This week I’m taking three diesel hatchback rivals from Ford, Honda and Peugeot and pitting them against one another. The diesel hatchbacks I’ve tested here have broad appeal due to their affordable combination of space, comfort, practicality, economy and performance.

In isolation, the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Peugeot 308 are very good cars, but I’ve brought together diesel versions of all three to see how they compare.

Peugeot 308
A strong, muscular silhouette and sharp new grille give the Peugeot 308 real kerb appeal


The Peugeot 308 is easily the best-looking car of the trio. It is understated but stylish in a similar vein to German premium hatchback rivals – some may be surprised to find Peugeot’s lion emblem on the front rather than four rings or a three pointed star.

The Civic is very distinct with sharp, angular styling. It looks like no other family hatchback, but that makes it a little bit of a Marmite car – you will love the dynamic styling or else you will be completely turned off by it.

The Ford Focus has been with us since 2011 making it the oldest car here. It’s not a bad looking car – it just looks bland in this company. Higher spec Zetec and Titanium models do benefit from more dramatic alloy wheels and chrome detailing that add more presence.

Silver Ford Focus
Ford Focus

The 308 has the best cabin of all three on the surface of things. It’s beautifully designed with a real feeling of quality. The cabin in the Ford just doesn’t feel as luxurious unless you go for a higher specced model and the the centre console looks heavy and clumsy. The driving position is really good though and the white illuminated dials with blue needles give it a sporty feel. The Honda has a really well built cabin but an unusual layout that might put some off. The indigo illuminated dials are really striking and the seats are plush – it’s no bad place to be.


All three offer great shoulder and headroom up front for a driver and passenger to sit comfortably without rubbing elbows every time the driver changes gear. The boot in the Ford Focus is a practical shape and a full size spare wheel is included, but it falls short of class standards at just 277 litres. The Peugeot 308 by comparison has an impressive 470 litres of boot space, and a full size spare wheel has been squeezed in too. However, both the Civic and the Focus feel more spacious than the 308 in the rear. The Honda Civic offers a good balance between interior space and boot space. At 477 litres the boot in the Civic is the largest of our trio, but there is no spare wheel – a tyre repair kit comes as standard instead.


Honda Civic
Honda Civic: avant-garde looks you won’t find anywhere else in this segment

The Focus, 308 and Civic are all very comfortable and ideal for long sprints on the motorway. The Ford Focus is the driver’s car of the bunch with very precise steering, great handling and a real sure footedness about it out on the road. But the diesel engine is the least powerful here with 95bhp and it’s noisy and less refined compared to the similarly sized engines in the Civic and 308, though remember there is a 115bhp diesel available for the Focus too that offers more similar power and performance to the other cars tested here. The 308 is not as engaging to drive as the Focus but the 1.6 litre 115bhp diesel engine is punchy and super refined. The 120bhp Civic is the most powerful car of our trio and it is easy to access the power no matter what gear you are in. It’s smooth and refined to go with it and though it’s not quite as fun to drive as a Focus, on balance the Civic is the pick of the bunch.


Fuel saving start/stop technology is standard on our three test cars. The Ford Focus is the thirstiest car of our trio with manufacturer’s quoted fuel economy of 4.2 litres per km (but that’s still over 60mpg!). The Peugeot 308 manages an impressive 3.8 litres per km. The Honda Civic is the most frugal of the bunch at 3.6 litres per km.


The Ford Focus we tested was in Edition spec and is the cheapest of the cars we tested. The kit list is a bit sparse but you do get electric front windows and mirrors, alloys, Ford Sync, steering wheel mounted audio controls and air con. You need Zetec trim for fog lamps and Titanium trim for cruise control.

The Honda Civic we drove didn’t feel budget despite being an entry level model. In Comfort spec it has Bluetooth, alarm, LED daytime running lights, air con, alloy wheels. four electric windows, hill start assist and steering wheel mounted audio controls. For cruise control and front fog lamps you need to go up to Sport trim.

The Peugeot 308  we tested is the mid range Active trim and  has a really good level of equipment for the money including a touchscreen, Bluetooth, dual zone air con, alloy wheels, programmable cruise control, four electric windows, fog lamps, auto lights & wipers, hill start assist and rear parking sensors.


And the winner is…

Honda Civic
The Honda Civic offers great practicality despite Marmite looks and the 1.6 litre i-DTEC delivers on balance between power and refinement

Our three diesel hatchbacks on test each have their own individual merits. The Peugeot 308 has the classy looks, big boot and punchy, refined engine. The Focus has a mature feel to it but the superb handling means it is anything but dull. However, the Focus is starting to look a bit dated now and the 308 is just not as fun to drive. In this company, the Honda Civic just edges ahead with its refined yet powerful and fuel efficient engine, comfort and space, and just enough driver engagement to keep us happy behind the wheel.

Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi EditionHonda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC ComfortPeugeot 308 1.6 HDi Active
Engine1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel
0-100kmh12.5 secs10.5 secs10.2 secs
Fuel economy67mpg78.5mpg74mpg
Tax BandA3 (€190 per year)A2 (€180 per year)A2 (€180 per year)

Caroline Kidd