RAC Cars News


Family Cars Put To The Test - Who Comes Out On Top?

By raccars Published

The Ford Focus, VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra are the UK's favourite small family cars, present in every year's top sellers list and the ones to beat for competing manufacturers. This may not be the most exciting market segment but it's an important area for brands to gain market share. But how do the big three compare against each other?

Golfs are all equipped with a turbocharger and entry-level models open with a 1.2 litre unit for 84 or 103bhp. The next in line are 1.4 litre models developing 120 or 138bhp or a 1.6 litre diesel with 103 or 148bhp.

The Ford Focus is pushing the way forward in efficiency, with a 1.0 litre three-cylinder Ecoboost engine for 99 or 123bhp, both impressive, but motorway users are better off with the more powerful unit. There is a wide range of pacey diesels too, the 113bhp version offering the most competent balance between performance and price.

The Vauxhall Astra lags behind a little bit with 86 and 99bhp 1.4 litre engines at entry-level, but does offer a 178bhp 1.6 litre petrol for those with a heavy foot. The diesels are slow but the heavier 2.0 litre units are pleasantly torquey.

While the VW Golf has always won plaudits for its performance, the Focus is actually the better drive, thanks to its superior handling. While Ford's model might be more fun for motoring enthusiasts, the Golf is a slightly smoother and more comfortable option for those who carry passengers, particularly the more sophisticated versions.

The Astra can't quite match the other two on performance unless you go for the sporty SRi, but what you gain in handling you lose in refinement.

The Golf wins the battle of the cabins with its more luxury feel. Ford's layout is fine but is penalised by poor quality materials, while the Astra suffers from too busy a layout. The Golf is also the most spacious of the three, followed by the Astra, with the Focus bringing up the rear. In terms of safety, all three cars are a match and each is well-equipped.

Ultimately, the Focus and Golf are the better cars. Vauxhall is going to have to pull its socks up to match its competitors, even with the lowest price point of the three. The VW is significantly more expensive than the Ford but residual values and running costs are better, meaning it's impossible to squeeze a sheet of paper between the two.

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