Used test – efficient estates: Ford Focus vs Skoda Octavia

If you're in need of a bit more space but don't want to spend a fortune on fuel, these two have got you covered

Words By What Car? team

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The Contenders

Ford Focus Estate 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec

List price when new Β£19,205

Price today Β£6750

Available from 2011-present

The Ford Focus Estate is good-looking and great to drive – but is that enough?

Skoda Octavia Estate 1.6 TDI CR Greenline II

List price when new Β£19,595

Price today Β£6500

Available from 2004-2013

It doesn’t have the flair of the Focus, but the Skoda Octavia Estate is enormously practical

Price today is for a 2011 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

So the Christmas getaway has made you wonder whether it’s time to upgrade your family car to one with a bit more space. We’ve all been there. The problem is, with more space often comes more size, and with more size comes greater fuel costs – not to mention a car that’s trickier to park.

That’s exactly why smaller estates with efficient engines have become so popular in recent years. These cars offer enough space for a growing family and all the assorted detritus that needs to come along too, but they’re small enough to be manageable to drive and cheap enough to run that they won't break the bank.

The current-generation Ford Focus, tested here in early pre-facelift form, has always drawn praise for its sharp looks, affordable prices and thrilling driving manners. And, in estate form, you can add luggage-guzzling practicality to its list of attributes.

Plenty going for it, then, but the Focus doesn’t have it all sewn up. The Skoda Octavia was once our favourite bargain estate, and it packs a simply vast boot – large enough to put many bigger rivals to shame. With low prices and impressive running costs, it’s a great used buy.

What are they like to drive?

If the Ford’s looks are the more sophisticated of the pair, then the same is true of the way both cars feel out on the road. The Ford has the slicker, more settled ride, ironing out most lumps and bumps in a smooth, controlled way.

By contrast, the Skoda fidgets and crashes over scruffy surfaces, and you hear the suspension thumping as it goes. The Octavia doesn’t suppress wind or road noise as well as the Focus, either, and its engine grumbles more noticeably, making the Focus the much quieter cruiser.

That said, the Ford’s engine feels disappointingly flat at low revs. Below 1750rpm, accelerating at any reasonable rate will require at least one downshift, and when pulling away it can be tiresome to get going.

So, while on paper the Skoda’s engine has less power and torque than the Ford’s, it is much the punchier on the road. It delivers its peak torque at lower revs, and pulls more strongly from just above idle, so feels far more eager to pull away from a standstill. The Skoda feels pretty sprightly in corners, too. Grip is strong and body control is tight, and the handling is secure and predictable.

However, driving fun has always been the Focus’s forte, and so it goes here. The Focus has quicker, more responsive steering that also ties you into the action better than the Octavia’s. What’s more, it changes direction more crisply, with less of a sense of the car's body leaning over.

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