Volkswagen Golf vs Ford Focus: The Verdict

Both the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus are household names. In the family hatchback world, they reign supreme, offering great levels of versatility and spaciousness at a price that is easy to swallow for most drivers.

If you’re after out-and-out versatility and space, then it’s the Blue Oval’s offering that we’d be leaning towards. It’s got the best seats-down boot room, while the interior plastics will stand up well to the rigours of family life.

However, if a refined driving experience and the latest tech are what you’re after, then the Golf remains the champ while its mild-hybrid engines provide an excellent blend of performance and efficiency.

In the battle of Volkswagen Golf vs Ford Focus, there are plenty of key areas of comparison, however, so let’s take a closer look at these two competitors.

The Golf vs The Focus

We’re going to be taking a look through some of the key features that both the Golf and Focus offer so that you’re able to pick out which one appeals to you.

1. What you need to know about the Ford Focus

The Ford Focus ripped up the rulebook when it hit the scene in the early 2000s. Here was a car which looked great, felt superb to drive and yet delivered everything on a budget. As it has grown, the Focus has become more upmarket and a bit more expensive, but remains a superb option as a family car.

The latest generation, introduced in 2018, has all the hallmark Focus features that you could want. It’s far more dynamic to drive than you might expect, ensuring that even the dreariest of commutes can be changed into something a bit more exciting.

Plus, with a range of punchy yet economical engine choices, the Focus manages to be both fun-to-drive and inexpensive to keep running. Remember, too, that a performance ‘ST‘ version sits at the top of tree.

Best Features

  • Huge popularity means that there’s plenty of choice in the used market.
  • Good variety of engines to suit all types of drivers.
  • Room inside – the Focus is great for taller drivers and passengers.

Things to consider

  • Some interior plastics feel a bit cheap and nasty.
  • Ride is quite firm – particularly on sportier trim levels.
  • Facelift arrived in 2015 – so look for cars built after that time for the sharpest design.

2. What you need to know about the Volkswagen Golf

A sight on our roads for more than 50 years now, the Volkswagen Golf is often seen as the ‘ideal’ everyday car. Just as suited to life swanning around the city as it is storming up and down the motorway, the Golf is, for many people, a car that ticks all the boxes.

The latest eighth-generation car brought a more tech-focused approach than we’d ever seen on a Golf, with a stronger focus on screens and displays.

It remains a great to car to drive, mind you, and while the Focus may lean towards dynamic handling, the Golf is more about comfort – though sporty GTI, GTD, GTE and R versions do add some extra spice into this Volkswagen’s recipe.

Best Features

  • The latest Golf feels more premium than ever, with good materials used throughout.
  • There’s plenty of space inside with good levels of head- and legroom for all those inside.
  • Sportier versions of the Golf add some extra excitement into the mix – the R is particularly capable.

Things to consider

  • This latest Golf ditched a lot of physical buttons – make sure you test this setup out before buying to make sure you’re happy.
  • While material quality is good overall, some of the plastics used around the infotainment screen don’t feel the best.
  • Used prices for Volkswagen Golfs are always strong – bear in mind you may have to pay a slight premium for one.

3. The best features

If you’re looking at the Focus then there’s plenty to dive into. As we’ve mentioned, this Ford offers excellent build quality that feels nicely made but also robust. This makes it great for busy families and, if you’ve got kids in tow, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to access the rear seats of the Focus.

Efficiency is a great plus-point for the Focus; pick the 94bhp diesel and you could see up to 64.2mpg, while the petrols will still achieve up to 50.4mpg. The lowest insurance group you’ll find a Focus sitting in is 11, too, so you shouldn’t have to worry about sky-high premiums.

When it comes to Golf, things do feel a bit more upmarket. As we’ve touched on, some of the plastics around the screen feel a bit cheap, but elsewhere it’s all very bang-on Volkswagen. Space is good through with loads of headroom – thanks to the Golf’s boxy shape – while the boot is easy to access too.

More than anything we love the Golf’s refinement as it makes longer journeys a breeze while the ride is perfectly suited to dealing with the UK’s pothole-covered roads.

The Focus's best features

  • Excellent build quality throughout the car
  • Great fuel efficiency across the range of engines
  • Affordable insurance premiums

The Golf’s best features

  • Plenty of headroom and space within the Golf
  • The Golf offers an upmarket feel to its interior
  • The refinement and ride comfort make longer journeys enjoyable

4. The driving experience

As we’ve touched on, driving the Golf is all about comfort. Don’t think, however, that it’s some squashy, roly-poly hatchback as it’s more than capable enough through the bends.

On the motorway it’s smooth and quiet, so it’s be perfect for shorter commutes or longer journeys on the weekends. On sportier versions you’ll find a lowered, firmer suspension setup which does help the Golf to feel keener through the bends, but means it’s a bit sharper when travelling over poor surfaces.

Switch to the Focus and you’ll find things feel altogether sharper. Ford’s hatchback has always delivered a great driving experience and this latest version is no different, though it can feel a bit firm at times.

Switch to an ST-Line version and this firmness is taken up a notch, but some drivers might find that an easy trade-off against the sportier look and bigger wheels you get with this grade.

Driving experience in the Focus

  • Ford Focus offers a sharp driving experience
  • ST-Line version offers a sportier look and bigger wheels
  • Some may find the firmness of the ST-Line a worthy trade-off

Driving experience in the Golf

  • Comfort is a key highlight whilst driving the Golf
  • Smooth and quiet on the motorway and suitable for short commutes or weekend trips.
  • Sportier trims have a lowered suspension for a sharper feel.

5. How do they look inside and out?

The Golf arrived with a more futuristic look for this eighth-generation car. With a full-width light bar at front and rear, it looked a lot more space-age than its predecessor.

It’s much the same story inside, as Volkswagen took a more button-free approach than we’d seen before. The screen has been known to be buggy – so make sure you play about with any car you’re looking at.

The Ford, meanwhile, has quite a sharp yet traditional look. It’s a design which has been on our roads for a while, but it still manages to look fresh.

Inside, there’s plenty of adjustability for the driver, while the main screen (on later versions) uses Ford’s clever SYNC system and is easy to use, though not as feature-packed as the one on the Golf.

Styling of the Golf

  • Golf’s eighth-generation model features a futuristic design with a full-width light bar at the front and rear.
  • The interior adopts a button-free approach, giving it a more modern look.
  • The Golf’s new screen interface has been reported as buggy, so test it thoroughly before making a purchase.

Styling of the Focus

  • The Ford Focus has a sharp yet traditional design with adjustable features for the driver.
  • Its main screen uses Ford’s SYNC system and is user-friendly.
  • Although some infotainment features are not as advanced as the Golfs.

6. Inside the cars

Both of these cars get plenty of equipment from the off. The Focus has 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, alongside a 13.2-inch infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity systems.

The specifications have changed for the Focus over time, however, so you may find that standard equipment does vary a little.

The Golf has a 10-inch display as standard on all models and it’s jam-packed with features, including the smartphone mirroring systems that you get on the Focus.

You’ll also get 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights and keyless start, plus a sharp digital dial setup which looks great and can be tweaked to show different information.

It depends what you’d like from these two. The Golf is arguably the more tech-focused, but we’ve found that the cabin in the Focus is more intuitively designed.

Inside the Golf

  • Golf includes a 10-inch display with smartphone mirroring technology.
  • Features keyless start and digital dials with customisable display options.

Inside the Focus

  • The Ford Focus’s 13.2 inch infotainment system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • Standard equipment on the Focus may vary due to changes in specifications over time.

7. Boot and interior space

A hatchback needs to be practical and both of these cars do tick that box, but in different ways. With the Golf, you’re getting 380 litres of boot space as standard and you can boost that up to 1,237 litres by folding down the rear seats.

Sadly, they don’t go completely flat but do fold down enough so that larger items can be stored back there easily.

The Focus offers a slightly smaller seats-up boot at 375 litres, but it smashes the Golf out of the park when you fold down the rear seats, at which point the boot capacity swells to 1,354 litres.

The seats also go very near to flat, so it’s a breeze to get those bulkier items in and out.

Boot space in the Focus

  • The Focus’s seats-up boot is smaller at 375 litres, but when the rear seats are folded down, the capacity increases to 1,354 litres.
  • Seats in the Focus go almost flat, making it easy to load and unload bulkier items.

Boot space in the Golf

  • Inside, the Golf offers 380 litres of standard boot space, expandable to 1,237 litres by folding down the rear seats.
  • While the rear seats don’t fold completely flat, they provide enough space for easily storing larger items

Top safety features

Safety is a top priority in the hatchback segment. When tested in 2022, the Golf scored a full five stars in Euro NCAP’s safety tests, returning scores of 88 and 87 per cent for adult and child occupant safety respectively. The Golf’s suite of safety assistance systems – including autonomous emergency braking – helped it return a 82 per cent score for safety assist, too.

When scored in 2019, the Focus also returned a full five stars in Euro NCAP’s testing. It did particularly well in adult occupant safety with a score of 96 per cent, while child occupant safety was still good at 87 per cent. Remember, however, that since the Focus was tested in 2019, its scores may not be quite representative since testing has become more stringent since.

Volkswagen Golf Safety Score: 5 stars

Ford Focus Safety Score: 5 stars

The key facts

Volkswagen Golf Style 1.5 130PS

  • Engine power - 128bhp
  • 0-60 - 9.0 seconds
  • Fuel options - Petrol
  • Transmission options - Manual, Automatic
  • Dimensions - Length: 4,284mm, Width: 789mm, Height: 1,480mm
  • Boot space - 380 litres (seats up), 1,237 litres (seats down)
  • MPG - 51.6mpg
  • Road tax - £180 annual
  • Insurance Group - 19

Ford Focus Titanium 1.0 EcoBoost 125ps

  • Engine power - 123bhp
  • 0-60 - 10.8 seconds
  • Fuel options - Petrol
  • Transmission options - Manual, Automatic
  • Dimensions - Length: 4,382mm, Width: 1,848mm, Height: 1,471mm
  • Boot space - 375 litres (seats up), 1,354 litres (seats down)
  • MPG - 52.3mpg
  • Road tax - £180 annual
  • Insurance Group: 14

Our Final Verdict

Both the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus offer great versatility and space in the hatchback segment.

The Ford Focus excels in providing ample space with its seats-down boot room and durable interior materials, making it a practical choice for families.

On the other hand, the Volkswagen Golf stands out with its refined driving experience and advanced technology, particularly with its mild-hybrid engines that deliver a balance of performance and efficiency.

Ultimately, whether you prioritise space and practicality or driving refinement and technology, both the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus have their strengths.

Other options for you

Seat Leon

The Seat Leon is often seen as the sportier option in the hatchback segment. It’s down to this car’s dynamic handling which rivals the Focus for involvement, even though the Leon sits on the same platform. As a result, you’ll get the same great levels of technology as the Golf, but with a slightly lower price – what’s not to like?

Vauxhall Astra

The latest Vauxhall Astra has shed the rather fusty image of its predecessor to become one of the sharpest-looking models on the market today. A lot of that is down to the cool ‘Vizor’ front-end design which you’ll see on a number of other Vauxhalls, but there’s also a tech-packed interior and a spacious cabin to check out. An electric version provides an option for drivers after a full EV, too.

Skoda Octavia

Skoda’s Octavia continues to be a must-have for space-conscious buyers as it’s got a boot which trumps all of those offered by rivals. The standard Hatch has a massive 600-litre boot, so it’s nearing the load area size offered by cars in the segment above. For those after the most space possible, we’d always recommend the Octavia.