Ford Focus VS Volkswagen Golf
- Refined styling
- Roomy interior
- Advanced safety equipment
- Blind spot warning standard only on Titanium
- Auto transmission can seem indecisive
- No manual gearbox
- Ride comfort
- Conservative styling
- Diesel engines' noise levels
- Premium unleaded only
Ford has just released its new-generation Ford Focus. Do you know what that means? It means we're at a monumental point in history that, while nobody will ever really remember it, could impact you greatly.
Because like the automotive equivalent of planetary alignment, we are reaching a moment when Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford will have all brought their latest-gen small cars to market at about the same time.
Okay, you may not find that exciting. But it means you've now got the most current technology, styling and safety features to choose from right across the board, with Ford the latest to throw everything it's got at its new small-car contender.
All that and more as we take you through the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus, where we tested the hatch in the Trend and ST-Line grades, and the new wagon, too.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Volkswagen Golf. More than 33 million produced over 40 years and seven generations. It's not quite more popular than blue jeans, or the iPhone, but it's close.
Actually, make that seven and a half generations, because this is Golf 7.5; as the name implies, a substantial mid-life upgrade of the current model.
So, to raise the stakes and, it's hoping, sales, VW has injected new life into its hugely respected marquee player with a range of design tweaks and tech upgrades.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Different but more refined looks, a smaller but powerful-for-its-size engine, plenty of advanced safety equipment and more room than ever before, the new Ford Focus is much better than the model before it. And it has to be – the competition is fierce.
The sweet spot in the range is the ST-Line hatch with its long list of standard features, comfortable ride and impressive handling.
Is the new Focus a car to take on the might of Hyundai and Toyota? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The Golf 7.5 is a great package from top to bottom. Volkswagen has hit all the right marks to bring its already excellent offering up to the pointy end of the intensely competitive small-car segment. And we think the entry-point 110TSI offers the best value of all. With high-end safety tech, amazing dynamics, a snappy drivetrain and sharp (introductory) drive-away pricing it will give the market leaders something to think about. And buyers as well.
Has Volkswagen done enough with this upgrade to put the Golf on your small car shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
This new-generation Focus is completely new, and that goes for its design, the structure of the vehicle and the platform that underpins it all.
That grille, though poutier than before, still makes this new car recognisable as a Focus, but the rest of the car’s styling is a fairly big step away from the look of the previous model. The nose looks more elongated and turned down, and the headlights have an irregular shape (which somehow works) and they're helped to look more defined by the LED running lights that sit above each headlight like an eyebrow.
That front-end may take some getting used to, but I think most will like the rear exterior styling straight away. The hoisted-up style to the rear of the previous car is gone and the illusion is now a car which sits lower and level. I particularly like the Focus badging across the tailgate, too, which is reminiscent of Fords of the 1960s.
The car’s profile has changed, too, with the window structure simplified. Previous versions of the car had rear quarter glass; a small porthole which looked into the boot. That's now been incorporated into the door glass, which means the rear passenger aperture is larger.
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of its galaxy of buttons, and that busy interior has given way to a more minimalist design with many of the functions moved to the large dash-top screen. That said, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons for my liking or need.
Telling the grades apart may not be obvious at first, but the ST-Line car is recognisable thanks to the blacked-out grille, more aggressive bumper treatment with its air-blade style design around the fog lights, and its twin exhaust. The car itself sits 10mm lower on sport suspension.
You can pick a Titanium from the inside by its leather-accented seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and the B&O sound system speakers.
The ST-Line’s seats are upholstered in a mesh-fibre material with leather accents and red-stitching, and there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic brake and accelerator pedals. The wagon version of the Focus only comes in the ST-Line grade, and it comes with roof rails and a cargo cover.
The Active grade is the most recognisable of the Focus family due its higher-riding stance and its plastic wheel-arch cladding. The Active suspension has it sitting 35mm higher than a Trend grade, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the overall affect is quite dramatic, giving the Active a true SUV-like appearance.
There are nine colours to choose from, including Ruby Red, Orange Glow, Desert Island Blue, Blue Metallic, Shadow Black, Magnetic, Moondust Silver, Metropolis White and Frozen White.
At 4378mm end to end, the Focus hatch is 18mm longer than the previous model, while at 1454mm tall it's 13mm shorter, and it's 1979mm wide including the wing mirrors.
Unveiled late last year at the Paris Motor Show, the new Golf is available in three flavours – the familiar hatch, and a compact wagon, with the latter forming the basis of an all-wheel-drive, Alltrack variant.
From a design point of view you'll be hard-pressed to pick the Golf 7.5, with exterior changes focused on new headlights, revised front guards, and a restyled bumper. Think of it as an almost unnoticeable haircut.
At the back, the bumper has also been refreshed, and LED tail-lights are now standard across the range.
The wagon is a handsome alternative to the ubiquitous compact SUV, with the lines of the roof and glasshouse (identical to the hatch from nose to C-pillar) flowing seamlessly into a gently tapering and neatly composed rear end.
Inside, there's a new 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support standard on all models (as well as a 'Mirror Link' function for full Wi-Fi connection of tablet or mobile devices).
It's surprising how much of a difference the sleek new screen makes to the interior. Suddenly, the Golf's already premium character has been lifted to a different level.
The cool and classy cabin layout is otherwise largely unchanged, highlighted with dark accents on the volume models, and 'piano black' inserts on the Highline. The quality and attention to design detail are obvious.
The new Focus is longer by about 18mm, but it’s the wheelbase which has increased the most dramatically (by 52mm) and that means more space inside.
I’m 191cm tall and I can just sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seatback – I wasn’t able to do that in the previous Focus. Headroom is also great for me in the backseat.
The entire cabin feels roomy, actually. For this new model the dashboard was moved 100mm further forward, opening up more space in the cockpit. Even the gear shifter being a rotary dial has freed up room.
Storage throughout is pretty good, with a deep centre console bin covered by the armrest and a hidey-hole in front of the shifter, plus two cup holders and big bottle holders in the doors up front. The door pockets in the back are big, too, but there are no cupholders in the second row.
Boot space is for the hatch is 341 litres packed to the cargo cover with a space saver spare, while the wagon’s cargo capacity is 575 litres. With the back row down, the hatch can fit 1320 litres and the wagon can do 1620 litres.
At just under 4.3 metres long the Golf hatch is small, but by no means cramped. There's tonnes of room and storage space up front with two cupholders, door pockets with bottle holders, and plenty of oddments space including a decent glovebox and a lidded bin between the seats.
All but the entry model pick-up another pair of cupholders in the rear, with adjustable air conditioning vents and flow control in the back of the front centre console, too.
Speaking of the back, there's heaps of room in there. I'm 183cm tall, and sitting behind my own driving position, I enjoyed surprisingly generous head and legroom.
Volkswagen claims 380 litres of cargo volume with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up, and a generous 1270 litres with them tipped forward.
Pushing towards 4.6 metres in length, the Golf wagon only nudges up 15mm in the wheelbase, so passenger accommodation is virtually identical to the hatch. And not surprisingly, it's in the luggage department where things start to diverge.
Even with the 60/40 split folding rear seats up the wagon boasts a hefty 605 litres of load space, growing to a cavernous 1620 litres with the second-row seats folded.
Price and features
Ford has priced its new Focus competitively compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3, but its most affordable grade does kick off at a slightly higher level than the entry-level cars for those other brands.
That start point for the Focus hatch range is the Trend grade, with a list price of $25,990. Above it is the ST-Line, which is a sporty spec, for $28,990. And at the top of the hatch range is the $34,490 Titanium. There’s also a wagon version of the Focus in the ST-Line grade for $30,990.
But wait, there’s more. Ford is offering an SUV-style version of the Focus for the first time. It's called the Focus Active, and it'll cost $29,990. We’ll cover the physical differences between it and the rest of range in the Design section below.
Coming standard on the Trend is an eight-inch display screen with sat nav, Ford’s Sync3 voice activated media system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hot spot, single-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rotary-style gear shifter, LED running lights, paddle shifters, halogen headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec ST-Line takes the Trend’s features and adds dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, floor mats, puddle lamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys wheels. There’s also the sports suspension, which we’ll cover in the Driving and Engine sections.
The top-of-the-range Titanium brings a B&O 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, leather accented upholstery, roof rails and LED headlights.
Headline news is an aggressive introductory drive-away pricing strategy, designed to challenge the traditionally cheaper segment leaders, with the standard features list growing appreciably at the same time.
The previous entry-level 92TSI hatch has departed the building, with pricing now set across an $18.5k band from $23,990 drive-away (MSRP $23,990) for the 110TSI, to the all-wheel-drive Alltrack 135TDI Premium at $42,490 drive-away (MSRP $40,990).
The hatch offers a choice of four grades - base, Trendline, Comfortline, and Highline - with the current 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine powering all of them. A 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 110TDI version is available in the top-shelf Highline spec.
For that shrinking pool of people familiar with three pedals across the driver's footwell, a six-speed manual gearbox is available in the base and Trendline models, with Volkswagen's excellent 'DSG' dual-clutch auto offered across the line-up.
The wagon range comprises the top three grades, with diesel again an option on the primo Highline. The DSG dual-clutch is the only transmission available.
The Alltrack is a two-grade affair – base and Premium - with the choice of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol, or higher output 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, with any gearbox you like, as long as it's a DSG (six-speed for the petrol, and seven for the diesel).
The entry-level 110TSI hatch is anything but a 'bait and switch' price-leader. It's loaded with everything from cruise control (with speed limit function) to seven airbags and driver-fatigue detection.
In fact, on top of the new multimedia screen and its connected functionality, all Golfs are now also fitted with auto emergency braking (AEB), alloy wheels (of various sizes), air-con, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, and a rear-view camera as standard.
Step into to the Trendline from $25,490 drive-away (MSRP $24,990), and things like rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, parking sensors, different 16-inch alloys, and a rear centre armrest (with cupholders) come your way.
Then the Comfortline from $29,990 drive-away (MSRP $28,990) adds 17-inch rims, dual-zone climate control air, 'Comfort' front seats, chrome interior and exterior highlights (including the wagon's roof rails), and a storage drawer under the front passenger seat.
Stump up for the Highline from $35,990 (MSRP $34,490) and the fruit starts to tumble in, with the highlights including 'leather-appointed' trim, 'Comfort Sport' front seats with electric adjustment and memory function for the driver, keyless entry and start, interior ambient lighting, LED headlights and a panoramic electric glass sunroof.
Three option packs are offered – 'Infotainment' ($2300), available on Comfortline and Highline, brings the excellent 'Active Info' configurable instrument display. It also adds 'Discover Pro' multimedia, delivered through a larger 9.2-inch screen, managing sat nav and other functions via gesture, touch, and voice control, as well as a top-shelf Dynaudio sound system.
'Park Assist', taking over the wheel for perpendicular or parallel parking manoeuvrers, is the star of the 'Driver Assistance' package ($1500), and the R-Line pack ($2500) brings the look, and some of the feel, of the GTI and Golf R, with a bodykit, bigger rims, and tuned suspension.
The entry-level Alltrack 132TSI at $35,990 drive-away (MSRP $34,490) is close to the hatch and wagon's Highline spec, although you'll need to opt for the flagship Premium version from $39,990 (MSRP $38,490) to pick up the partial leather trim, heated front seats and LED headlights.
Alltrack option packs are 'Driver Assistance' ($1800), 'Infotainment' ($2300), and 'Sport Luxury' ($2900), which includes 18-inch alloys, the electric seat adjustment, panoramic roof, and more.
Engine & trans
The new Focus has been given a new engine! It’s a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol, but don’t let that put you off - it makes as much grunt as the four cylinder in the old Focus. Actually, at 134kW, it makes 2kW more power and the same amount of torque (240Nm). Cylinder-deactivation allows the engine to run on two when not under much load, which is even more frugal.
The old six-speed auto has been replaced with an eight-speed automatic – it’s not a dual-clutch, it’s a traditional torque-converter auto. The Focus doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, and is front-wheel drive.
The Golf hatch and wagon range is in large part powered by the EA211 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, a stalwart of the Australian Golf range since the seventh-generation version arrived here in 2013.
Featuring 16 valves, direct-injection, and a single turbocharger, in Golf 7.5 guise it produces 110kW from 5000-6000rpm, and 250Nm across a broad plateau from just 1500-3500rpm.
Base and Trendline models are available with a six-speed manual, while VW's excellent (and ever-improving) 'DSG' dual-clutch auto spans the line-up.
If diesel's more your thing, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit is available on the Highline model, producing an identical 110kW at 3500-4000rpm, with torque stepping up to 340Nm from 1750-3000rpm.
The diesel's a manual-free zone, with the seven-speed DSG the only option, but no matter what type of transmission you choose, drive goes exclusively to the front wheels.
Climbing (modest) mountains and fording (gentle) streams is the Alltrack's department, with power coming courtesy of a 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four, delivering 132kW from 4500-6200rpm and 280Nm from 1350-4500rpm.
Alternately, a higher output version of the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four is an option on the high-spec Alltrack Premium, delivering 135kW from 3500-4000rpm, and an even gruntier 380Nm, the peak arriving at 1750rpm and hanging around until 3000rpm.
Petrol Alltracks are fitted with a six-speed dual clutch auto, while the diesel features an extra ratio, both sending drive to all four wheels via the '4Motion' permanent all-wheel drive system.
Built around an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch pack, 4Motion uses an ECU integrated with the car's ESC set-up to continuously vary the torque split between front and rear axles.
According to Ford, the three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the Focus will use 6.4L/100km of fuel after a combination of urban and open-road driving. My mileage in the Trend grade, according to the car’s trip computer, was 9.4L/100km after 487.9km of country roads.
Not all of those kilometres were mine, mind, but that was the average after four different drivers had been behind the wheel.
Gone are the days where a manual gearbox would outperform an auto transmission in the battle of the bowser.
Volkswagen claims the base (petrol, manual) Golf will consume 5.7L/100km on the combined (urban/extra urban) cycle, emitting 133g/km of CO2 in the process.
But swap out the manual for a dual-clutch, and that figure drops to 5.4L/100km for the hatch (128g/km) and 5.6 for the wagon (131g/km).
Tick the diesel option for the top-shelf Highline and your wallet will be even happier; the hatch consuming just 4.9L/100km (129g/km), and the wagon a round 5.0 (132g/km).
Step up to the Alltrack petrol and you're looking at 6.8L/100km (160g/km), with the high-output diesel sipping only 5.4 (142g/km).
The fuel tank in the hatch and wagon holds 50 litres, while the Alltrack's grows to 55 litres. And it's worth noting the petrol units are tuned for minimum 95RON premium unleaded.
The Active and Titanium grades weren’t available to drive at the Australian launch of the Focus, but I did get to drive the ST-Line in hatch and wagon form, as well as the Trend hatch.
The ST-Line hatch is the sporty one in the Focus range, even though it has the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Trend (and the Titanium). What makes it sporty is its sports suspension. Does it work? Absolutely, although I didn’t realise just how well until I drove the Trend hatch after steering its ST-Line brother for a few hours first.
Three-cylinder engines tend to have a satisfying little burble to their exhaust notes, but the ST-Line hatch I started in had a particularly deep growl to it at idle. While the ST-Line does have a dual exhaust, the engine output is the same as any other Focus, and so the gravelly voice is more theatrics than suggesting the car is any more potent than a Trend.
What the ST-Line does do without any drama is handle well, because even though it has a torsion bar set-up in the rear (like the Trend), it also has a lowered ride height and a sports suspension tune. It’s not Focus ST-level of agility by any means, but the ST-Line hatch felt nicely pinned down in the bends, with excellent steering feel and accuracy ensuring it is a genuinely fun car to drive.
What I didn’t know until I drove the Trend hatch is that the firmer sports suspension actually gives a more comfortable ride in the ST-Line than the base-grade car. The Trend, like the Titanium, has softer suspension, which you’d think would offer the best ride, but I found that over the bumps and bruises of country roads, the Trend’s ride was comfortable but bit bouncy, while the ST-Line was more composed and meant the occupants weren’t jiggled around as much.
The award for the most comfortable ride and best handling of the three cars I drove goes to the ST-Line wagon with its sports-tuned multi-link rear suspension. Yup, the cargo hauler of the range was also the best to drive from a comfort and fun perspective, with its compliant suspension keeping life civilised inside the cabin over bumps, while also feeling planted in the switchback and hairpins that cut through country Victoria.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic (you can’t get a manual), but it’s super keen to shift to a higher gear as early as possible, and when sitting at about 100km/h on a motorway, it was indecisive about which gear it wanted to be in; go 104km/h and it shifted up, drop to 97km/h and it shifted down. Up, down, up, down, up... well, you get the idea.
When it came time to drive roads which went all bendy, the transmission still tried to take the fun out by shifting up and bogging the car down in lower revs. The solution was to leave the car in Sport mode, which instructs the gearbox to cling to lower gears for longer. I kept the Trend and ST-Lines in Sport mode most of the time I drove them – it didn’t affect the ride (the cars suspension isn’t adaptive), but the throttle response and shifting was perfect for all driving, whether I was flinging through the winding country roads or trundling through town centres.
All three – the Trend hatch, ST-Line Hatch and ST-Line wagon - performed well, with the ST-Line duo feeling like they were approaching or even matching Volkswagen Golf levels of agility and composure.
At no point did I feel that the three-cylinder was under powered - it’s a surprisingly responsive and grunty engine.
The overriding, almost overwhelming first impression in driving any recent Golf is the outstanding ride quality. You'd swear the wheelbase was half as long again, because it rides like a larger, luxury car.
Even the entry-level vehicle is quiet, comfortable, and refined. Steering feel is great, and the petrol 1.4 is smooth and eager; there's simply no way you'd pick it as a turbo.
Volkswagen claims 8.2 seconds for the sprint from 0-100km/h for the base car, whether you're shifting the gears yourself or the tricky dual-clutch is doing it for you.
That's pretty much the Goldilocks performance zone for a car that's likely to do most of its work in the urban jungle, yet needs to retain the ability to confidently stride out onto the open road when required.
The diesel version is only fractionally slower to licence-loss velocity (8.6sec), and while it doesn't feel as revvy and urgent, it packs a satisfying punch of mid-range torque. It is definitely and noticeably noisier, though.
As usual, the Golf is a model of ergonomic efficiency, with the new multimedia screen enhancing ease of use and connectivity, the seats front and rear are comfortable yet supportive, and you're spoiled for choice between the sweet six-speed manual and rapid-fire DSG (with wheel-mounted paddles on upper variants).
The wagon employs the same strut front, four-link rear suspension arrangement as the hatch, and despite its extra length and interior volume it gives nothing away in terms of noise suppression or general refinement.
Moving up the spec pecking order from 16-, through 17-, to optional 18-inch alloy wheels does nothing to compromise overall composure;, body control is exceptional, and the brakes are agreeably progressive.
Response from the Alltrack's more powerful engines is partially offset by an increase in kerb weight (petrol +165kg / diesel +101kg), with the 1.8-litre petrol and high-output 2.0-litre diesel both recording 7.8sec 0-100km/h. But despite its more macho appearance and SUV-focused rubber, the Alltrack is an equally refined drive.
The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Standard across the range are seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition - the latter of which can read speed limits for you.
The Titanium comes standard with a lane-centre system, which I tested and found it works seriously well – drift out of your lane and the system rapidly yanks you back in again. Only the Titanium comes with blind spot warning, which is odd considering the impressive advanced safety tech that’s already standard across the range
Auto parking is optional only on the Titanium, and can be used for parallel or perpendicular parking. Also standard on all is a 180-degree split-view camera, but front parking sensors are only available to option on the Titanium – again, that’s a bit odd.
A space-saver spare is found under the boot floor for all grades. For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts in the second row.
The new-generation Focus was developed in Europe and built in Germany.
Golfs of all descriptions incorporate an impressive array of standard safety tech, including active features like cruise control (with programmable speed limiter), distance warning display, driver fatigue detection, AEB, ABS, EBD, BA, EDL, multi-collision brake, ASR, tyre-pressure indicator, and a rear-view camera.
And when all that isn't enough to avoid a collision, no less than seven airbags are on board (driver and front passenger head and side, driver's knee and front and rear curtain).
There are three child-restraint top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
As well as the previously mentioned auto-parking feature, the optional driver assistance package includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind spot monitor, and rear traffic alert.
Although the 7.5 upgrade hasn't been specifically tested by ANCAP, the current Golf scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed at launch in early 2013.
Volkswagen Australia's new-vehicle warranty covers three years/unlimited km, with paint covered for the same period, and the main steel body structure is under warranty for no less than 12 years (unlimited km).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, with indicative costs for the first five years/75,000km ranging from a low of $318, to a high of $751, for a total of $2276, and an average of $455 per service.