Hatch match: 2020 Volkswagen Golf vs. Ford Focus

This Golf’s ride is certainly firmer than that of any basic Golf I’ve driven previously. It has good, close, upright body control that doesn’t start to get soggy and floaty when you tackle a tougher country road with a bit of speed, plus steering with a clearer sense of off-centre responsiveness than it used to, making shorter work of roundabouts and junctions. Sure enough, it feels just a little bit sporty.

And yet the Focus remains in another dimension for driver appeal. Firmer still around town and at low speed, it needs to be challenged with speed and surface change to show its hand – and when it does, the handling precision and the sophistication of its damping really do leave you stuck for words. All of that and the Focus’s ride is also somehow better isolated than the Golf’s. There remain very few mainstream, common-or-garden passenger cars like this Ford, so very plainly dynamically superior.

A hint of elasticity blunts the edge of the steering for outright feel, but it’s so much quicker and more incisive than that of the Golf that you handle the Focus in a markedly different way. Whereas the Golf requires bigger physical inputs, you steer the Ford from your wrists, getting around most corners without needing to move your hands on the rim at all, or your elbows from their respective rests.

That intuitive sense of agility, of such little energy wasted in body roll and of chassis composure way beyond what an ordinary family hatchback really needs, is what characterises the Focus driving experience – as vividly now, although perhaps not quite as impactfully, as it ever has.

And so the humble Focus remains a deeply special, not-so-humble thing after all. But it’s the greater breadth of appeal of this latest Golf, and the sense that it’s a car of even greater significance, that our verdict must recognise. In a family hatchback market in which interested drivers aren’t so common but active safety, connectivity and technological sophistication and usability rise ever higher among what actually sells, the Golf has managed to break new ground from its familiar position right at the notional centre.

If that weren’t remarkable enough, it now offers more to enthusiasts than it used to, while retaining most of its maturity and roundedness and making the kind of strides on efficiency that ought to keep it relevant and put some money in your pocket.

This is a different Golf, true enough, slightly less comfortably pipe-and-slippers in its character, and just a touch more dialled in and switched on, but the truth is that it’s probably a stronger real-world operator than ever.

Used alternatives

If you don’t want to fork out for a factory-fresh family hatchback, the long-standing popularity and dependable reputation of the Focus and Golf make previous-generation examples equally enticing propositions.

To make things easier, both cars follow similar development cycles, so venturing back 10 years takes us back two generations to the comparable Mk6 Golf and Mk3 Focus. Think big. How about a 2010 Golf GTI, still an impressive hot hatch, for £7500? Or its lairy Focus ST contemporary for just £50 more? Both are exceedingly clean and wouldn’t embarrass themselves in a showdown with their modern descendants.

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