Street wise

We test Euro hatches: Golf, Fo­cus and 308

The Advertiser - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE EDITOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

JA­PANESE and Korean small cars rule the roost in Aus­tralia but in Europe it’s the Volk­swa­gen Golf first, day­light sec­ond and then Ford Fo­cus.

The Golf is start­ing to make waves here, too. It is the fourthbest sell­ing small car be­hind the Toy­ota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30. In con­trast Fo­cus sales are down by al­most 60 per cent this year.

Ford has re­acted to the drop in sales by mak­ing the cheap­est Fo­cus more than $3000 dearer. The con­tro­ver­sial strat­egy is de­signed to move the car up­mar­ket to com­pete with Euro­pean brands.

If it can com­pete with Golf in Europe, the logic goes, it can do it here. His­tory says no but we’ve de­cided to test the up­dated Golf and Fo­cus on their mer­its rather than mar­ket po­si­tion­ing. And we’ve thrown in the 2014 Euro­pean Car of the Year, the Peugeot 308.

At first glance the Fo­cus is the cheap­est here, with a start­ing RRP of $23,390. But the drive-away price for the auto is $28,206. Peugeot some months ago moved to $29,990 driveaway on its 308 Ac­tive auto and VW has the Golf Com­fort­line for $28,990 drive-away.

FORD FO­CUS

The Trend model is rea­son­ably well equipped with stan­dard sat­nav, rear park­ing sen­sors, rear cam­era, day­time run­ning lights and al­loy wheels. Un­like the other two, it has a full-size spare.

The new model’s use­ful tech­nol­ogy in­cludes MyKey, which al­lows par­ents to limit the car’s top speed and au­dio vol­ume, as well as en­sur­ing driver aids aren’t turned off. It will also con­tact emer­gency ser­vices if it de­tects you’ve had an ac­ci­dent.

But crash avoid­ance tech that’s avail­able on some other small cars is stan­dard only on the more ex­pen­sive vari­ants.

The cabin now has fewer but­tons and a more co­he­sive de­sign. The in­fo­tain­ment setup is among the best, with a clear, log­i­cal screen lay­out and voice­ac­ti­vated con­trols.

As with the Golf, the sat­nav in­struc­tions ap­pear in the in­stru­ment panel as well as on the cen­tre screen. Cheaper­look­ing fin­ishes make the cabin the least ap­peal­ing of the three.

The head­line act for the up­dated Fo­cus is a new 1.5-litre four-cylin­der turbo that pro­vides un­par­al­leled bang for the bucks in the seg­ment. Its 132kW puts the Golf ’s 92kW and Peugeot’s 96kW to shame.

Per­for­mance is dulled slightly by the fact that it is a heav­ier car, but it was still a sec­ond quicker than the Golf and two sec­onds quicker than the 308 in our timed 0-100km/h runs. It is also the nois­i­est on this test and uses more fuel.

Tweak­ing of the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing de­liv­ers mixed re­sults. The Fo­cus still feels won­der­fully planted through the cor­ners but the steer­ing has lost some of its feel.

But it’s still a solid per­former with great poise through cor­ners and a com­fort­able, com­posed ride both around town and on the open road.

PEUGEOT 308

Europe’s most cel­e­brated car jour­nal­ists can’t be wrong — or can they?

Of­ten a car that stars on Euro­pean roads is found want­ing over here.

The 308’s ini­tial prob­lem was its price tag but it no longer asks crazy money and sales are pick­ing up strongly, al­beit from a lower base.

The 308 still misses out on gear. There is no sat­nav and no re­vers­ing cam­era. It also doesn’t have the ac­ci­dent avoid­ance tech­nol­ogy avail­able (as an op­tion) on the Golf.

It gets a safety tick as the only one here that has seat belt re­minders for the rear seats, so the lit­tlies can’t slip out un­no­ticed.

The cabin mixes classy, min­i­mal­ist de­sign with in­fu­ri­at­ing foibles.

There are no knobs for the air­con, which means you have to nav­i­gate a touch­screen to change the tem­per­a­ture, and the steer­ing wheel gets in the way of the speedo, which is in odd-num­bered in­cre­ments. For good mea­sure, the tacho nee­dle spins an­ti­clock­wise.

That said, the Peugeot is com­fort­able to drive, with sup­port­ive seats and leather-

trimmed, flat- bot­tomed steer­ing wheel that feels great in the hands.

It’s a load of fun to drive through a set of twisty cor­ners. Much lighter than the Fo­cus, it turns in sharply and sits flat through the bends. It’s not per­fect, though, and can squirm a lit­tle on the ab­so­lute limit.

The ride is cushy and un­flus­tered over bumps, while the lit­tle 1.2-litre three-cylin­der is great — quiet and re­fined and sur­pris­ingly punchy for its size, matched with an in­tu­itive auto.

Rear legroom is tighter than the oth­ers but the load area is gen­er­ous.

VW GOLF

The Golf is where Fo­cus wants to be. It has Euro­pean ca­chet, out­sells the Ford three-to-one ... but does it have the sub­stance to back up the sex ap­peal?

The an­swer comes the sec­ond you slip be­hind the wheel.

It has the most up-mar­ket cock­pit of the three, with taste­ful faux-chrome high­lights and leather-trimmed gear knob and steer­ing wheel.

It is also the most prac­ti­cal, with more rear leg and head­room than the oth­ers and a boot with a wider open­ing for big­ger loads. It doesn’t skimp on equip­ment — sat­nav is stan­dard, as are dual-zone cli­mate con­trol air­con, driver fa­tigue de­tec­tion and re­vers­ing cam­era.

You can add safety op­tions. A $1500 driver as­sis­tance pack­age in­cludes adap­tive cruise con­trol, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing with rear traf­fic alert, au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing and au­to­matic park­ing.

Choose the safety pack and you also get “driv­ing pro­file se­lec­tion”, en­abling sportier throt­tle and gearshift set­tings.

On the road, the Golf loses noth­ing of its shine. Elec­tron­ics mimic an old-fash­ioned diff lock, giv­ing the car more drive out of cor­ners, while the punchy en­gine and slick-shift­ing, quick­wit­ted trans­mis­sion make progress ap­pear more rapid than the stop­watch sug­gests.

It grips im­pres­sively through cor­ners and the steer­ing is pre­cise, while the sus­pen­sion is a good com­pro­mise be­tween com­fort and com­po­sure over big­ger bumps. The ride may not be quite as plush as the Peugeot but it does a good job of iso­lat­ing oc­cu­pants from all but the sharpest bumps.

VER­DICT

The Peugeot matches en­ter­tain­ing driv­ing dy­nam­ics with a great lit­tle en­gine but it is still over­priced and un­der­done for equip­ment.

That leaves the up­dated Fo­cus and Golf.

The Golf is a bet­ter de­signed and en­gi­neered car. It de­liv­ers driv­ing thrills, com­fort and qual­ity at a level the oth­ers can’t match. At its cur­rent driveaway price of $28,990 — avail­able un­til the end of the year — it is a clear win­ner.

But at nor­mal RRPs (where the Ford is $3500 cheaper) the Fo­cus is the bet­ter buy with its size­able power and torque ad­van­tage and com­pa­ra­ble fea­ture list.

Of­ten a car that stars on Euro­pean roads is found want­ing

over here

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