Eighth time lucky? Well, no

- Cars · Consumer Goods · Peugeot S.A. · Volkswagen · Volkswagen · BMW · Peugeot 205

The Fo­cus is more fun to drive than any main­stream hatch since, well, the first Fo­cus, and the Peu­geot 205 be­fore it. It’s the most af­ford­able car of these three, the least pre­ten­tious, its en­gine is a peach, it’s prac­ti­cal and, for some, its in­cred­i­bly fluid and ad­justable han­dling make it the win­ner. But for the rest of us the Ford is lack­ing in this com­pany; its in­te­rior feels a gen­er­a­tion be­hind, and it’s short of the gotta-have-one ap­peal the Ger­mans have be­stowed upon their new-gen­er­a­tion hatches.

The Golf is laud­ably am­bi­tious, democratis­ing the kind of de­sign and tech­nol­ogy pre­vi­ously re­served for cars four times its price. It is by some mar­gin the most com­fort­able car here, and it drives beau­ti­fully – not as in­volv­ing or lively as the 1-se­ries or the Fo­cus, sure, but with an end­lessly pleas­ing bal­ance of agility, com­po­sure and re­fine­ment.

But for the first time in ages there are a cou­ple of rea­sons why you might not buy a Golf. One of them, para­dox­i­cally, is its show-stop­ping in­te­rior. It’s beau­ti­fully put to­gether, stun­ning to be­hold and a timely re­minder of the fun­da­men­tals the Golf has al­ways got right: great vis­i­bil­ity, su­perbly sup­port­ive seats with plenty of ad­just­ment, and a sense of space at odds with the car’s size. But the new in­ter­face just isn’t in­tu­itive enough. Even if you’re a dig­i­tal na­tive, flu­ency will take some soak time. Volk­swa­gen should be ap­plauded for tak­ing a risk on the new Golf ’s cabin (par­tic­u­larly since the ex­te­rior is so safe) and, had it been more cau­tious, it would be weath­er­ing crit­i­cism for be­ing dull. But the truth is the other cars are eas­ier to gel with.

The other rea­son is the 1-se­ries. It blends much of the fun of the Fo­cus with the pre­mium sheen of the Golf, and has a more mem­o­rable char­ac­ter than ei­ther. Its cabin is less at­trac­tive than the Volk­swa­gen’s but more in­tu­itive to op­er­ate, and more ex­pres­sive than the Ford’s. In the BMW’s mi­gra­tion to a Golf-es­que en­gi­neer­ing layout, it’s a shame that the hatch world has lost one of its few icon­o­clasts in favour of a more ho­mogenised de­sign. But the re­al­ity is that go­ing trans­verse and front-drive has made the 1-se­ries a more well-rounded car than ever – just as a new Golf turns up hop­ing the BMW’s still bril­liantly weird. It isn’t: now it’s just bril­liant. And it wins.

 ??  ?? The Fo­cus finds its Ger­man coun­ter­parts in re­flec­tive moods
The Fo­cus finds its Ger­man coun­ter­parts in re­flec­tive moods
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