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

What are they like inside?

The Volkswagen Golf has a reputation for quality, and it's one that's fully deserved. All of its controls are super-slick, and it’s built to an impeccable standard from expensive materials.

By contrast, lower-spec versions of the Ford Focus feel a a little too down-at-heel. And while this Titanium model is much better thanks to bespoke switches and much classier detailing, our test car still had a few irregular panel gaps and a rather wobbly handbrake.

As for the Vauxhall Astra, it's interior is also pretty appealing, with spangly chrome-ringed instruments and a swish centre console, but the plastics aren’t as dense or touchy-feely as the Focus’s.

Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

If anything, the Golf scores even better for ease-of-use than it does for quality. Its dash design might be more conservative than a blue rosette, but we can’t think of many cars that have such fuss-free layouts.

Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra could learn a thing or two: the Focus’s central control dial and steering wheel-mounted switches are a bit muddled, while the Astra’s centre console is overloaded with poorly marked buttons.

Everyone will be able to find a comfortable driving position in any of the cars. It’ll take a bit longer in the Astra, though, because it has fiddlier seat controls. It’s also the hardest to see out of due to small front quarterlight windows and a shallow rear screen.

Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals

All three cars are roomy enough for four adults, although tall back-seat passengers will be particularly happy in the Golf: that boxy shape gives it more head and knee room.

The Golf’s boxiness extends to the boot, which can easily take two suitcases with the seats up. The Astra’s boot is even larger, whereas the Focus’s is quite a bit smaller, and consequently, a bit of a squeeze.

Not only does the Focus have the least boot space, but folding its rear seats down to carry longer loads is more of a hassle than in the others. You have to flip up the rear seat bases before you can drop the backrests. The only up-side of this slightly convoluted system is that it leaves a totally flat floor; the Golf’s and Astra’s seats lie at a slight angle.

Used test – petrol hatchbacks: Volkswagen Golf vs rivals