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Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra

Two hatchback veterans. One desire to be the best. But which should you buy, the new Ford Focus or the new Vauxhall Astra? Recombu Cars investigates.

Even though small SUVs and crossovers are all the rage, there’s no denying hatchbacks still have their place. The Focus has long been one of the heaviest hitters, with the Astra having lost some ground in recent times. Vauxhall has brought out a new model, however, which is a significant step up in terms of appeal and ability. Is it good enough to better its old rival?

Design

The new Vauxhall Astra is underpinned by an entirely new platform and weighs 200kg less than its predecessor. This is in part thanks to a new body shell that weighs 280kg instead of 357kg and ‘additional, chassis related measures’ that shave off another 50kg.

The Ford Focus was given a redesign to bring it in line with the rest of the range, resulting in what was said to be more interior space, a bolder front-end and a wider, lower stance.

Both cars come in a five-door guise, meaning no hassle letting passengers get in. In term of exterior aesthetics, the Focus is meaty and more imposing than the new Astra, which instead settles for a more sleek, discreet look.

Both cars offer a sturdy interior with a modicum of style, but the Focus has a slightly raised dashboard that bulges out, making it feel somewhat closed-in. The Astra, meanwhile, goes for a feeling of spaciousness.

The rear end of the Focus is arguably nicer but it’s horses for courses, really. What isn’t debatable, though, is the fact the Astra is lighter and has a slightly better interior, which gives it a point here.

Winner: Vauxhall Astra

Practicality

On the outside you would assume the larger Focus is more practical, but clever design makes the new Astra tough to beat. Both provide great interior space, but the new Astra has a 370-litre boot, which far surpasses the Focus and its piddly 316-litre offering. It also has a textured boot floor to help keep items from moving around as much while driving.

Both cars have a good-shaped tailgate, so it’s easy enough to load, and both feature 60:40 split-folding rear seats, meaning you get the flexibility to load bulky objects while retaining some rear seating. 

Neither car’s rear seats fold truly flat, unless you buy the optional space saver wheel in the Astra, but that’s no no biggy when the Vauxhall’s overall space is that much better in the firstplace.

Ultimately, the new Astra causes the Focus to show its age in this area, so it’s another point to the Vauxhall. 

Winner: Vauxhall Astra

Performance & handling

Tough call here in terms of handling. Ford always makes a song and dance of the fact it concentrates heavily on driver involvement and there’s no denying the Focus is capable in the bends. 

In the 125PS six-speed manual tested here, 0-62mph takes 11 seconds and the top speed is 130mph, not that you buy a family hatchback for speed. It feels lively and is more than capable of making a drive pleasurable. 

A mixture of new engines and the lighter chassis makes the Astra a much better drive than before, with grip and agility a strong point. It also has a forgiving ride, making it capable of handling potholes and other road undulations without making life uncomfortable, and disguises road noise well. 

It’s pokier, too, if you want to match the 125PS of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost in the Focus. The Astra’s 1.4i 125PS turbo can hit 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 127mph so it’s better at quick bursts of speed for overtaking. 

Step down to the same 1.0-litre displacement (105PS) and the Astra is half a second quicker to 62mph from standing, but the top speed drops again to 124mph. 

Go for the larger 1.5-litre EcoBoost in the Focus and it’s still slower to 62mph, even though it has significantly more horsepower (148bhp). The Astra’s 1.4-litre is, again, faster. 

The fact that the Astra is only just now on a par with the Focus when it comes to handling is testament to how good a job Ford did. But in terms of power output, the Astra is preferable whether you go for the 1.0 or 1.4-litre engines as its acceleration is more useful in daily life. 

Winner: Vauxhall Astra

Economy & environment

When it comes to efficiency, the Focus’ three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost is a big improvement on the 1.6-litre petrol it replaced. CO2 emissions come in at below the 100g/km threshold if you go for the smaller 98bhp (100PS) output that costs a bit extra, 105g/km for the standard 98bhp engine or 108g/km in the case of the 123bhp (125PS) lump. 

In the Vauxhall Astra corner, the 1.0-litre 105PS manages a claimed 65.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km, so it’s free to tax. Take a step up and the 1.4i six-speed manual loses out to the Focus, at 124g/km of CO2 and fuel economy of 52.4mpg. 

Those who crave the absolute best figures have the option of the Focus 103bhp 1.5-litre TDCi, which spews out just 88g/km of CO2 and is said to be capable of 83.1mpg. Meanwhile the Vauxhall 1.6CDTi with 110PS has the same level of CO2 but has a higher combined fuel economy of 85.6mpg. 

It must be said, the Focus EcoBoost is known for not reaching its claimed fuel economy by some margin, even with insanely efficient driving. The Astra is also off its claimed figure, but seems to fare better overall. 

Winner: Vauxhall Astra

Equipment & value

So far the Astra is walking away with the title, but value for money is a big aspect of family hatchbacks. Unfortunately the 1.0-litre EcoBoost is only available on the Zetec model upwards, meaning you pay at least £18,345 for the privilege. 

Step up to the 1.5 TDCi and you can say goodbye to £19,045. That makes the Focus seem very steep, especially as the Astra and its 1.6CDTi costs less than the EcoBoost, at £17,495. Stick with the 1.4-litre Turbo and the Astra drops to £16,045, while the more eco-friendly 1.0-litre 105PS Turbo with Stop/Start costs from £16,395. 

The Focus is expensive in terms of extras, too. The Ford Sync2 DAB Navigation system is a £300 extra on the Zetec, while the Premium stereo costs £450 extra. On the 1.4i Astra you get Vauxhall’s R4.0 IntelliLink and its seven-inch touchscreen for free. This includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

Those who want front and rear parking distance sensors will pay £450 on the Astra. For the Focus, it’s £225 but that only includes the rear sensors. Browse through the various extras and the Astra comes out cheaper, plus it has more equipment at cheaper price points. 

Winner: Vauxhall Astra

Safety

Both cars should handle a crash as well as other C-segment cars, thanks to solid build quality and six airbags. 

Both cars offer a plethora of safety extras including forward collision alert with emergency braking. The Vauxhall gets optional OnStar, a concierge service that can alert the emergency services automatically in the event of a crash. Ford’s Sync2 system does the same, with slightly less advanced concierge functionality.

As standard, both cars earned a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP test so either way you can expect your family to be in safe hands if you decide to avoid paying for any safety-focussed extras. 

Winner: Tie

Conclusion

The Focus has long been the yardstick by which other hatchbacks are judged, so the Astra definitely has its work cut out. But Vauxhall’s done a wonderful job on the latest version as, on paper, it’s better in just about every area and makes the Focus look somewhat dated.

The Ford is still a solid car and there are probably some great deals around, but its comparative lack of value and inferior practicality mean it’s the less attractive of the two right now.

Overall winner: Vauxhall Astra

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