VW Golf vs Ford Focus

23 Dec, 2012 3:24pm

We've been impressed by the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf, but how does it compare to the Ford Focus?

The all-new Mk7 Volkswagen Golf is bigger and better than ever. But is it automatically a class leader? The Ford Focus is still one of the finest family hatchbacks, and one of the best-selling new cars in the UK today. And although it’s not the best-looking Ford ever, it’s a smart and convincing design.

VW has taken its usual conservative approach to styling, and the latest Golf isn’t dramatically different to the old Mk6. But it stands out with its neat detailing, in the flow of the headlights into the grille and the attractive rear end. In contrast, the Focus has been criticised as clumsy in places, particularly with those huge triangular air intakes in the nose.

Climb aboard, and both cars impress. The Focus has more of a premium feel than ever, with its cool interior lighting, soft-touch plastics and high-quality switchgear. There are a few too many buttons on the centre console, but everything feels solidly built.

It goes without saying that the Golf is well made. VW is famed for its interior quality, and the latest hatch sets a new standard with its gorgeous materials and easy-to-use layout. In the centre of the dashboard is a 5.8-inch touchscreen (an eight-inch display is optional), while standard equipment on the most popular SE model also includes Bluetooth, electric mirrors and electric windows all-round. The Focus has a similarly generous kit tally, although owners will have to go for a higher spec to get electric rear windows and cruise control as standard.

Under the bonnet, the Ford stands out with its brilliant new 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo petrol engines, which mix punchy performance, low fuel consumption and light weight, for better handling. And whether you go for this engine or the 1.6 EcoBoost, or the excellent 1.6 or 2.0-litre TDCi diesels, the Focus is still better to drive. With its agile chassis and precise steering, it’s just a bit more fun.

But the latest Golf has closed the gap. While there could be more steering feedback, the VW handles strongly and predictably, and also has the edge on refinement. The engine line-up is superb, too, ranging from punchy 1.4-litre TSI petrol turbos to torquey 1.6 and 2.0-litre TDI diesels with strong, smooth responses and excellent efficiency.

Talking of which, the cleanest Golf is cleaner than the cleanest Focus. The new 1.6 TDI BlueMotion model promises 88.3mpg fuel consumption and 85g/km CO2 emissions. The ECOnetic version of the Ford isn’t quite so efficient, returning 83.1mpg and emitting 88g/km. But there’s not much between any of the diesels in terms of fuel consumption and road tax bills.

For now, only Ford caters for buyers wanting to maximise performance rather than economy, with its thrilling 247bhp Focus ST hot hatch. But VW promises to strike back, as the forthcoming new Golf GTI should be great to drive, even if it has less power, at 217bhp.

The Focus trails on boot size, with its cramped 316-litre load bay increasing to only 1,101 litres. The Golf offers 380 litres with the rear seats up and 1,270 litres when they’re folded. But driver and passengers have plenty of head and legroom in both models, plus Euro NCAP has rated the Golf and Focus highly for crash protection. Both cars get ESP and plenty of airbags, and both are available with hi-tech safety options like autobrake, lane departure warning and a self-parking system.

It’s still too early to judge the VW on reliability, but the previous Golf finished eighth in the 2012 Driver Power satisfaction survey. The Focus came 19th, although buyers shouldn’t encounter many problems with either model.

Buyers pay a higher price for the Golf, especially with Ford dealer discounts. But the VW will hold on to its value better. It’s worth the extra, as it’s a brilliant, high-quality all-rounder, although keen drivers will probably prefer the great-handling Focus.

Key facts

VW Golf 2.0 TDI SE 5dr Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi Zetec 5dr
Price: £22,015 £19,895
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
Power: 148bhp 138bhp
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 134mph 129mph
Economy: 68.9mpg 56.5mpg
CO2: 106g/km 124g/km
Equipment: Air-con, alloy wheels, electric windows all-round, electric mirrors, Bluetooth, cruise control, ESP Air-con, alloy wheels, electric front windows, electric mirrors, Bluetooth, ESP
Boot capacity (seats up/down): 380/1,270 litres 316/1,101 litres
Insurance group: 18 19
Road tax: £20 £100
Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles 3yrs/60,000 miles
Driver Power 2012: N/A 19th

Disqus - noscript

I am wondering is it too harsh to call this contest style vs substance? Perhaps it is. Perhaps not. Focus after all is not such a bad car. It's quite a capable car in its class. However it always seems to be in the shadow of Golf.
While Focus is an exhibitionist's car. Golf is the master of understatement to the extent of bland. Its over-priced and over-rated. But in my opinion in this competition of 2L diesels Golf though not for me is a better car.

Between the new Golf or Focus, I'd choose the Golf because while it it's bland, it isn't Focus-ugly. In my opinion, the current Fiesta is a really good looking car, then the Focus came along and totally obliterated Ford's recent reputation for designing decent looking cars. (What the [Super-F] is with those bizarre triangular air intakes upfront, and splatted rear lights!?)

I do think that friends would think the Golf was cooler, albeit a safe choice. It's probably because it isn't a 'wannabe' car like the A3, but isn't quite as crappily bold as the Focus.

I'd still personally prefer a Volvo V40 or Alfa Romeo Giulietta because Audi and BMW drivers wouldn't touch cars from a brand that created the functional but ultimately uncool boxy estate or a premium car built by [Fix It Again Tomorrow] Fiat. They've infinitely more character though.

I think its very decent of Ford to let the Focus 'be in the shadow of the Golf'....for over 12 years it has been the other way round, I wouldn't want the Focus to get sun stroke ;)

I have an issue with the article itself. Every other "test" involves cars A and B with a definite result that car A is better than B because..... This article seems to have a completely different purpose: while the Golf is a clearly superior car (and according to every other test I have read), let us try to make the Focus not seem like the loser in this test..... wishy washy in the extreme. Not what I expect from a test, here we got data rather than information..... data that you can get from any brochure, while information would come from a hands-on testing of the vehicles in question.

i would take focus but overall golf is better car!
Golf is brand new
Focus is already 3 years old!!!
it was introduced in january 2010!!!!!

Wasn't the Focus introduced in January 2011?

Hark the Herald Angels sing -
This is AE, so the Golf will win!

I wouldnt touch either as new cars. In 5 years time the focus will be a fantastic used buy, as are most fords.... But the golf will always be over hyped and over priced. Neither car have any style and both are as about as dull as you can get. How can anyone justify 20k on something this boring? And noone will ever tell u how much they like your car like they will a honda civic or alfa guiletta...

The Ford Focus is over-rated, Ford cannot match VW's tecchnology anyway

The new Honda Civic is pretty boring as well in my view, the Alfa is stunning but reliability and depreciation isn't that good.

For a AE article I think this is pretty equal. The Golf wins because it is the better car. Performance, quality, economy. May be not the looks but equipment and safety features are impressive on both. I really like the new Focus. However the Golf just feels that much better, especially inside.

The Focus is obviously an excellent car - probably one of the best vehicles on the road today. However, whoever is in charge of interior design at Ford should be sacked. This is a car, not the plastic set of the Star Ship Enterprise. The dash is truly awful, and looks very down market - a real turn off. Why would anyone spend an equivalent amount of their own hard earned cash on something that looks so cheap (they won't will they - this is why Fords are discounted so heavily) having sat in a Golf and finding that the Golf's interior is equivalent (if not better than) Audi/BMW/Merc, and that it's a real quality car. The messy, cheap silver plastic dashes (of the type you'll see in many toy shops) of all Fords these days is a real turn off. Unfortunately, today, we live in "snob Britain", probably the biggest car snobs in the world today, where the badge is more important than the vehicle. Ford need to realise that image is more important to many idiots, than the abilities of the car these days, and that making an excellent vehicle, as great as the Focus is, is simply not good enough. They need to start by giving their cars a better image, starting with the interior.

The interior really isn't that bad. I would rather have a slightly lower quality interior and good mechanical reliability than a plush interior with less reliable mechanics. The Focus is a more reliable car than the current crop of VWs. The Focus interior is a throwback to the original Focus which was a game-changer. I recently tested a 1.0T EcoBoost and was impressed with every aspect of it. If you want to sample a cheap interior climb aboard the horrific Auris.....

Totally agree, plus the extra you pay for the Golf will be recouped by lower depreciation, and 13mpg better fuel economy. Fords depreciate like stones, and are just boring troutypouty boxes.

Be interesting to see how the Golf and new Octavia will compare - my money is going on Octavia - better space, better looks, better price.

Vw does offer performance aswell in the Golf R with 270ps.....

i absolutely agree far to many buttons and heater controls that would be at home in a van! hyundai and kia's are better,need to compete with germans not koreans,spoils the rest of the car

Auto Express 1,390
For more breaking car news and reviews, subscribe to Auto Express - available as a weekly magazine and on your iPad. We'll give you 6 issues for £1 and a free gift!