The VW Golf, the Ford Focus and the Vauxhall Astra are three of the biggest selling family hatchbacks in the business. They need to be spacious enough for the school run and comfortable enough to cover hundreds of motorway miles – so which comes out on top? We compare them side-by-side to find out.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra prices
The VW Golf is the most expensive car of the three with entry-level models priced from £17,625. Thanks to its standard alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and a 6.5-inch touchscreen navigation system, the Match model is the pick of the range. It’ll set you back more than £20,000, however.
At £16,245, the Ford Focus is a little cheaper than the Golf, but only in entry-level Studio trim powered by a wheezy 1.6-litre petrol engine. The Zetec model is a much better bet but its extra standard kit and more modern engine push the price up to £18,845.
The Vauxhall Astra is the cheapest of the bunch – in Design trim it costs from just less than £16,000. Fork out an extra £700 and you’ll be able to afford a Tech Line model with more than enough kit for most drivers – satellite navigation, air conditioning and a six-speaker stereo are all included as standard.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra styling
Many buyers will be drawn to the VW thanks to its straightforward, classy design. While its straight lines, simple details and tidy proportions will appeal to many, some may find it a little too dull.
In contrast, the Ford looks much more angular and distinctive. The front end, with its Aston Martin-inspired grille flanked by a pair of sharp headlights, gives it a real air of class. It’s especially handsome with the optional Zetec Appearance Pack or in ST-Line trim thanks to a set of larger alloy wheels.
The Astra is fairly attractive from the outside, too. If we were nit-picking, we could argue its broad grille makes the Astra’s face look almost too wide but, overall, it’s a neatly styled machine. The rear is a definite highlight and a huge improvement over the old car’s bulky behind.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra interior
Jump behind the wheel of the Golf and it’s obvious a lot of thought has been put into every detail. The major controls are laid out simply while every switch and knob operates with a slick and sturdy feel. The leather steering wheel looks great and feels nice, too.
Its infotainment system is also the best here – the screen is bright and clear while physical shortcut buttons make navigating through menus as simple as possible. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is an optional extra across the range and we reckon it’s £130 well spent.
The Ford has the most old-fashioned interior here. Its design is messy and the material quality falls behind what you’ll find in either the Golf or Astra. It doesn’t fare much better in the technology stakes, either – its Sync 2 infotainment system is blighted by a slow, laggy touchscreen and fiddly buttons. Its saving grace is, however, the driving position, which is highly adjustable and very comfortable.
The Astra is leagues ahead of the Focus in terms of both design and quality. The dashboard is easy on the eye and all the controls are sensibly placed and feel upmarket. Vauxhall’s infotainment setup isn’t quite as slick as VW’s system, but it’s responsive, the graphics are clear and the interface is logically laid out.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra practicality
On paper, the Golf’s 380-litre boot is only 10 litres larger than the Astra, but its square shape means it’s more usable overall. There’s an adjustable floor that, when lifted into its highest position, means there’s almost no load lip to lift heavy items over. When the rear seats are folded down, there’s a long, flat space for larger items, too.
If the VW leads the way in practicality, it’s the Focus that lags at the back. Its 316-litre capacity means it has one of the smallest boots in the class and – besides a few curry hooks – there aren’t any clever touches to make it easier to load. It fares better for passenger space, however, offering good legroom in the back and fair, if not class-leading, headroom.
The Astra runs the Golf much more closely in terms of usability. Rear passenger space is impressive and the doors open wide to make installing a child seat easy. Both front and rear doors have huge storage bins, too. The only slight complaint comes in the boot – its opening is narrower than the Golf’s so it’s harder to load large, bulky items.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra engines
The Golf has a broad selection of 12 engines to choose from including a fully electric e-Golf and the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE. Drivers looking for a more performance-oriented hatchback should check out the sporty GTI and seriously rapid Golf R versions but the efficient 1.4-litre petrol model with cylinder deactivation technology will probably prove more suitable for most buyers.
The Focus comes with the widest choice of engines of the three. There’s a bewildering fourteen power outputs to choose from including high performance ST and RS models and the battery-powered Focus Electric. The pick of the range is the 1.0-litre EcoBoost – it’s quiet on the move and offers decent performance, too. Its claimed 60.1mpg could prove tough to match in the real world, however.
The Astra has the most simple engine lineup of the bunch, with a choice of five petrol and three diesel units. There isn’t really a bad choice here – the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol is better than the equivalent Ford unit, while the diesel models are reasonably quiet and can return up to 78.5mpg.
VW Golf vs Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra driving
On the road, it’s clear why the Golf is so appealing to so many buyers. Easy to drive, smooth and comfortable – it covers all the bases exceptionally well. Its controls feel precisely weighted and both manual and automatic gearboxes shift smoothly and feel refined. It might not handle with the same sense of fun as the Ford Focus, but it’ll be more than adequate for most drivers.
In contrast, even least powerful Focus will be happy to put a smile on your face on the right road. It corners sharply and grips keenly – perfect for livening up the daily commute. If you avoid the largest alloy wheels, it’ll ride almost as smoothly as the VW and Vauxhall, too. Unfortunately, road and wind noise are more noticeable in the Focus than in many rivals.
The Astra is something of a revelation – it’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors. It can’t quite match the Focus for handling, and the Golf just pips it to the post for comfort, but the Astra runs both rivals so close that it delivers the best compromise here.
Despite its involving handling and sharp looks, it’s the Ford Focus that has to take third place here. It’s the least refined car in our trio, has the smallest boot and the least appealing cabin design.
The VW Golf is a difficult car to fault. No only is it well thought out inside, comfortable to sit in and refined on the move, but its prestigious badge will make it the number one choice for many buyers.
The Vauxhall Astra is almost as fun as the Focus, nearly as refined as the Golf, and cheaper to buy than both. It’s practical, safe, has the nicest looking interior and a very strong engine lineup. Need a great all round family hatchback? Look no further.