The Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus are two of the most popular family hatchbacks on the market, and the latest Focus has the edge on styling. It was introduced in 2011 – the latest Astra arrived in 2009 – and stands out with a neater, more modern shape. Critics aren’t keen on some of the clumsy detailing, but overall the Ford stands out more. That’s not to say the Astra is an ugly car. It shares a family resemblance with the larger Insignia, and looks smart enough, but just doesn’t catch the eye like the Focus.
The two cars are closely matched in terms of interior quality, with a similarly solid materials and construction. Neither can match the VW Golf in this respect, but they should hold up well to the strains of family life. Again, the Focus will turn more heads inside with its cool blue lighting, while the switchgear has a slightly higher-quality feel. The trouble is, there’s more of it – the centre console is a little button heavy. The Astra interior is a bit easier to use, and all models come with air-con and electric front windows. But you have to choose a mid-spec Tech Line to get Bluetooth as standard; in the Focus, this is standard on all but the entry-level Studio version. Plus, Ford offers a wider range of hi-tech options, including autobrake, self-parking, lane departure warning and road sign recognition.
This hi-tech feel continues under the bonnet, as the Focus is available with the new range of small-capacity three-cylinder petrol turbo engines. These 1.0-litre EcoBoost models combine punchy performance with strong efficiency and low emissions. More potent 1.6 and 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines power higher-performance versions of the Focus, with the 2.0-litre ST one of the best hot hatches on sale. There are also strong 1.6 and 2.0-litre TDCi diesels – more of which qualify for free road tax than the equivalent Astras – while a super-efficient 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic model delivers ultra-low 88g/km emissions and 83.1mpg fuel consumption.
Vauxhall doesn’t have a green Astra to match. The ecoFLEX model is the cleanest, with 99g/km emissions and 76.3mpg economy. More powerful versions of this car’s 1.7-litre CDTI diesel are available, alongside 1.3 and 2.0-litre CDTI engines, while petrol buyers can choose from 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines. And although the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the Astra VXR hot hatch has more power than the 2.0-litre in the Focus ST, the flagship is no match for handling fun. This is reflected across the range, with the Ford delivering more accurate steering and stronger agility in corners. The Vauxhall is smooth and composed, but simply not as entertaining to drive.
It has the edge on boot size, though, with its 351-litre capacity expanding to 1,216 litres with the rear seats folded. The Focus doesn’t make such good use of its dimensions, and can only manage 316 and 1,101 litres respectively. Both cars have achieved five-star ratings in Euro NCAP crash tests, and ESP is standard across both ranges, although the Ford is offered with more advanced optional safety kit.
Focus owners are clearly happier with their cars than those who drive an Astra, too, as the Ford finished 19th to the Vauxhall’s 39th in the Driver Power 2012 reliability and satisfaction survey. Neither of these family hatchbacks is a bad choice, though, and they are closely matched on price. So it comes down to whether you can compromise on space in favour of the better driving and tech of the Ford, or prefer the more practical interior and focus on comfort provided by the Astra.
|Vauxhall Astra Exclusiv 1.7 CDTI ecoFLEX Start/Stop||Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi 115PS Zetec|
|Engine:||1.7-litre 4cyl turbodiesel||1.6-litre 4cyl turbodiesel|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive||Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive|
|0-60mph:||11.6 seconds||10.9 seconds|
|Equipment:||Stop-start, air-con, cruise control, MP3 connectivity, ESP, electric front windows||Stop-start, air-con, Bluetooth, MP3 connectivity, ESP, electric front windows, alloy wheels|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down):||351/1,216 litres||316/1,101 litres|
|Warranty:||Lifetime/100,000 miles||3yrs/60,000 miles|
|Driver Power rating:||39th||19th|