Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

The prospect of pollution charges and even inner-city bans for older diesel cars means they've fallen out of favour with some buyers. So what are the petrol alternatives like?...

Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

Our Verdict

The Ford Focus beating the mighty Volkswagen Golf will come as a surprise to many. But in reality it's the margin of victory that's the biggest surprise.

This Ecoboost Titanium model is the best used Focus you can buy, because it’s lavishly equipped, easy on the eye, refined and dripping with driving talent. The Golf was left for dead.

Granted, the Golf is classy and well made, with an impeccable pedigree. It’s easy to see why its the darling of new and used buyers alike, and as a petrol proposition it makes just as much sense as the diesel does, if not more so.

The problem is, in this GT trim it’s at its worst. Expensive and overly firm, it also has an engine that seems to reward neglect with poor reliability. Later or less powerful petrol Golfs, with their simpler turbo-only engines, imake a whole heap more sense.

Choosing between the Golf and the Vauxhall Astra is trickier. Yes, the Astra’s engine is comparatively dull and rather noisy. But it’s also a vastly cheaper car, has a better reliability record than the Golf, rides more comfortably and has a more pleasant interior.

The Golf fights back with its classier dashboard, thrusting performance, but in the final reckoning, it isn’t enough. The Astra takes second place by a whisker.

That said, all three of these cars represent an interesting alternative to their diesel brethren. Even used, their prices are so much cheaper that you'd have to do quite a few miles for the fuel economy savings from buying a diesel to be worth havng. What's more, these turbocharged petrol engines are smoother, quieter and every bit as gutsy. So if you're a habitual diesel buyer, think about giving petrol a second look next time.

Should you choose diesel or petrol?

Read our review of the latest Ford Focus

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Also consider:


1st – Ford Focus


Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

For Exceptional to drive; plenty of standard kit; smart interior finish

Against Small boot; poor turning circle

Verdict Sparkling driving dynamics. The best used Focus you can buy

Rated 5 out of 5

Read the full used Ford Focus review

Find used Ford Focus for sale>>

2nd – Vauxhall Astra


Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

For Supple ride; smart interior; cheap to buy and run

Against Noisy, less enthusiastic engine

Verdict Good in most areas. Makes a lot of sense at these prices

Rated 4 out of 5

Read the full used Vauxhall Astra review

Find used Vauxhall Astra for sale>>

3rd – Volkswagen Golf


Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

For Upmarket image; classiest interior; strong residual values

Against Unsettled ride; disappointing handling; some reliability concerns

Verdict Still a lot to like, but other Golfs are a lot better

Specifications: Ford Focus 1.6 Ecoboost Titanium

Engine size 1.6-litre turbo petrol

List price when new £19,745

Price today £4500-£22,000

Power 148bhp

Torque 177lb ft

0-60mph 8.9sec

Top speed 125mph

Fuel economy 47.1mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 139g/km

Specifications: Vauxhall Astra 1.4 T SRi

Engine size 1.4-litre turbo petrol

List price when new £19,770

Price today £4000-£15,500

Power 138bhp

Torque 148lb ft

0-60mph 10.4sec

Top speed 124mph

Fuel economy 47.9mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 138g/km

Specifications: Volkswagen Golf 1.4TSI 160 GT

Engine size 1.4-litre petrol turbo

List price when new £21,540

Price today £3000-£13,000

Power 158bhp

Torque 177lb ft

0-60mph 8.1sec

Top speed 131mph

Fuel economy 44.8mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 145g/km