New Ford Focus vs VW Golf vs Vauxhall Astra: rivals comparison

Article Andy Goodwin
Apr 12, 2018
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2018 Ford focus vs Golf and Astra
Britain’s favourite family hatchback has been redesigned with the latest kit. But how does it compare to the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra?

When the original Ford Focus was launched in 1998, it ushered in a new era of hatchbacks and transformed Ford into a brand with fresh, fun models all the family could enjoy. Sharp looks and even sharper handling meant the Focus has resided at or near the top of sales charts over the course of three generations and two million sales in Britain. In the past year or two, though, the Focus has begun to show its age next to newer versions of the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra, with a somewhat dated design.

That’s where the Mk4 Ford Focus comes in, because it’s a "clean sheet" design, crafted to ensure it’s forward-looking enough to take the 2018 Focus well into the next decade and influence Ford’s whole range. With more than a whiff of upmarket models like the Mercedes A-Class in its stance and features like its spaced-out Focus boot lettering, it’s also more upmarket than ever before, to appeal to a new set of buyers.

• Best family cars to buy now

Customers will have more choice, too; from the entry-level Zetec and plush Titanium to three distinct variations from the sporty ST-Line, to the rugged Active crossover and luxurious Vignale. As well as the hatchback, there’s also a Mk4 Ford Focus Estate for anyone needing extra space. Both versions are expected in hot ST performance guise in 2019.

Read on to find out how the Ford Focus will compete in key areas…

2018 Ford Focus practicality vs rivals

One of the Mk3 Focus’ biggest issues was a lack of interior and boot space compared with roomier rivals. Just 316 litres behind the back seats was quite a bit less than the Golf’s 380 litres and Astra’s 370 litres, while the Honda Civic’s boot is bigger still, at 420 litres.

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The new Focus will be a better place for passengers to spend time, with Ford claiming its kneeroom is best-in-class, with 50mm more space than before. It’s wider, too, with 60mm extra shoulder room that should make it easier for three passengers to sit in the back. Ford has lavished lots of care and attention on the fine details, with larger rear windows to make the rear seats less claustrophobic and even a novel design to alleviate the pulsing sensation often experienced when one window is opened at higher speeds.

The Focus Estate has a 43mm taller boot to accommodate bulky objects and it’s 25mm longer than before. Like the Skoda Octavia Estate, it also features an ‘Easy Fold Seats’ mechanism to stow the seats using levers in the boot. Maximum luggage space with the back seats folded is 1,650 litres, putting it ahead of the Volkswagen Golf Estate (1,620 litres) and Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer (1,630 litres), but it still can’t quite match the Skoda (1,740 litres).

Ford Focus safety vs rivals

As crash-test body Euro NCAP has made it tougher to achieve a top five-star rating, and semi-autonomous driving technology has seen an array of sensors added to new models, manufacturers have invested in active safety systems.

Not only should the new Focus protect you in a crash, it should also make it a lot harder to have one in the first place. Technology offered as standard or optionally includes traffic-sign recognition that can alert you to speed limits – a feature that’s also offered in the Golf and Astra. It also shares adaptive cruise control with them, and like the Golf, it can centre you in a lane and even assist you in heavy traffic to relieve the strain of monotonous queues.

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In a first for the class, the Focus can not only brake automatically if a collision with an object, pedestrian or cyclist is imminent, but also help you steer around them. ‘Evasive Steering Assist’ uses a radar and camera and “provides steering support” to help guide you around danger. First available only in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, a ‘Wrong Way Alert’ will use the camera and sat-nav information to alert drivers if they drive onto a motorway in the wrong direction – another unique feature.

Ford will also offer the latest iteration of its MyKey technology, which allows a key to be programmed for younger drivers or employees for business use. The owner can set parameters like the top speed, maximum stereo volume and even inhibit incoming phone calls or stop the audio system if seatbelts aren’t being worn.

Ford Focus connectivity and technology vs rivals

Like the latest Ford Fiesta supermini, the Focus has been treated to a complete technology overhaul. At the centre of this is a slim eight-inch touchscreen that sits above the dashboard and reacts to pinch and swipe gestures. It uses the latest version of Ford’s SYNC 3 software, but you can also connect your smartphone and display Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the screen, just like in the Golf and Astra.

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Ford is also introducing FordPass Connect technology in the Focus, which connects the hatchback to high-speed internet. Not only does this turn the Focus into a hotspot that up to 10 devices can connect to, but it also brings features like live traffic updates. Smartphone users with the companion app can also find their car in an unfamiliar car park, check its fuel level, alarm status and even its oil life. It"ll also be possible to unlock the Focus remotely to allow access and start it remotely (if an automatic gearbox is fitted). These features aren’t new, with both the Golf and Astra available with similar services, but they do mean Focus customers will get access to technology they’ve been missing out on for a few years.

Trim levels and equipment vs rivals

The entry-level Style trim includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning and DAB digital radio. Standard safety kit extends to autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, hill-start assistance and lane-keeping assistance. The Golf S trim does a bit better here, with an eight-inch screen from the off.

Zetec adds the SYNC 3 infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, cruise control, front foglights and a heated windscreen, making it a much more desirable choice. It still lacks a few standard features compared the equivalent Golf, though, including adaptive cruise control and sat nav. Titanium adds luxuries like front and rear parking sensors, heated seats, climate control, keyless entry, sat nav, FordPass Connect and an eight-inch display. Titanium X boosts this to 17-inch wheels, part-leather trim and tinted glass.

The Ford Focus ST-Line squares up against the Golf R-Line, Astra SRi and models like the SEAT Leon FR. It has a sporty body kit and lowered suspension, roof spoiler and twin tailpipes. Inside, there’s unique upholstery and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

If you think Titanium X is lacking, the Focus Vignale has full LED exterior lighting and leather upholstery, a head-up display, reversing camera and heated steering wheel. Music fans should also appreciate the 675-watt B&O Play Premium Audio System stereo upgrade with 10 speakers.

Ford Focus Volkswagen Golf Vauxhall Astra
Studio S Design
£17,930 £18,890 £18,470
Zetec SE SE
£19,300 £21,395 £22,400
Titanium GT Elite Nav
£21,570 £25,565 £22,070
Engines, gearboxes and suspension

A variety of petrol and diesel engines will be fitted in the Focus, starting with the award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol. The latest version will come with either 84, 99 or 123bhp, comparing well to the Golf’s 84 or 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol and the Astra’s 104bhp 1.0-litre. Ford is targeting CO2 emissions from 108g/km, so the cleanest petrol versions of the Focus will have an affordable 20% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rating for company-car drivers.

Those looking for more power can upgrade to the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol providing 148bhp or 180bhp. The entry-level version looks almost identical – on paper at least – to the 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI found in the Golf, employing similar cylinder-deactivation technology to save fuel. Without no 180bhp version in the VW’s range, the Ford should appeal to keen drivers looking for a brisk model with one eye still on economy. The Ford’s engine also looks likely to outclass the ageing 1.4-litre turbo in the Astra with up to 148bhp. Here, Ford is targeting CO2 emissions from 120g/km under tough new WLTP testing, so BiK ratings should start from 23%.

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Diesel buyers will find a new 1.5-litre EcoBlue engine with 94 or 118bhp offers the best fuel-efficiency and CO2 emissions as low as 94g/km (20% BiK). The 1.6-litre diesel in the Golf emits over 100g/km of CO2, so the Ford should have a cost-saving advantage here. The Astra emits as little as 88g/km according to older NEDC figures, so we’ll have to wait and see how these change under WLTP testing.

A 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel with 148bhp will also be available in the Focus, fitted with an impressive roster of advanced technology to reduce CO2 emissions to around 110g/km – for a 24% BiK figure. The equivalent Golf emits 114 to 116g/km, so won’t be quite as cheap to run for company-car drivers.

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Most versions of the Focus will come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but an eight-speed automatic is new for the 2018 model. Choose this and you also get a Jaguar-style rotary controller on the centre console to choose gears instead of a traditional lever. Ford also says the automatic will be better able to adapt to the road and how you drive and provide smoother shifts.

The Focus has always had a great reputation for being the best family hatchback to drive, and the latest version looks to build on this pedigree with ‘Continuously Controlled Damping’. By monitoring the suspension and your steering, acceleration and braking inputs, it can adjust the chassis to improve comfort and boost handling. This system is standard with the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol and 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engines, while less powerful versions get a simpler suspension setup. Adaptive suspension is optional across the Golf and Astra range, costing around £1,000 to add.

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Body rigidity has been improved by 20% and the Focus now features sharper steering. According to Ford, it gives the Focus "the agility and responsiveness of a hot hatchback, with the refined ride of a large executive car”, adding “Focus and a class-leading fun-to-drive experience go hand-in-hand and we have no intention of letting any competitor steal that crown”.

Ford Focus Volkswagen Golf Vauxhall Astra
1.0 (84, 99 and 123bhp) 1.0 (84 and 108bhp) 1.0 (104bhp)
1.5 (148 and 180bhp) 1.4 (148bhp) 1.4 (99, 123 and 148bhp)
1.5 EcoBlue (94 and 118bhp) 1.6 TDI (113bhp) 1.6 TDCI (109, 134 and 158bhp)
2.0 EcoBlue (148bhp) 2.0 TDI (148bhp and 181bhp) N/A
Read more about:
Ford Focus
Volkswagen Golf
Vauxhall Astra
Skoda Octavia