The Ford Focus and Nissan Qashqai are two of the 10 best-selling cars in Britain. Each represents a slightly different take on the five-door family hatchback, but both cost similar money and offer similar amounts of space.
What are the Focus and Qashqai like to drive?
The Qashqai might look a bit like an off-roader, but it’s the two-wheel-drive versions that make the most sense.
If you do a relatively small number of miles and rarely venture onto the motorway then your best bet is the entry-level 1.6 Visia. This model has a relatively old-school 115bhp petrol engine, but thanks to low gearing it’s nippy enough up to about 50mph.
The best diesel engine is the 128bhp 1.6 dCi – it’s flexible, smooth and the most economical engine in the Qashqai range. However, it’s available only in the range-toppings trims, so is rather pricey.
The 109bhp 1.5 dCi is a cheaper option. It’s slightly slower and noisier, but it’s flexible enough and only slightly less frugal.
A 138bhp 2.0-litre petrol and a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel (available only with four-wheel drive) are also available, but are too expensive to recommend.
The Ford Focus has a much better selection of petrol engines, the best of which is a 123bhp 1.0-litre Ecoboost; it’s smooth, flexible and remarkably hushed for a three-cylinder. If you want something faster, the 148bhp 1.6 Ecoboost is also worth a look.
The Focus’s diesel engines are less impressive. The 114bhp 1.6 TDCi is the best of the bunch, but is fairly gutless low down in the rev range and real-world fuel economy isn’t great (it managed just 43.1mpg in our True MPG tests).
The 104bhp 1.6 Econetic diesel is also worth considering if you’re a company car driver; its tiny CO2 emissions of 88g/km qualify it for the lowest rate of company car tax available to diesel cars.
The Focus is the much better car to drive, with sharp steering, agile handling and loads of grip. Despite its relatively sporty handling, it also rides smoothly, staying composed and comfortable even along poorly surfaced roads.
Avoid Qashqais with chunky alloy wheels and it’s also pretty comfortable. However, there is quite a lot of body lean through bends and the steering is slow and unresponsive compared with the Ford’s.
The Focus is the more refined motorway cruiser, too; both cars let a bit too much wind flutter into the cabin, but the Qashqai’s noisier engines add to the din.
Can I get an automatic Focus or Qashqai?
The Focus is available with a six-speed automatic gearbox that Ford calls Powershift, which adds around £1260 to the price.
The cheapest Focus auto is the petrol 1.6 125 Edge (list price £17,555), but if you want a diesel engine you’ll have to fork out at least £22,405 (before discounts) for the 2.0 TDCi 163 Zetec S.
Your choice is even more limited if you want an automatic Qashqai. The entry-level 1.6 engine is available with a CVT 'box, but this is ponderous and causes the engine revs to soar dramatically whenever you accelerate. This gearbox is available on Acenta trim upwards, so you’ll pay at least £19,745.
There is a diesel automatic, but at £27,650, it’s way too expensive to recommend.
What are the Focus and Qashqai like inside?
The Nissan Qashqai might be the taller car, but the Ford Focus actually has more headroom in both the front and the back. However, long-legged passengers will appreciate the Qashqai’s extra rear legroom; they won’t have to sit so upright on longer journeys.
The Qashqai also has the bigger boot. It’s both longer and wider, so it’s easier to squeeze in a buggy or a set of golf clubs. It’s just a shame the rear seats don't fold flat.The Focus’s rear seats can be folded completely flat, but only if you first flip up the seat bases.
The Qashqai’s driving position is hard to fault; you get a great view of the road ahead and the steering wheel and pedals line up nicely. The seats are supportive, and over-the-shoulder vision isn’t too bad despite the thick rear pillars.
You sit much lower in the Focus, so don’t have such a commanding view of the road. That said, forward visibility is still pretty good, and the seats are both comfortable and supportive. Rear visibility isn’t ideal, though, due to that tapering rear window line and chunky rear pillars.
Neither car troubles the class-leaders for interior quality, but the Qashqai’s dashboard is at least logically arranged and simple to use. The Focus’s is over-complicated; cheaper models get button-heavy mobile phone-style layout on the centre console, and the layout on pricier versions isn’t much better.
The Qashqai is available in four trims: Visia, Acenta, 360 and Tekna. Entry-level Visia gets air-conditioning, alloy wheels, a CD player, four electric windows and Bluetooth, but if you can find the extra it’s worth stepping up to Acenta; this adds climate control, a CD changer, parking sensors, cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
The range-topping 360 and Tekna trims push the Qashqai’s price into the realms of bigger cars – such as the Mazda CX-5 – so are best avoided.
The Ford's basic Studio and Edge trims miss out on important equipment. Zetec trim gets the essentials – including air-conditioning, a DAB radio and Bluetooth – but you may want to consider paying a bit extra for Titanium trim: this gets you a smarter interior, sat-nav, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
Which one should I buy?
This Nissan Qashqai is coming to the end of its life – an all-new version is due in early 2014. However, don’t let this put you off buying the current model because it’s still a fine family car and there are some very tempting discounts available.
For example, haggling with your local dealer will slash the price of the entry-level 1.6 Visia fall by £1472 to £15,423. The 1.5 dCi Acenta will cost you £18,370 – a saving of £1770.
Even bigger savings are available on the Ford Focus. The 1.0 125 Zetec can be bought for £16,129 (a saving of £2166), while our favourite diesel version (the 1.6 TDCi Zetec) will cost you £16,579 – £2316 less than the brochure price.
The Qashqai is predicted to hold onto its value for longer, though, so despite being due for replacement shortly, we think it’s the better private buy.
Company buyers are better off with the Ford; its lower CO2 emissions (both on petrol and diesel versions) mean it qualifies for much cheaper company tax bills, and you won’t have to concern yourself with the comparatively heavy depreciation.