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