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Ford Focus vs Vauxhall Astra: family hatchbacks do battle

Compact hatches have been a staple of both brands’ line-ups for decades

The Vauxhall Astra has gone through some big changes in its life, but few have been quite as radical as the transformation from the seventh generation to the current car. A large part of that stemmed from Vauxhall’s transfer from General Motors to PSA (now Stellantis) ownership, so the Astra was a complete clean-sheet design – and not just in terms of the sharp exterior styling. 

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Under the skin, it uses the EMP2 platform that also underpins a range of Peugeot, Citroen and DS models. That allowed the Astra to take a leap forward in terms of safety assistance systems, in-car tech and powertrains; in the case of the latter, it means that buyers can choose from petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and even fully-electric versions. 

The latter are quite pricey, so unless you’re a company car user that will save cash thanks to Benefit-in-Kind deductions, we’d stick with the 129bhp 1.2-litre petrol turbo. Paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, it gets the job done. Our real- world driving chalked up a fuel efficiency figure of 47mpg for this model, pipping its equivalent in the Focus line-up, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, by 2.4mpg – not bad considering the Vauxhall also offers marginally stronger performance.

The last time we pitted the Focus against the Astra was back in August 2022. On that occasion, the Vauxhall emerged victorious by the narrowest of margins over the Ford. Most impressive was that both cars had the talent to see off the Volkswagen Golf

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Revisiting this pair again confirms just how close this contest remains. The Ford manages to beat its rival in one or two key areas; settle inside the cabin, and you might think it doesn’t quite offer the contemporary feel of its competitor, but that huge 13.2-inch infotainment display is more intuitive to use than the Astra’s, while the Focus also has its rival beaten for rear legroom. Mercifully, unlike some other brands, both cars have kept physical buttons for the climate controls. 

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When it comes to handling, the Ford is still the car to have. The way that the Focus carves through bends with agility and composure has been a hallmark of the badge ever since the first model burst onto the scene in 1997. But this generation of Astra runs the Ford closer than any previous model when it comes to driver involvement, and it’s also a little more refined. Both cars have a fairly firm ride by the general standards of the class, but the Astra is better at insulating noise from suspension knocks.

When a couple of cars are as closely matched as these two, the end result will often be decided by finances, and here it’s the Vauxhall that holds the upper hand. Pick our choices from each range – the Astra GS 1.2-litre petrol and the Focus Titanium 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol – and a representative quote on a three-year PCP deal with a £5,000 deposit and a 12,000-mile annual limit sees the Astra weigh in at £326 a month – £16 per month less than the Focus. 

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Both have competitive offers to tempt buyers, too. Vauxhall currently has a hefty deposit contribution of £3,450 on this model, which is enough to offset the zero-per-cent finance available to Focus buyers. If comparing specs, the GS offers 17-inch alloys, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree parking camera and heated front seats – none of which the Focus Titanium has.

Results

Our choice: Vauxhall Astra

The latest Astra is one of the most convincing cars to wear the badge, and one of the best in the current Vauxhall line-up. It’s good to drive, well equipped and keenly priced. The range of powertrains just manages to swing things the way of the Vauxhall in this contest.

ProsCons
Keen pricingFirm ride
Huge range of choiceRear legroom

Runner up: Ford Focus

The Focus loses here, but only by the narrowest of margins. If you appreciate in-car tech and regularly carry tall passengers, then it’s the car to have, but the Astra’s stronger value and wider choice of powertrains make it the better overall package.

ProsCons
Sharp handlingLess refined than Astra
Great infotainment techNot as quick or efficient as its rival

Figures

 Ford Focus ST-Line X EditionVauxhall Astra Ultimate 1.2 Turbo
On-the-road price£29,320£32,620
Powertrain3cyl in-line/999cc3cyl in-line/1,199cc
Power/torque123/170bhp/Nm129/170bhp/Nm
Transmission6-speed manual/FWD8-speed auto/FWD
Length/wheelbase4,382/2,700mm4,374/2,675mm
Height/width1,475/1,825mm1,432/1,860mm
Boot capacity (seats up/down)375/1,354 litres422/1,339 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,330/565/1,100kg1,371/509/1,200kg
Turning circle/spare wheel11 metres/space saver10.5m/dealer-fit option
Basic warranty/recovery3 yrs (60k)/1 yr3 yrs (60k)/1 yr
Driver Power manufacturer position28th24th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars85/87/72/75/5 (2018 )80/82/67/66/4 (2022)
0-62mph/top speed10.2 secs/124mph9.7 secs***/130mph
WLTP economy/EV range44.6mpg49.6mpg
Claimed CO2/tax bracket123g/km/29%128g/km/30%
Airbags/Isofix/parking sensors/cam.Seven/two/f&r/£500*Six/two/f&r/360
Lane keep/blindspot/AEBYes/£450/yesYes/yes/yes
Climate control/cruise controlYes/yesYes/yes
Leather/heated seats/metallic paintNo/£500**/£800£2,100/yes/£600
LEDs/keyless entry & go/pwr tailgateYes/yes/noYes/yes/no
DAB/connected servicesYes/yesYes/yes
Satellite navigation/digital dashYes/yesYes/yes
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android AutoYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes

Ford vs Vauxhall

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Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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