VW Golf: Hatchback twin test

Can the Astra beat the Golf?

More by luck than judgement we have managed to procure three of the most popular small family hatchbacks in the UK.

The 'oldest' , if you like, is my 1.2-litre TSI Volkwagen Golf. It turned up in Spring and then within a couple of months the new 1.6-litre diesel Ford Focus arrived ready for our discerning consumer reporter, Lewis Kingston, to try out.

Like buses, a third medium hatch, in the form of a 2.0-litre diesel Vauxhall Astra, graced the Parkers car park and it was claimed by news reporter Gareth Evans - the most keenest driver of us all since his idea of a fine afternoon is a spot of drifting in ridiculously large 600bhp Japanese sports cars - a Freudian method of over-compensation if ever there was one. Evans is an irrepressible force - a regular glance across to his computer screen often reveals a window containing Supra.net or other madcar.com-type forums. He is a law unto himself.

Inevitably, the presence of three similar machines leads to comparisons along the lines of 'mine's better than yours' which is fairly simplistic, and somewhat childish. Once the incivility dies down, however, there usually begins a succession of very cogent arguments to establish which is superior.

Since I spent the last week with Gareth's Astra, I feel it is good time to pitch it against the Golf... and the Golf alone. Lewis's Focus will come under the spotlight later.

So which is best - the Golf or the Astra? Read on to find out:

Fuel economy and emissions

Once again we face the eternal conundrum: to trust the official fuel economy stats or write them off as mere wishful thinking? The official stats provide a level playing field so I'll go with them if you don't mind. If you compare them my directly, my Volkswagen loses out quite dramatically: the Astra will return 62.8mpg, whereas the Golf will return 49.6mpg on average. So far in our test the Golf is returning 41.7mpg and although we haven't run it long enough to get a decent figure, the trip computer suggests we are getting no more than 40mpg from the Astra.

Predictably the diesel Astra wins on CO2 emissions too. It puts out 119g/km while the Golf emits 134g/km.

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Company car choice?

The Golf has with a P11D value at £16,965 against the Astra's of £24,825 including the £2,100 worth of options. For a tax payer on the 40% pay scale the Golf costs £106 per month while the Astra will set them back £157.23 a month. It's a Golf whitewash here because it sits in the 17% company car band while the Astra's in the 19% BIK bracket.

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I still have to fold down one half of rear seats (the larger section) to get my golf bag and trolley in the Golf's loadbay and the story is the same with the Astra. In practical terms it's a draw but if stats float your boat then the Astra loses. With the rear seat up in the Vauxhall you get 312 litres of loadspace and with them down you get 1,070 compared with the Golf's stats, which offers 350 litres and 1,305 litres. There's not much difference really and they both have decent, quick fold-down mechanisms so really it's score draw here.

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VW - The Golf S 1.2-litre TSI we are running costs £17,135  but we shelled out £350 extra for an MP3 connection, £75 for front and rear carpet mats, £405 for 15-inch alloys, £230 for front fog lights and £465 for pearl effect paint  - a total of £18,660.

Vauxhall - The Astra SRi CDTi ecoFLEX start/stop's on-the-road price is £22,725. Standard equipment includes air-con, and cruise control as well as all the usual bits, but we paid £395 for front and rear parking sensors, £855 for the sat nav with seven-inch colour screen, bluetooth and iPod connectivity, £160 for DAB radio, £110 for the tyre pressure warning system, £470 for ergonomic sports seats, £525 for the towing pack which features trailer stability programme and tow bar and £85 for a space-saver wheel - a total of £25,545.

Yes, you get more kit, but the starting price means the Golf is a walk-in-the-park winner.

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The VW badge is enough to trump the Astra quite comprehensively. After three years or 30,000 miles the Golf retains 43% of its original value while the Astra retains 33%.

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The Golf has a very enthusiastic 103bhp 1.2-litre TSI engine that has a creditable 129Nm of pulling power and as a result it'll get from 0-62mph in 10.6s with a top speed of 115mph, but it can't keep up with the Astra's 2.0-litre lump that'll take it to the benchmark sprint of 8.5s, and then on to a 134mph top speed.

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Ride and handling

This was a close one. With the Golf you get loads of grip and sharp turn-in and, as I have said before, you'll have to driving like a complete lunatic to get it out of shape on the twisty stuff. The Astra isn't quite so accomplished but it isn't too shabby either. The Astra's ride is compliant and slightly softer than the Golf's but it's pretty marginal. We like the steering feel on the Astra and it is better than that on the Golf but, again it's close. Overall, the Golf is just too good, so it's another point to VW .

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When you first get in the Astra you feel very reassured because the ergonomic sports seats really do hem you in nicely and they are perfect for urgent cornering. That said, for long journeys, the simplicity of the seats in the Golf seem to do the job better and you do emerge from the driver's seat feeling very fresh. I think it's a draw here.

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You'd be fooling yourself if you said the Astra was more desirable than the Golf. The badge goes a long way it seems.


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Current mileage: 6,088

Average mpg: 41.9