It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves at some point in time, do I choose a German car, renowned for their engineering prowess, or a Japanese car, probably not quite as exciting but reliable and generally lower priced. We’ve compared cars from each country in the three most popular categories; first car, hot hatch and family car so you can make an informed decision when you’re next in the market for new wheels.
First Car – Toyota Yaris Vs Volkswagen Polo
So you’ve just passed your test, well done and are now in the market for your first run-around. If you’ve chosen to skip the slightly battered car phase and opt for a brand new shiny motor, we’ve pitted the Toyota Yaris against the Volkswagen Polo to find out which is the best option for a new driver.
The Yaris was launched to high acclaim over a decade ago but since then, despite a comprehensive makeover in 2005, rivals such BMW’s Mini, have overtaken the Yaris in the ‘cute’ supermini market. Its reputation for reliability and the styling of the car has always appealed to the older generation of buyer but with the new Yaris comes fresh styling, which Toyota hopes will attract a younger demographic of driver.
Available in a 1.0-litre petrol engine with manual transmission which takes a leisurely 15.3 seconds from 0-62mph and gives 65.69mpg, a 1.5-litre petrol engine with manual or automatic transmission which provides approximately 57mpg and takes around 11.1 seconds from 0-62mph, and a new 1.5-litre petrol hybrid automatic that offers 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds with a combined cycle of 78.46mpg-85.6mpg.
The 1.0-litre Yaris is a bit of a slow starter, requiring plenty of revs to get up to speed but it does eventually pull with some vigour, with the exception of hills where a swift down change of gear is required to keep the momentum up. The 1.5-litre is a little better but if you’re looking for a quick response from the acceleration, selecting a lower gear than necessary is really the only option. As for the hybrid, 11.8 seconds from 0-62 is really only achievable when battery and engine are working together and this does create quite a din thanks to the CVT transmission.
The styling of the new Yaris is certainly geared more towards attracting the younger motorist, with its x-faced front end, much like the Aygo, the Yaris has regained a playful look. Internally, all models come with audio switches on the steering wheel, Bluetooth, 6 speaker radio and USB connector. If you’re after cruise control, a DAB radio, sat-nav or parking sensors, either an upgrade or add to the basic ‘Active’ model is necessary.
Out of 32 manufacturers in a What Car? reliability survey, Toyota ranked an impressive third, with the Yaris finishing second in the small car class to the Honda Jazz. The Yaris achieves the full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests and has no fewer than 7 airbags, automatic city braking technology, lane departure alert and automatic high beam.
Prices start from £13,295 for the 1.0-litre petrol, £15,595 for the 1.5-litre petrol and £16,495 for the hybrid.
Clocking up over 14 million sales, the Polo is the second biggest seller for VW, behind the Golf. The Mk6, as with the new Honda Jazz, hopes to attract younger buyers and its sharper looks and flashy interior could well see them achieve their goal.
The exterior is very Golf-esque, with sharp creases and dynamic lines that give it a sporty, more muscular look than the Polos of old. With a choice of 5 petrol engines, ranging from the 1.0-litre 65 PS to the 200-litre TSI 200 PS and two diesel engines, the 1.6-litre TDI 80 PS and the 1.6-litre TDI 95 PS, VW has certainly covered a lot of bases. Polo offers a manual gearbox on all its 1.0-litre and diesel models. A 7-speed auto transmission is available on the 1.0-litre TSI 95 PS and 115 PS, and a 6 speed auto on the 2.0-litre TSI 200 PS.
0-62mph can be achieved in 6.7 seconds in the 2.0-litre TSI 200 PS but for a new driver, it’s perhaps safer to stick with the 1.0-litre 65 PS which accelerates from 0-62mph in 15.5 seconds and gets 58.9 mpg.
The new Polo takes speed bumps, patchy surfaces and potholes in its stride and is extremely comfortable at both low and higher motorway speeds. Handling is precise, with plenty of grip and the engine is quiet when cruising. Although the lower range engine does take a bit of revving to reach cruise so expect a bit more noise when accelerating.
The dash of the new Polo can be personalised with optional style packs, offering a staggering eight different colours to suit your style. With soft-touch coverings and robust switches, the Polo is one of the best in its class for interior quality. Interior technology is also quite slick, with digital instruments, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth included on all models.
Volkswagen isn’t the most reliable of brands but standard features such as automatic emergency braking technology and advanced passenger recognition system give them a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. With prices starting from £13,855, and the 1.0-litre 65 PS being insurance group 1, the Polo is a serious contender for a first car.
First Car Winner
Although the Toyota Yaris is a close contender, the sharp looks and flashy interior of the Volkswagen Polo make it our winner for first car.
The Hot Hatch – Honda Civic Type R Vs BMW M140i
Back in 1976, the Volkswagen Golf GTI was launched in Germany, signalling a new era in motoring with the birth of the ‘hot hatch’. Many car manufacturers followed suit as the popularity of the performance hatchback continued to grow. Synonymous with ‘boy racers’, the Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI and the Vauxhall Nova SRI plagued the streets of sleepy towns, looking for an opponent to burn off at the lights. Today, it seems the ‘hot hatch’ has grown up a bit, still accessible but now having to prove their worth when it comes to delivering that beautiful balance between price, performance and practicality.
Honda Civic Type R
The new Type R is just that, all new, it bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The braking system, gearbox and engine are the only parts that carry over from the previous model but these have been tweaked to give a more meaty performance.
The 2.0-litre, 4 cylinder turbocharged engine can reach a top speed of 169mph, with a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds. But it’s the fourth gear 70-90mph time that caught our eye, just 3.6 seconds. With 315bhp at 6,500rpm, Honda has managed to squeeze an extra 10bhp from the previous model. The short gearing, powerful engine and exhausts that rasp and pop at the top end make this a characterful car to drive. As you wind your way along a twisting country road, the car is precise and the chassis is so firmly planted the driver can confidently put this front-wheel-drive machine through its paces. It’s not surprising then that the Honda Civic Type R has reclaimed the crown of fastest front-wheel drive production car to lap the Nurburgring, knocking the VW Golf Clubsport S off the top spot.
Surprisingly, considering Honda have stiffened the new Type R by 37 percent, the drive is extremely comfortable and any bumps or patchy surfaces are absorbed. With a low slung seating position in seats that are supportive and comfortable, this really feels like a car that can eat up the miles. The interior of the new Type R has also been completely re-thought with the infotainment system and digital instrument cluster looking slicker than the previous model, the instrument cluster is also no longer obscured by the steering wheel, bonus!
If you’re after a ‘subtle’ hot hatch, then the Civic Type R is probably not for you. It’s spoilers, wind deflectors, big wing on the boot and three central exhausts certainly make this an eye-catching car. But, if you don’t mind the stares and are happy to pay from £30,995 for the Type R, this is a very, very fun car to drive.
Probably not the first car you think of when ‘hot hatch’ comes to mind but the BMW M140i is so right on paper as a performance car. The low-slung seating position, the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbocharged engine driving 335bhp to the rear wheels means it goes from 0-62 mph in just 4.8 seconds.
The engine is the largest of any hot hatch currently on sale, but does size mean it’s the best or is it what you do with it that counts? Most definitely, the sound of the 3.0-litre engine, revving to 7,000rpm is hugely addictive but its power delivery is somewhat frustrating and the harder you work it, the more frustrating it becomes. You find yourself second guessing as to how the car is going to react, the slightly woolly steering, the lack of limited-slip differential and fairly violent body roll means that you never feel fully in control so you end up tootling along rather than really grabbing the bull by the horns.
We won’t bore you with the practical side of the M140i. It’s basically a slightly flashier version of its counterpart 1 series, with sport seats and lots of ‘M’ features but, it is comfortable and there’s plenty of storage. Prices start from £34,505.
Hot Hatch Winner
On paper, the BMW M140i should have smashed the competition but it is so disappointing in reality. On the other hand, the Type R is so beautifully balanced between price, performance and practicality it is our hands-down winner, it truly is everything a ‘Hot Hatch’ should be, including the ridiculous grin that spreads across your face when you drive it!
Family Car – Nissan Qashqai Vs Audi Q3
The family car is one of the biggest consumer markets for cars in the UK. We’ve chosen the Nissan Qashqai vs the Audi Q3 for this category, who do you think will come out on top?
The Nissan Qashqai began life in 2006 and has had numerous facelifts to get it to where it is today. Before the Qashqai, family cars typically consisted of the conventional hatchback but Nissan took a gamble in the family market which seems to be paying off.
Winning numerous awards including the What Car? ‘best buy’ in the £15,000 to £25,000 price point and ‘Best Small SUV’ for three years running. The Qashqai is comfortable, particularly on the motorway, smooth whilst pottering around town and at a cruise, the engine is very quiet. It’s also spacious, with a boot big enough for most family’s needs and a vast array of storage upfront. The running costs are fairly impressive, with the 1.5-litre diesel clocking up a thrifty 51.9mpg and it scores very well on safety, with six airbags, emergency brake assist and stability control.
The downsides to the Qashqai are reliability. According to What Car? Nissan finished 29th of 32 manufacturers in their reliability survey and with an average of 89 faults per 100 vehicles, the Qashqai was the worst performing family SUV.
Another aspect to consider with the Qashqai is the interior, it’s a bit bland. There are extras which make the cabin a little more welcoming but at a starting price of just over £19,000, the extras may be worth forking out for. The entry-level model comes with Bluetooth and cruise control but if you need air conditioning, you’ll have to upgrade to the Acenta model. In total, there are five models to choose from, with the Tekna+ including all the bells and whistles anyone could need.
The Audi Q3 starts at a higher price point than the Qashqai, from just under £28,000 but is it worth the extra money? Some would argue that the premium badge and the German reputation for reliability will always win over a Japanese car but let’s take a look.
In 2011, Audi muscled its way into the crossover market with the Q3, offering a sporty, agile and stylish addition to the family of small SUVs. The ride is composed and with its excellent visibility and compact dimensions, the Q3 is great for negotiating crowded city streets and twisting back roads. However, at higher speeds, the car becomes more uncomfortable, particularly when encountering potholes and patchy surfaces so for a more supple ride, consider stumping up for adaptive dampers.
The standard Q3 is available with either a 1.4-litre or 2.0-litre engine. The 1.4 TFSI comes with Cylinder on Demand technology, this smooth but powerful unit can achieve 51.4mpg whilst the 2.0-litre TDI is capable of 62.8mpg. It’s five-star NCAP rating puts the Q3 near the top of the child protection rating, with six airbags, electronic stability control and ISOFIX fittings for the front passengers and outer two rear seats. Although the pedestrian safety rating is only average, it isn’t available with automatic emergency braking. The wide opening of the boot makes it easy for bulkier items to be loaded but it isn’t overly spacious and you may struggle to fit a set of golf clubs. The cabin isn’t the roomiest either but there are plenty of pockets and cubbyholes to store essentials and the large door openings at the front and rear make it an easy vehicle to access and alight from.
All models of the Q3 come with dual-zone electronic climate control, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a satellite navigation system. Models range from the entry-level ‘Sport’ to the top of the range ‘Black Edition’ but with so much equipment included at entry level, it would be difficult to justify spending the extra money for a ‘Black Edition’.
Family Car Winner
It’s a tough decision but we think the Qashqai, with its affordable price point, comfortable drive and space it offers just pips the Q3 at the post.
The Japanese have seriously raised the stakes in terms of style and performance in recent years. Their affordability, comfort and engineering techniques put them ahead of the game. Although it was a closely fought contest the Japanese are our overall winners. If you’re still unsure of whether to buy Japanese or German, don’t take our word for it, get out there and test drive them for yourself. Remember, to keep your new car in tip top condition, visit your local garage for regular service and maintenance.