in fact, a hatchback. The design is best described as understated, offering smart classic looks at the expense of design wizardry. Coupled with the conservative exterior is a cleanly-designed, functional interior but build quality equals that of the VW Golf which is hard to beat. Standard kit includes air con, stop-start, alloy wheels, Bluetooth and DAB radio with touchscreen. Other details offered by the Octavia include luggage restraints, a reversible boot floor and a useful ice scraper concealed inside the fuel filler cap! Like the A3 this vehicle received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.

To drive, the Octavia is comfortable with little body roll but lacks the excitement of the VW Golf. However, for a car of its size, the engines are very frugal yet still manage to power the vehicle capably. The accommodation offered by the Octavia has always been a major selling point and this new model provides 590 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place! Additionally, rear legroom beats the competition hands down and is close to that offered by the VW Passat, Vauxhall Insignia or Ford Mondeo, all cars in the category above.

Finally a look at the Volkswagen Jetta, often described as a booted Golf but actually a separate car in its own right. From the front it shares the familiar VW face which leads into a car some 90mm longer than its predecessor. In profile the car resembles its bigger stablemate the VW Passat, itself a traditional saloon car with a boot. Driver comfort is high and passengers enjoy more rear legroom than in the Golf owing to the longer wheelbase. The dashboard mimics the logical layout from the Golf together with similar build quality. Luggage is well catered for by the 510 litre boot space  and passengers are well protected by a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

The Jetta offers the same well-weighted controls that drivers expect from Volkswagen products and provides good value for money especially as discounts can be obtained by shopping around. Most models come with alloy wheels, air con and cruise control.

So which one to buy? Ultimately that depends on what one is seeking from a motor vehicle. Undeniably the Audi A3 has the sportiest pedigree of the three cars reviewed as well as the prestige associated with the brand but those come at a price. The Škoda Octavia offers the roomiest car of the three and is built to the same exacting standards. It also matches the others in terms of standard equipment and for those who have hitherto snubbed the marque, the company now sports a smart new logo which is as every bit upmarket as the car itself. The VW Jetta lacks the image of its sister car the Golf but offers a traditional saloon format at a competitive price. However residual values are unlikely to match those of the Golf.

In a recent press review, both the Audi A3 and Škoda Octavia were awarded 40 points out of 45 whilst the VW Jetta only achieved a score of 37. Prices of the A3 three-door currently range from just under £17905 to over £28160. The Octavia entry level model is £15990 going up to £23240 for the top of the range whilst £19075 is the starting point for the Jetta increasing to £23410.