Family hatch battle: Astra takes on Focus

  • Vauxhall’s latest Astra pitted against Ford’s evergreen Focus
  • Sporty appearances yet great economy and low BIK rates
  • Both will cost you less than £70 a month but which is best?

Chances are your next company car will need to be a practical five-door hatchback with a meagre appetite for fuel which, in turn, delivers inexpensive monthly Benefit-in-Kind bills.

Hardly sounds like a recipe for excitement, but if your fleet manager tells you that you’ve a choice between a Ford Focus and a Vauxhall Astra then the news is surprisingly good.

Both are engaging to drive, well built, spacious and loaded with equipment – so which of these fleet favourites should be your next company car?

Low BIK tax bills

Keeping monthly bills as low as possible for both the Focus and the Astra dictates diesel as being the logical choice.

For the Ford we’ve opted for the 1.6-litre TDCi producing 113bhp, while in the lighter Vauxhall the 108bhp from its 1.6-litre CDTi ecoFLEX motor will prove sufficient.

Vauxhall claims a victory in terms of overall efficiency claims with its latest Astra. With this engine it delivers a claimed 76.3mpg, versus Ford’s 67.3mpg for the Focus.

Not that there’s much danger of seeing those figures out in the real world, but on a steady motorway run it’s safe to expect both to average between 50-60mpg.

Where those official fuel consumption claims have a significant influence is in terms of CO2 emissions and consequently BIK bandings. Again, the Astra fares better, here with its 97g/km figure placing it in the 17 percent BIK band for 2015/16. At 109g/km the Focus slots into the higher 19 percent band.

What monthly cost these bandings translate into depends upon the chosen specification, but based on Ford and Vauxhall historically selling many versions with sporty design cues we’ve picked the Focus in Zetec S trim and the Astra as an SRi Nav.

Assuming you’re a 20 percent rate payer and you opt for the Ford, your monthly bill will be £66. That sounds reasonable for a hatch with a P11D value of £20,890 until you consider the Vauxhall’s lower emissions and smaller P11D value equate to a monthly bill of £57.

Practical and flexible

Not all compact family hatchbacks were created equal and neither the Ford Focus nor Vauxhall Astra are the most spacious offerings in this market segment.

Yes, they have five doors and the same number of seats – although four adults would be more comfortable than a quintet – and the rear bench has a 60:40 split to aid flexibility, but the plethora of Volkswagen Golf derivatives offer more space for people and luggage.

There’s marginally more cabin space in the Astra and six-footers in the rear seat will notice there’s more room for their heads and legs than in the Focus.

Pop the tailgate open and you’ll discover the Vauxhall pips the Ford in boot-space terms, too, with 370 litres of space compared with 316. It’s a similar story when the seats are folded – they don’t lie completely flat in either car but at 1,235 litres there’s 20 litres more space in the Astra than the Focus.

Explore the interiors of both cars and you’ll find a number of storage bins and cubbies dotted around, with sensibly-placed 12V sockets and USB ports easily accessible for charging smartphones and other devices on the move. Vauxhall also offers a specific phone charging cradle mounted just ahead of the gear-lever.

Both dashboards are comparable in terms of quality, fit and finish but the new Astra’s layout is much more cohesive in style with controls zoned into clusters for infotainment, air-con and driving dynamics to make them more intuitive to find.

On the road

While the Ford Focus has long-enjoyed a reputation as one of the best-handling cars in this market segment, that the all-new Vauxhall Astra is its equal will be news to many.

In spite of the sporty nature of their trims and complementary athletic aesthetics, neither the Ford nor the Vauxhall are particularly quick – fuel efficiency and low running costs are more important objectives.

Although it's less powerful, its lighter weight makes the Astra the quicker of the two, with a top speed of 124mph compared with the Focus’s 120mph figure.

Thanks to its peak torque of 300Nm at 1,750rom – 30Nm more than the Ford – the Vauxhall’s quicker to accelerate, sprinting from 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds, sixth-tenths of a second quicker than its rival.

Vauxhall’s also worked hard to make the Astra engaging to drive, with sharp steering, body roll kept to a minimum and a comfortable degree of ride quality for those inevitable long motorway cruises. The Ford’s edge has certainly been eroded but both are enjoyable for more enthusiastic drivers.

Generously equipped

Both cars have P11D values of under £21,000 meaning neither is at the top of the specification hierarchies of their respective line-ups.

Sporty cues feature prominently on each, reminders that these aren’t company car driver specials.

Choose the Ford and its Zetec S trim will bag you 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, a bodykit with an enlarged tailgate spoiler and side skirts, a gloss black honeycomb-pattern grille, sports suspension and LED elements to the head and tail lamps.

Inside there are sports front seats with red stitching, an adjustable front centre armrest and keyless start.

Marking out Vauxhall’s SRi Nav grade Astra are sporty exterior touches, although they’re more subtle than the Ford’s, in an otherwise similarly-stacked specification to the Focus. Its trump cards are the standard sat-nav as part of the infotainment system and OnStar – a virtual concierge service that allows you to talk in real time to an operator and have destination advice downloaded to the car.

Our choice

For some the Ford Focus would be the default choice and it’s easy to understand why – it's deservedly popular, well-specified, economical and good to drive too.

But the decision shouldn’t be that straightforward – the latest Vauxhall Astra matches the Focus dynamically and in this specification costs less to run, is in a lower BIK band yet is quicker and better equipped. 

In this company car hatchback battle, it has to be Astra.

*BIK car tax bands and P11D values correct at time of publication

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