Great British BIK Off: Premium hatchbacks

  • Premium hatchbacks for company car drivers
  • Luxury, refinement and economy for low BIK
  • Compact cars with big-car comfort

Crossovers may be on the rise - as are their hatchback siblings with more urban, high-rise models coming every year - but the luxury compact car is still a great choice for drivers spending a lot of time behind the wheel.

Most premium hatchbacks will fit in any supermarket or office parking space without fuss, yet offer space for four or five adults, class-leading safety and great economy and performance. There are many to choose from as well - both from premium brands and well-equipped models from more mainstream sources.

We've put two desirable hatchbacks together to compare the costs for each: the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the Audi A3 Sportback.

Both cars are frugal, high economy and low-emissions diesel versions in their respective range – so, it's as much about running costs as how they perform on the road.

Quite a few mainstream hatchbacks can tick all of these boxes too, so we've also selected a range of alternative models that are aspirational and have some badge prestige too below.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class A180 Sport, £122 per month

Undeniably aspirational, the A-Class is one of the newest models in this selection, based on a substantially revised chassis and featuring one of the most advanced technology packages in any hatchback.

The standard model is the A180 SE diesel, with a 10-second 0-62mph time and a claimed 68.9 mpg. We'd recommend choosing either Sport or AMG-Line to get the luxury essentials of dual-zone climate control and full LED headlights, before adding option packages; Premium adds all the necessary features apart from adaptive cruise control to tick our full luxury specification.

Thanks to the diesel surcharge, it attracts a benefit-in-kind of 26% in SE format and 27% for Sport and AMG Line

Adaptive cruise control will not be available until the end of 2018. When available it will be part of an advanced suite of driver assistance technologies.

  P11d Bik rate (%) Monthly BIK cost (20%) mpg
A 180 d Sport 27,080 27 £121.86 67.3
A 180 d Sport Premium 29,475 27 £132.64 67.3
A 180 d AMG Line 28,280 27 £127.26 67.3

Audi A3 1.5 TFSI S-Line, £106 per month

Audi can do no wrong in the company car sector, and the A3 is ever-present. Key to the A3's success is the excellent range of efficient and powerful small petrol engines. Combined with the ability to create remarkably well-specified models - including virtual cockpits, advanced driver assistance and ergonomic seating - if your budget allows, this Audi is a true premium hatchback.

We've included a typical diesel for comparison, but the 150hp 1.5 TFSI is the engine to have, with S line trim plus Driver Assistance and Comfort packages for the most comprehensive adaptive cruise control, traffic jam and lane keeping assist, and sophisticated infotainment.

The typical 1.6 TDI SE Technik with basic equipment costs around £18 less per month in BIK, yet lacks many of the luxury features.

Audi offer a plug-in hybrid version - the A3 Sportback e-tron, but the high P11D value and lack of incentives for alternative fuels in current company car taxation makes the e-tron less appealing for the majority of drivers. With a 29 mile range it may suit city-based businesses.

  P11D BIK rate (%) Monthly BIK cost (20%) mpg
A3 1.6 TDI SE Technik 25,410 25 £105.88 64.2
A3 1.6 TDI Sport 26,565 25 £110.69 64.2
A3 1.6 TDI S Line 28,715 25 £119.65 64.2

We've compared the company car costs, now find out which one is best in this twin test here

What alternatives are there to the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benx A-Class?

Volvo V40 D4 Inscription

2017 Volvo V40

Heading up the old-guard, the Volvo has been on sale since 2012 - though an effective facelift has gone a long way to making it more appealing, particularly with the striking LED signatures in the headlights.

We've been running one in D4 R-Design trim as a long-term test car, and have found it dynamically impressive, solidly built and, for the performance, remarkably economical. It falls short of the 74mpg claims, but in 190hp D4 form it produces 99g/km (lower than the lower-powered variants).

Volvo offer Intellisafe for all-round active safety, including adaptive cruise control, and the seats offer a wide range of adjustment. As a premium hatchback, however, the stand-out feature of the V40 is the overall feeling of solidity and quality.

Volvo has done well with their own VEA diesel in the D4 - a 0-62mph time of 7.2-7.4 seconds reflects the torque and power delivery - but it does obviously sound like a diesel with a slight clatter at idle. For a fully refined drivetrain the T5 petrol offers 245hp; add the eight-speed automatic gearbox for maximum comfort.

BMW 1 Series

2017 BMW 1 Series

Rear-wheel drive is the defining feature of the BMW 1 Series, setting it apart from all of the competing hatchbacks. As such, it's a car well suited to enthusiastic drivers - but it is, like any BMW, able to be specified with a high level of equipment. Opt for a petrol engine and the 118i has enough power to hit 62mph in 8.5 seconds, with emissions of 112-119g/km.

What's key to taking a 1 Series to a luxury level? BMW's option packages - look for Professional and Comfort in your company car list, as these give the necessary climate control and navigation features.

Our example of a 116d SE Business with adaptive cruise control, driver assistance and navigation pack comes in at almost £5,000 over the base price. Occasional special editions offer the best deals for company car drivers, but a well equipped car will push the P11D value well beyond the appealing list price figures.

Lexus CT200h F-Sport

2017 Lexus CT200h Facelift

Far more than a posh Prius, the CT200h is surprisingly good value for a premium-brand hybrid car. It's an older design, which may explain why - but it's still competitive and recently facelifted.

Refinement is key to this hybrid hatchback, but it's not an involving drive. It is now one of the oldest setups offered in the UK, and produces a total of 136hp for a 0-62mph of 10.3 seconds. It's limited to 112mph top speed, too, though this is common for hybrid cars. Choose the Lexus if you want your commute to be a background task and you'll find it thoroughly satisfying.

At £31,080 P11D (£31,245 on the road), the F-Sport Premier Pack is full loaded with luxury equipment and design. Two-tone leather interior with electric adjustment for the front seats, 10-inch navigation and infotainment system, parking sensors and LED headlights; the only option available is a sunroof.

The entry level you may find on your company car list is the SE. This features 16-inch wheels with correspondingly lower emissions, and a fairly basic specification. It has fabric seats, halogen headlights, seven-inch infotainment screen and DAB radio.

Unusually given the performance and target market of the CT200h, Lexus does offer sporting aesthetics, along with some dramatic colour schemes - it may be unlikely that you'll see a bright orange F-Sport, but the option is there - if someone has been so bold you definitely won't miss it.

Ford Focus Vignale

2018 Ford Focus Vignale

As with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the Ford Focus is new for 2018 and bang up to date with technology and chassis design. Like the A-class, the rear suspension design varies with specification; though in this case the sophisticated fully -independent setup is available for much lower cost.

Five door models with 1.5 petrol and 2.0 diesel engines also benefit from continuously-controlled damping, with a solution to a uniquely British problem; by reading the road and reacting, the dampers adjust to minimise the effect of potholes.

Although a comprehensive range of engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions is planned, current availability is limited. We can only specify the Vignale with 125hp petrol and six-speed manual gearbox, and not all options are selectable for the £25,725 flagship Focus.

We've driven the latest Fiesta Vignale, however, and the luxury treatment translates incredibly well to that small Ford.

Until the Vignale range is fully available, the highest specification Focus is an ST-Line X with all options. This includes dual zone air conditioning, head up display and Ford Sync 3 with B&O speakers (which can now display Waze navigation from iPhone or Android). plus a panoramic sunroof, for a £28,430 list price.

Why choose a hatchback over an SUV?

Chances are your company car list will include a variety of popular saloons, hatchbacks and SUVs or crossovers, and the trend is towards the pseudo-4x4 look. It can result in a car that is less economical, has a higher tax liability and a harsher ride.

Some crossovers also have less boot space than their hatchback equivalents, and taller models can be harder to get into for young children.

If you want the lowest CO2 and best handling, then, the hatchback is usually a better option. Particularly if you want a sporty driving experience.

What makes a premium hatchback?

Premium is in the eye of the beholder, but badge prestige is valued highly by buyers. Then we look at the equipment levels and comfort features. To be considered a premium hatchback, these are essential features:

  • Climate controlled dual-zone air conditioning
  • Leather seats available, with good range of adjustment
  • Refined engine and gearbox with ample power for a fully occupied car
  • High quality infotainment with more than four speakers
  • Up-to-date convenience features, such as parking assistance and adaptive cruise control

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