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

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 interior


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

As standard, each of the three cars comes with a front centre armrest, driver’s seat height adjustment, adjustable lumbar support and reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel. The Focus has the most range to its wheel and the Corolla the least. What’s more, the latter’s seatback angle is varied with a lever, which is more fiddly than its rivals’ rotary adjusters and leaves you with defined steps instead of giving you the liberty to choose the ideal angle.

We love the clarity of the Focus’s simple analogue dials, but the Golf’s digital set (a £495 optional extra when new) are the most configurable and deliver lots of information to the driver. The Corolla’s part-digital instruments are standard but quite limited. For instance, they don’t even give you the option of having a large, numerical speedometer that the other two offer for that added peace of mind when you pass a speed camera.

The windscreen pillars of the Golf and Corolla are thinner than the Focus’s, which can obscure your view in tight bends, but each car suffers from thick rear pillars. This is less of an issue in the Corolla, because it gets front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera as standard. The Golf receives the same full complement of sensors but no camera, while the Focus features neither as standard.

Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid CVT Excel - interior

The Focus also feels the cheapest inside. There are places where effort has clearly been made (such as the carpeted front door bins, which replicate the Golf’s and stop things from jangling about), but the generally cheap-feeling, shiny plastics and fake carbonfibre highlights are uninspiring.

The Golf has long served as a fine example of how to do a smart interior. It may have never quite matched the exemplary finish of the Audi A3, but it’s one of the best in the class, even if the design is arguably starting to look its age.

It’s a positive, then, that the Corolla feels at least as solid as the Golf inside, and its materials look suitably premium in the main.

Space and practicality 

Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

All three cars have enough room to accommodate tall adults in the front. It’s in the rear of the Corolla that those more than six feet tall – sitting behind someone of a similar height up front – will feel let down. Not only does it provide the least leg and head room, but the close proximity of the bottom of the front seats to your legs also wedges your feet in tight, making it the most difficult to get in and out of. It’s also the worst for claustrophobes, due to the contoured nature of its roof-lining, which hems you in at the front and side.

The Golf has more leg room than the Corolla (although not by much) and the most head room, so it’s far airier. There’s still enough head room in the Focus, though, and its rear is the best in every other respect, with class-leading leg room, the most room for feet, the best space for a middle passenger and the lowest central tunnel for them to straddle.

Volkswagen Golf interior

Moving to the boots, the Focus and Corolla both manage to take six carry-on suitcases. The Corolla has the most space to spare, though, despite its boot’s slightly awkward shape. The Golf can hold five cases, but if you raise its standard height-adjustable boot floor (a £75 option for the Focus but which wasn't available in the Corolla), it has the shallowest load lip.

Each car gets 60/40-split folding rear seats, and when these are folded down, the Golf’s boot floor can be positioned to create a flat extended load bay. In the others, you’re left with an awkward step.