Art­ful Eu­ros

There’s more to hatches than price — the VW, Peugeot and Ford five-doors pack com­fort and ca­chet

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE EDITOR

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. 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.

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

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