The Ford Focus first hit UK roads almost 20 years ago, and caused something of a revolution. It was fun to drive, sharply styled and practical making it an instant family car hit. The Vauxhall Astra has rarely been far behind, however, and the latest model is reportedly the best one ever. So which family hatchback should you pick?
Put the Ford Focus or the Vauxhall Astra in our car configurator to see the deals carwow could help you get. For more options, check out our list of the best practical family hatchbacks.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – styling
Judging this pair on the way they look should hardly be a deal breaker in this class. As two of the best-selling cars on the road, both the Focus and the Astra will become so familiar that they’re unlikely ever to set pulses racing. Both cars, however, are reasonably pleasing on the eye.
The Focus received a facelift in 2015, when it was treated to new slimmer headlights and a wider, Aston Martin-esque grille. Along with the subtle changes at the back, it’s kept the Focus looking relatively fresh but, to our eyes, this generation of Focus looks a little fussier than its predecessors.
Vauxhall has tried to inject a little flair into the Astra’s designthe blacked-out C-pillars behind the side windows are meant to give the impression of a ‘floating’ roof and it all looks neatly proportioned. For us, it’s a more cohesive design than the Focus but whether it’ll stand the test of time remains to be seen.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – interior
The Ford’s cabin design is arguably one of its weakest points. From the driver’s seat, the base of the windscreen seems to be miles away and the centre console is wide and high so it feels less spacious than many rivals, including the Astra. Most problematic, however, is the confusing and messy button layout – it’s been improved in the facelift but still lags behind the class average. Nevertheless, the driving position is excellent and there’s plenty of adjustment to cater for all shapes and sizes.
Not only is the Focus’ interior design compromised, it’s not as practical as you might imagine. Four taller adults would struggle to get comfy at the same time thanks to limited rear legroom and the boot is poor, too – at 316 litres, it’s well short of the space on offer in the 370-litre Astra. There’s always the roomier Focus Estate but that has a boot cover that’s nearly impossible to remove unless you’re an experienced scaffolder.
In terms of space, the Astra is the better of the pair with just enough room for four six-foot adults and their luggage – even more if you pick the Astra Sports Tourer estate. It has the more pleasant cabin, too, with buttons and switches logically laid out and an infotainment system that’s significantly better than the Ford’s. Perceived quality is up there with the Volkswagen Golf and a step above the Focus.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – driving
The Focus benefits from precise steering which makes the car feel intuitive to drive. Well judged suspension manages to keep body roll under control, yet there’s more than enough compliance to deliver a cushioned ride for passengers. There’s maybe a little too much road noise on models fitted with larger wheels but, overall, out on the open road is where the Focus really excells.
The Astra is set up to be slightly sportier than the Ford, which is apparent by the firmer ride. It could never be considered uncomfortable, though, and the trade-off is a car that feels arguably even more fun than the Ford along a twisty road. Refinement is among the best in the class too, a result of a slippery body shape helping reduce wind noise.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – engines
Both cars offer a wide range of petrol and diesel engine choices but the Ford gets a wider choice of 12 units and even a fully electric version. In both cases, we’d avoid entry-level non-turbo petrol engines – 1.4-litre in the Astra, 1.6-litre in the Focus – because they feel wheezy and slow compared to more modern engines but don’t save that much money on the purchase price.
For urban owners, both cars’ mid-range petrol options make the best choices. The Ford boasts the award-winning 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine in a variety of outputs. All versions offer plenty of power while claiming more than 50mpg.
The Vauxhall counters with its own similar 1.0-litre engine that’s said to be a match for the Ford’s unit. Higher power outputs are served by 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre turbocharged petrols, all of which are smooth and refined.
The Focus’ 1.5-litre diesels are more likely to suit buyers who cover high mileages, being able to achieve a claimed 74.3mpg. The 2.0-litre diesel improves performance but the increase in price means it isn’t worth the upgrade.
The equivalent unit in the Astra is more frugal than the Focus. In its most fuel sipping EcoFlex form, the 1.6-litre diesel achieves a deeply impressive 85.6mpg in official tests. Even the more powerful 134hp variant manages 76.3mpg. There is also a 160hp version but, like the 2.0-litre diesel Focus, it’s not worth the extra cost.
If performance is your thing, the Ford delivers the greatest thrills. The Focus RS uses a 345hp 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol mated to a four-wheel-drive system helping it cover the 0-62mph dash in a supercar-worrying 4.7 seconds. The Astra will eventually get a VXR version to do battle with the Ford but, for now, the Focus is the hatchback speed king.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – value for money
Overall, the Vauxhall which represents better value for money. Prices are around £1,000 less than the Astra, while the big selling 1.6-litre diesels are not only more frugal, but cost £2,500 less, too.
Zetec is the trim level of choice for the Focus which includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and electric front windows as standard. The Astra is better equipped still, with all models gaining cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen and heated door mirrors over and above the kit offered on the Focus.
Though the Astra has no direct rivals to the Focus ST and RS, it’s worth noting that, true to form, these Fast Fords are something of a bargain. At less than £29,000, the Focus RS is almost untouchable in performance terms.
Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra – verdict
Of the two, the Vauxhall Astra is the significantly newer design and, in many ways, it shows. It’s more fun to drive, more refined, smarter inside, and more practical, too.
The Ford becomes even harder to justify when you realise the Astra is both cheaper and better equipped, too. The Focus is still a good option – especially if you’re looking at performance-biased models – but the Astra has comprehensively taken its place at the top.
Save money on your next family hatchback
Put the Ford Focus or the Vauxhall Astra in our car configurator to see the deals carwow could help you get. For more options, check out our list of the best practical family hatchbacks. Head over to our car chooser or deals page to see our latest discounts.