New Vauxhall Astra vs Ford Focus vs Skoda Scala
Vauxhall has upgraded its family hatchback with steering changes and new engines and infotainment. Is this boost big enough for it to rocket up and join the stars of the class?...
Ford Focus 1.5 Ecoblue 120 ST-Line
- List price £23,095
- Target Price £21,094
Sporty looks and sparkling handling mark the Focus out as the keen driver’s choice.
Skoda Scala 1.6 TDI SE L
- List price £22,065
- Target Price £20,491
This super-sensible Czech has beaten the Focus as a petrol. Will the diesel impress as much?
Vauxhall Astra 1.5 Turbo D 122 SRi
- List price £23,340
- Target Price £22,406
The facelifted Astra offers new diesel engines that don’t attract the 4% BIK tax surcharge.
If you’re a company car driver, there’s probably a date on your calendar that you look forward to more than your birthday and maybe even Christmas: new car day. Not only do you finally get rid of that coffee stain on the driver’s seat, but you also get new tech and quite possibly a lower monthly benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bill.
Of course, you’re unlikely to get free reign to pick your dream car. Instead, your fleet manager will have selected a range of affordable options that won’t burn through your fuel card too quickly. And that might lead you to mull over which diesel family hatchback should grace your driveway.
The newest of the three we have here is the freshly facelifted Vauxhall Astra, complete with a brand new 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine. Not only does it emit just 92g/km of CO2, but it’s also the only car here that doesn’t attract a 4% BIK surcharge, because it meets the latest RDE2 emissions standards. It also has updated infotainment and promises improved ride and handling.
However, the Ford Focus is the driving benchmark in the entire class and offers a super-efficient 1.5-litre diesel engine of its own – with an extra cylinder, too.
And then there’s the Skoda Scala, a newcomer that has already impressed us greatly in turbo petrol form. Will the 1.6-litre diesel prove just as recommendable?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
These cars may be frugal, but that doesn’t make them slow; all three kept below the 10.0sec mark when racing from 0-60mph in our tests. The Focus proved the quickest and the Astra the slowest, albeit with just 0.4sec splitting them. Accelerate from 30-70mph through the gears – as you would when joining a motorway – and they’re just as closely matched, but this time with the Scala proving the strongest performer.
However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story, because although the Astra performed admirably on our test track, its engine needs the most revs to get going and its power tails off the earliest. This narrow power band makes it surprisingly easy to stall and means there’s more chance you’ll need to grab a higher gear halfway through an A-road overtake.
Not only are the Scala and especially the Focus nippier in most situations, but their engines are smoother, too; the Astra’s sends a lot of vibrations through the steering and pedals.
The Vauxhall engine sounds coarser as well, and this, combined with plenty of road roar and wind noise at higher speeds, means the Astra is the rowdiest when cruising on the motorway – far from ideal when you consider the hours that most company car drivers will spend doing just that. The Scala is a bit quieter, but it’s the Focus that’s the easiest on the ears by far.
The Focus has the most satisfyingly mechanical feel to its manual gearbox, although we appreciate the Scala’s light, precise shifter as well. The Astra’s is the least pleasant to use, with a long and vague action.
You’re most aware of the road’s topography in the Focus, although the stiffer suspension fitted to sporty ST-Line models still takes the sting out of nasty bumps while controlling body movements the most tightly. Indeed, despite its firmness, the Focus’s ride never becomes jarring or uncomfortable.
The Astra is softer and initially seems more cosseting, but sudden shocks to the suspension shatter the calm. It’s also the most prone to wallowing on undulating roads.
Meanwhile, the Scala impresses the most with its comfort. Its ride can be a little floaty over dips and crests, but it never feels too bouncy and it smooths over all surfaces the most convincingly.
Unsurprisingly, the Focus corners the most sweetly. Although its steering is relatively light, it’s also fantastically accurate and tells you the most about the front tyres’ activities, so you can enjoy scything from corner to corner on a fast, flowing road, marvelling at the way the nose tucks in upon entry.
The Scala leans more through tight twists and turns but still handles very tidily, while its steering gives you confidence to drive briskly. The Astra, however, isn’t a car that enjoys being hustled. For starters, its steering is overly light; for the main course, it runs out of grip at the front far earlier through corners than the others; and for dessert, it suffers from the most body lean.
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