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Volkswagen Golf vs Ford Focus: which is better?

Two excellent five-door models go head-to-head in this mid-weight hatchback boxing match

on the left is a volkswagen golf in red and the right is a blue ford focus

If you’re in the market for a five-door hatchback that offers great practicality, a nice drive and decent performance, there are plenty of choices out there.  

But if you’d prefer to whittle down the selection to two candidates, the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus stand out in the mid-size segment for good reason – they’re both brilliant.

As a bonus, you can get a used Volkswagen and used Ford model on the pre-owned market for much than brand-new.

But how do you pick the car that’s best for you? That’s what we’re here for.

Take a look at our used Volkswagen Golf and used Ford Focus comparison review.


on the left is a volkswagen golf gtd's wheel and the right is a blue ford focus st line badge

Many families in Britain are currently looking to switch to SUVs to perform all their daily duties, but this isn’t always the best option.

In fact, we’d say more often than not, a five-door hatchback is just as good, and might even be better suited to your needs. 

The Volkswagen Golf is a bit of a legend of the hatchback world because when the first version launched back in 1974, it was the first model to offer premium quality in the segment.

This solid build quality has carried on throughout the range, and the styling has followed.

Its classic design and familiar look have meant that it’s been a family favourite across Europe for decades. 

Arriving a little later on the scene in 1998, the Ford Focus has also proven very popular in this segment of family car.

Its looks are subtle but unique, which is why so many families have relied on them over the past couple of decades.

Newer models are sharper-looking than Focuses of old, and now that Ford is stopping the production of the Fiesta in 2023, the Focus is all we have left of a good old British hatch.  

What are they like to drive?

on the left is a volkswagen golf gtd driving and on the right is a blue ford focus driving towards the camera

On the road, the Golf rides nicely – especially in top-grade trims where you can add Volkswagen’s Dynamic Chassis Control (a system that lets you soften the suspension off in a squishy ‘comfort’ mode).

It steers with real enthusiasm, too, and handles its power no matter the engine under the bonnet.  

With mod-cons like adaptive cruise control (which can follow the car ahead on a motorway) and safety systems like automatic emergency braking, the Golf is as great at long-distance motoring as it is at city driving.

The latter is helped by the fitment of a reverse camera, making parking a doddle. 

As for the Focus, it keeps up the pace on the road, where its punchy engines and quick-reacting steering make it feel sporty in all guises.

Naturally, the highest-grade variants (like the lukewarm ST-Line and hot ST models) are the most athletic in nature, but even the base Focuses have an inherent keenness in the way they go about their business.  

This does somewhat hamper the car’s claims for maximum comfort (sportiness often comes at the expense of comfort), but the poshest Vignale Focus is the supplest with its adjustable suspension.  

Thankfully, no matter which Focus you drive, all are at home in the city and on the motorway, with no shortage of driver assistance technology. 

Interior and technology

on the left is volkswagen golf interior and the right there's a ford focus interior

On the inside, the Golf has a few divisive features, like a touch-sensitive heater control dial that’s a bit fiddly to use.

The rest of the car’s cabin is appropriately premium, however, even in base-level Life trim, while the ergonomic basics are all pretty much spot on.

The driver’s seat can be adjusted through a wide range of positions, the space up front is generous, and there are even plenty of storage bins and cubby holes to put things in. 

Go up the trim ladder into plusher variants and you’ll find dual (instead of single) zone climate control, part- or full-leather seats and wireless charging, as well as a heated steering wheel and seats, and a powerful sound system. 

Like the Golf, Ford’s Focus comes with a wide range of trim levels allowing you to add poshness to the base car’s interior.

You can add part-leather seats, dual-zone climate control and wireless charging, while top-grade ST models also get sporty trim. 

Ford’s love of sporty design and ergonomics means the cabin also stacks up well, with a great driving position offering a wide range of adjustability, a functional infotainment system with (rejoice!) conventional heating climate control knobs, which are easy to use.

You’re also not short of storage space and cubby holes, with good space up front by all measures.

Bootspace and practicality

on the left is a white vw golf's boot and on the right is a ford focus's interior

Practicality-wise, the Golf is very strong. It comes with five doors as standard, offering good access all around and generous leg and knee room in the back.

Overall, it’s not the class’s most spacious hatchback, but there’s little to stop you from carrying four adults in relative comfort for long distances without complaint. For more space, you might be tempted by a used Skoda Octavia or Kia Ceed.

The central seat on the back bench is best kept for shorter drives or kids because it’s narrower. 

As for the Focus, it’s also only available as a five-door, making for easy access front and back.

While the Golf has a very slightly larger boot (by six litres, which you’d struggle to notice), the Focus has more rear seat space, making it the slightly more competitive family car offering.

Again, the difference is small, but those who regularly carry rear passengers might find this to be a key advantage.

Mind you, the central seat is narrow like its rival’s, so it’s best restricted for use on shorter journeys if you’re carrying adults. 

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Safety and reliability

With both cars being modern flagship models from the respective brands, there's very little to be concerned about regarding reliability and safety. 

The Golf is up there with the safest cars on the market, receiving a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.

This means the car is kitted out with all the best safety tech and can be relied on as a trustworthy family car.    

Like the Golf, Ford’s offering has always scored well for being a reliable car and in fact, Euro NCAP has rated the Focus an impressive five stars for safety.   

Both cars are great choices for day-to-day family vehicles that you can really enjoy driving, but also know that you can trust. 


Volkswagen Golf

Length: 4284mm

Width: 1789mm

Height: 1491mm

Boot space: 381 litres

Ford Focus

Length: 4382mm

Width: 1825mm

Height: 1471mm

Boot space: 375 litres

Verdict: Volkswagen Golf vs Ford Focus: which should you buy?

Given that some buyers will naturally be drawn to the Golf and others will find the Focus better suited to their requirements, we could very easily call this one a draw – and that’s before we consider the number of versions both cars come in.

But when it comes to overall value for money, it’s hard to argue with the Focus.

Ford’s hatchback might not have the Golf beaten for plushness or even ride comfort, but when it comes to offering the most practicality for your pounds, the Focus is a clear champ.

That it injects an air of sportiness into the equation makes it arguably the most well-rounded car out of the two. 

No doubt you’ll have come to your own conclusions after reading this on-paper head-to-head, so it's probably time you headed into our digital showroom to find your perfect hatchback. So, what will it be: Golf or Focus? 

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