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Used test: Ford Focus vs Toyota Corolla vs Volkswagen Golf costs

These family hatchbacks all make tempting used buys, but should you choose the sharp-handling Ford, the high-tech Toyota or the the classy Volkswagen?...

Ford Focus boot

What will they cost?

Costs, equipment, reliability, safety

So let's start with the all important question: how much will these cars cost at the pumps? The Corolla is particularly efficient in urban scenarios when its engine is laid up the most, and that’s a big factor in the average 60.6mpg that it managed in our test – the best of the bunch.

Being a diesel, the Focus’s engine is the most efficient at high speeds – something to bear in mind if you’re forever pounding up and down the motorway. Overall, it managed a very respectable 53.0mpg.

The Golf, meanwhile, is the least frugal, with an average of 46.5mpg. To put that into context, if you do 12,000 miles a year for three years at today's fuel prices, it will cost you just over £900 more to fuel than the Corolla, while the premium over the Focus is around £350.

Toyota Corolla boot

Trouble is, while the Corolla will cost you the least in fuel and annual car tax (VED), servicing and insurance costs are higher. Also, residual values for the Corolla have proved to be far higher than those of its rivals here thanks to Toyota's well-earned reputation for reliability and a very loyal customer base. This means you'll need to spend around £3000 more to purchase a used Corolla over the Golf and Focus.

None of these cars is supremely well equipped, but all come with air conditioning, alloy wheels, electric windows and powered door mirrors. The Corolla adds to that with an upgrade to dual-zone climate control and heated front seats. Like the Golf, it gets adaptive cruise control, too, while the Golf also has privacy glass and power-folding door mirrors. The Focus is the stingiest, but it does at least have a heated windscreen.

As for safety, Euro NCAP states that all the cars here get the maximum of five starts, with the Corolla being the safest for adult, pedestrian and safety assistance technology. The Focus is better at protecting children in the back, but the Golf is even better still, however, the VW was tested back in 2012 when the tests were less stringent, so it’s hard to compare like for like.

Volkswagen Golf boot

Each car gets automatic emergency braking, and this is complemented by lane-keeping assistance in the Corolla and Focus. The Corolla also gets traffic sign recognition (optional on the others) but not blindspot monitoring, which is available on the Focus and Golf.

Historically, Toyota has always done well in our Reliability Surveys and the results according to our latest data backs this up. The brand finished third overall out of 31 manufacturers, which is considerably better than either Ford or Volkswagen in 18th and 20th, respectively. This is also mirrored in the order for each model individually, so you're unlikely to need to visit your Toyota dealer for much else other than routine maintenance and perhaps a free coffee.