Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

Two of the most popular hot hatches in the UK – and two of the most exciting, too. But which makes the best used buy?...

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What Car? team
29 Jan 2017 08:00 | Last updated: 3 Sep 2018 12:22

The Contenders

Ford Focus ST-2

List price when new £23,495

Price today £11,500

Available from 2012-present

The latest Focus ST has bold looks, huge power, and a price to hurt Volkswagen’s iconic hot hatch.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 5dr

List price when new £26,235

Price today £13,000

Available from 2009-2013

It’s good to drive and hugely desirable, but can the GTI fend off its newer, more powerful rival?

price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

These days there are two types of hot hatch: hardcore models with huge power figures that put driving dynamics first and everything else a distant second, and slightly softer, more rounded cars that are still extremely quick, but easier to live with every day.


Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Volkswagen Golf GTI, here in Mk6 form, has always dominated the latter category. However, with used prices now becoming far more affordable, is the latest Ford Focus ST, also known as the Mk3, a more sensible bet?

The Ford features a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo, which is lighter than the big 2.5-litre that was used in the previous generation Focus ST. That means it’s less nose-heavy and more efficient, yet also more powerful, which makes it a far more credible rival to the Volkswagen than its predecessor.


Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

What’s more, the mid-range ST-2 model we’re testing here is quite a bit cheaper, too – so can the Focus steal the Golf’s crown as the everyday hot hatch of choice?

What are they like to drive?

Both cars have turbocharged 2.0-litre engines, so they deliver plenty of fireworks whenever you prod the throttle. However, the ST is the more explosive of the two, using its extra power and torque to ease away from the GTI, whether you’re accelerating through the gears or relying on the flexibility of the engine. The fact that the ST runs out of puff at 5000rpm while the GTI keeps pulling all the way to 7000rpm is largely redundant because the ST is so strong at lower revs.

The ST continues to impress in corners, responding to the slightest turn of the steering wheel and remaining remarkably flat and composed. The wheel starts to tug left and right in your hands if you try to power out of a turn too aggressively, but a slight lift calms things down and you never feel like you’re fighting to keep the car on your side of the road.


Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

Swap to the GTI and the first thing you notice is that its steering is significantly slower, which means it doesn’t feel as eager to turn into bends as the ST. The GTI also suffers from a little more body roll, although it still handles tidily when judged in isolation, and the steering inspires plenty of confidence because it’s precise and well weighted.

As a bonus, the slower nature of the steering makes the GTI feel more stable and relaxing than the ST when you’re cruising at speed on the motorway.

Ride comfort is another area where the GTI has the edge. It’s that bit more forgiving over speed bumps and potholes, and picks up less on smaller road scars, although both cars are pretty cosseting compared with the vast majority of hot hatches.


Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI

Likewise, both cars are impressively quiet when you want them to be, although here it’s the ST that has the advantage, letting in less road and suspension noise over rough surfaces.

The ST also makes a far more appealing sound when you put your foot down. That’s partly due to its burbling exhaust note, but also thanks to a clever system called a ‘sound symposer’, which amplifies the throaty induction roar of the engine. It might be a fake noise, but you won’t care because it’s a properly addictive rasp.

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Used test – hot hatches: Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI