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Used test: Ford Focus vs Skoda Scala vs Vauxhall Astra interiors

These second-hand family hatchbacks are all cheap to buy and run, but which is the best buy?...

Ford Focus dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, infotainment, build quality

All of our contenders have a steering wheel that moves for both height and reach, as well as adjustable lumbar support. The Astra goes a step further by adding an extendable seat base to give the long-legged better under-thigh support, but we found it to be the least comfortable on a long journey. It’s the Focus that has the best driving position, plus its seat holds you in place the tightest through corners.

The 8.0in infotainment touchscreen in the Focus is mounted on top of the dashboard, so it’s easy to see and operate. The icons are a good size and the menus are easy enough to fathom, but the screen can be slow to respond to inputs and the graphics are a bit basic. Shortcut icons help with navigation, but actual buttons would be easier to hit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, so the lack of standard-fit sat-nav is less of an issue.

In the range-topping SE L form we’re testing, the Scala’s speedo and rev counter are replaced by a large, configurable digital display. Not only can this show a huge range of information, but it also does so much more clearly than most cars. Although posh versions of the Astra also come with digital instruments, this mid-range SRi model gets regular analogue ones, just like the Focus.

Skoda Scala interior

A big (9.2in) touchscreen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on the SE L Scala. It’s clear, with attractive graphics, and simple to use, thanks to logical menus and touch-sensitive shortcut icons on either side. It’d be better if these were physical buttons, though, because they’re easier to hit and allow you to keep your eyes on the road. We’d prefer a knob to control the audio system's volume for the same reason.

Poke and prod your way around the interiors of our combatants and you’ll come away most impressed by the Astra. It has the greatest spread of squishy plastics, a reasonable feeling of solidity and buttons and knobs that feel made to last. The Scala is a little flimsier, contains more scratchy plastics and has air-con controls that just feel cheap. Even so, it’s classier and feels more robust than the Focus’s relatively low-rent interior.

At just 7.0in across, the Astra’s infotainment touchscreen is the smallest here. The graphics look a bit dated, but you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard and it reacts to inputs quickly. The high positioning of the screen aids ease of use, while the menus are simple to navigate. Whereas the other cars have a USB port for plugging in your phone up front, the Astra’s is hidden under the central armrest.

Vauxhall Astra interior

Space and practicality 

Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

There’s not a great deal to separate our contenders in terms of front space, although tall people will find the Astra and Scala have slightly more head room than the Focus. And while the Scala and Focus have big trays in front of their gearlevers, so you can empty your pockets and still have room for a few snacks, the Astra’s equivalent is big enough for only one large chocolate bar.

Move to the rear seats and more variation appears. The Astra and Focus are a thumb’s width apart for leg room, with the Astra coming out on top, but then it has less space under its front seats for the feet of those sitting in the back.

The two are closely matched for rear head room as well, but the Focus makes you feel a little more claustrophobic, due to slimmer side windows and a more curved ceiling that feels closer to the side of your head. Even so, all three are among the roomiest in the class, with enough room for six-footers.

Skoda Scala boot

The best of the three for people with lanky friends, however, is the Scala. Not only does it have the most rear head and leg room, but its larger side windows and squarer body also make it feel the airiest. Our only real complaint is that it has the highest hump in the middle of its floor, so much so that it can be tricky to clamber over. At least it’s narrow enough that there’s good room either side for the central person’s feet.

Move to the Scala’s boot and it continues to impress; it has sufficient space for seven carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf. Our test car had an optional height-adjustable boot floor that isn’t offered by either of the other cars, and with it fitted and raised, the Scala has the lowest load lip to lift items over.

The Focus is nearly as roomy, managing six cases (although the Scala always presents a lower lip for you to hoist them over), while the Astra wins the wooden spoon for swallowing just five cases.

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