Three of the best used family hatchbacks for those who don't want a diesel: But is a Focus, Golf or Astra the best choice?
- Unleaded versions of the popular Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf tested
- All three models are five years old and have declined in value by 66 to 75%
- Which one represents best value when it comes to performance, practicality and running costs?
Has the whole Dieselgate scandal put you off oil burners altogether? Or just put you off any diesel from the vast and sprawling VW Group empire?
Their future does seem less certain as cities, the EU and everyone else seems to be turning off from diesel power.
So if you're buying used, which unleaded family hatchback is the best choice? We've pitted five-year-old petrol versions of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf against each other to find out.
UK favourites: The Ford Focus (left) is the most-bought medium-sized family hatch in the country, closely followed by the VW Golf (right) and Vauxhall Astra (middle). So which of these three used models with petrol engines is the best option?
This trio of cars are the most popular family hatchbacks in the UK and have been for some time.
In the last five years alone, new versions of the Focus, Astra and Golf have found over one million new homes in Britain, meaning there's no shortage of second-hand models on the market.
We've got our hands on one of each from 2011.
Performance, handling and comfort
The Ford Focus we're using is a 1.6-litre Ecoboost Titanium, which has quite a bit of kit in this form.
The 148bhp engine gives plenty of thrust, yet has the remarkable ability of squeezing over 47 miles from a gallon of unleaded. But that’s not it.
What is it is the incredible chassis and suspension set up, which allows you to drive this like nothing matters. The turning circle is surprisingly large but that’s about it. Ford has done it again in the handling and ride departments.
You’d expect us to say the same about the Golf, but something went wrong here.
It looks the part, with lowered suspension in this 1.6 TSI 160 GT version, but the effect is to let you feel every pothole, ridge and rough surface you cross. Even it town it feels a bit fidgety and that doesn’t noticeably settle down even on the motorway.
The Volkswagen Golf holds value better than the Ford and Vauxhall but not as well as it would if it had a diesel engine instead of petrol
This GT version lacked handling flair and ride comfort. It also has a reputation for some costly repair work
However, it has a full 158 horses under the bonnet, which allows it to be the quickest accelerating car here. Not a bad gig, given that it gives away 200cc to the Ford.
At 1.4-litres, the Vauxhall has the same size engine but can only manage 138bhp in this SRi form, making it the weakest here.
It feels like a bigger difference actually. The Astra struggles in this company to keep up, and needs a good thrashing to wring what there is out of it.
The Vauxhall also has fairly unsophisticated suspension and chassis, but in reality that’s no bad thing.
It’s notably more comfortable and settled than this GT Golf, and even if it does roll a bit in the corners it clings on for grim death rather than letting go.
Unsurprisingly, the Golf has the classiest of interiors and feels much better built on the inside
The Astra (left) just manages to beat the Focus (right) for cabin quality and it also has the biggest boot of all three cars here
Interior quality and practicality
The Golf scores some good points in the cabin though. It’s all very neatly laid out, and of course well built. This way you not only get quality you also get practicality as well.
At first glance the Vauxhall layout for the driver is really rather smart, more so than the others, but it loses a bit of ground for ease of use.
The Ford is just a bit humdrum and the build quality was less than exemplary.
The Astra has the biggest boot, and the Focus the smallest, but rear passenger space is pretty good in all of them.
The Vauxhall Astra represents 'excellent value for money' - we reckon a green one like this would have depreciated more so than other colours, too
The Astra feels like the biggest car of all three on test, though of the models we featured it had the least power
Running costs and the depreciation effect
Which one of these you’d choose is partly dependent on your budget.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Golf is more expensive used, just as it is the most expensive new.
However, the Ford Focus isn’t that far away in cost terms which suggests that people are keener on diesel Golfs than petrol ones and buyers really love the petrol-powered Focus.
This also means that, if the budget is tight, then you’ll have to settle for an older and/or higher mileage Golf than with the others.
But for the money the Vauxhall Astra represents a great deal indeed.
It’s bad news if you’re selling one at this age since you’ll have taken quite a hit on the depreciation, more so than with the Ford Focus. Since they cost about the same new, the figures are there for everyone to see.
But if you’re buying now, it’s a happy hunting ground, with a lot of the loss already written down, so you’ll have less to lose than if you buy the Golf.
The Astra is also the cheapest to run, and reliability seems generally fine, as it is with the Ford Focus. It’s the Golf where there may be expensive repair issues, which is something to bear in mind.
All three of these cars cost notably less than their diesel alternatives, so unless you’re doing a ton of miles per year any of them make good sense.
In the Titanium spec we tested, the Focus comes extremely well equipped. It also means you get bigger, more stylish wheels that don't hamper the suspension comfort too much
The Focus has the edge over the rivals when it comes to on-road performance. For a fairly standard family car, it's brilliant to drive
Cars & motoring verdict
But the surprise for some is that the VW Golf comes last here. Sure, it’s well made – it’s a Golf for pity’s sake – but we just couldn’t get on with that handling and ride, and we’re not enamoured about tales of expensive repairs either.
Which means the cheaper and simpler Vauxhall Astra nudges into second place. It does a lot of things well and, for the money, it represents not only a cheap car but also a car that is excellent value for money.
However, the Ford Focus in this Ecoboost Titanium level is a cut above both the other two.
It looks great, comes full of equipment and has a great engine.
And did we mention the incredible handling? This is the full-on driver’s car here, and it’s noticeable by just how far it beats the VW Golf, so often the yardstick and the champion. Not this time.
FACTS & FIGURES: FORD FOCUS VS VAUXHALL ASTRA VS VW GOLF
1st: Ford Focus
Specification tested: 1.6 Ecoboost Titanium
Engine size: 1.6-litre turbo petrol
List price when new: £19,745
Price today*: From £6,700
Torque: 177lb ft
Top speed: 125mph
Fuel economy: 47.1mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
2nd: Vauxhall Astra
Specification tested: 1.4 T SRi
Engine size: 1.4-litre turbo petrol
List price when new: £19,770
Price today*: From £5,000
Torque: 148lb ft
Top speed: 124mph
Fuel economy: 47.9mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions: 138g/km
3rd: VW Golf
Specification tested: 1.4TSI 160 GT
Engine size: 1.4-litre petrol turbo
List price when new: £21,540
Price today*: £7,800
Torque: 177lb ft
Top speed: 131mph
Fuel economy: 44.8mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions: 145g/km
*Guide price for a 2011 example with average mileage (50,000) and full service history, correct at time of writing
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