Group test: new Astra meets its rivals, CAR+ December 2015

Published: 13 November 2015

► Warm-hatch group test 
► Astra, Focus, Golf, Proceed
► Which one is marriage material?  

Who giveth these wheels?

Vauxhall Astra SRi: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This is the seventh iteration of a car serially fated to follow two truly great hatchbacks up the aisle. Waterproof mascara still a must for the spinster of this parish, then?

Ford Focus Zetec S: Every wedding needs an under-wired vamp to keep gently intoxicated fathers-in-law interested, and the Focus is now sufficiently long in the tooth to fit the bill. Still teaches more decorous youngsters a thing or two, though…

Kia Proceed GT: Hopeless name masks interesting guest. Presents as the colonel’s rebellious daughter but, a whiff of social Tourette’s aside, may prove too gentile for outrage.

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Stifling a self-satisfied smirk as it carelessly lobs the bouquet over its shoulder en route to Mr Clooney’s agreeable villa on the shores of Lake Como; the Golf has been wantonly stealing hearts for seven generations.

Chiselled like a Venice Beach torso. But from Luton

Jasper Conran or giant meringue?

Vauxhall Astra SRi: At first glance a safer study than the snappy, current generation three-door, but gently elegant for all that. Less chrome, less overt evidence of Adam’s blade work, and C-pillar a cheeky homage to the first Focus.

Ford Focus Zetec S: ‘It all comes out of a bottle these days’, echoes the sotto voce snipe from the back of the church. Botox can never better the original, but this Aston Martin Smith grille treatment is a marked improvement.

Kia Proceed GT: Crouching Tiger Hidden Drag Queen. Handsome Schreyer effort with a racy waistline and matronly hips. Some of the jewellery’s a trifle paste, however, such as egg-crate running lights and sperm whale cough sweet-sized tail lamps.

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Not a tramp stamp in sight; a pocket-sized colossus of understated elegance and classy detailing. Cast-iron proof that you don’t have to reach for the French curves or sheet-steel origami handbook to conjure a pretty, properly proportioned car.

Looks like an Aston, steers like a Focus. Result

Tented village or village hall?

Vauxhall Astra SRi: Huge improvement. Dashboard design is sharp-suited and clean, with elegant integration of the touchscreen. Switchgear functionally intuitive, but still too much chrome. Driving position ruined by console box lid elbow interruptus. Stacks of legroom astern.

Ford Focus Zetec S: Increasingly tired-looking interior with unpleasantly swollen dashboard starting to feel low-rent. Surprised not to find basketball court markings on the floor. Fine driving position. Plenty of room in the back on a bruisingly firm bench.

Kia Proceed GT: Interior a vast improvement on Kias of yore, but there’s still sufficient acreage of elephant hide to host an extended safari. Switchable driver’s dials a nice touch, but front of over-angled seat base unpleasantly intrusive. Rear chthonic.

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Stilton mature, painstakingly refined and superbly screwed together interior. Terrific driving position with the best forward visibility here. Plenty of room aft on comfortable seats. The only ergonomic glitch is awkward helm-mounted volume switchgear.

‘I’m crazy me, honest. Like a firecracker. Bonkers’

Small things on toast or posh caterers?

Vauxhall Astra SRi: Astra at last leads the connectivity stakes by a clear length, with a wi-fi hotspot, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the company’s OnStar concierge/emergency call/on-board diagnostics system fitted as standard. Bluetooth connectivity a doddle.

Ford Focus Zetec S: Though Zetec S standard spec is respectable, the infotainment’s no great shakes. So, for £250, the addition of a good quality 8-inch touchscreen incorporating navigation and DAB radio is not only a steal, it’s essential.

Kia Proceed GT: DAB radio added, CD player deleted. TomTom nav via the 7-inch touchscreen and rapid phone connectivity. High standard spec including the only reversing camera here, and also the only proper keyless entry to match keyless go

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Satisfactory rather than extravagant standard specification. Simple, intuitive infotainment operation an ongoing hallmark. Yoof will favour the Astra’s app-titude; grown-ups will be more than happy with all here save the £320 fleecing for ‘Advanced telephone prep’.

A quintessential English country landscape

Pol Roger Reserve or pink prosecco?

Vauxhall Astra SRi: Quickest of the 148bhp triplets quoted here thanks to draconian pre-nuptial dieting. Eager engine with engaging soundtrack would be even more entertaining with a shorter gearlever throw and less clutch vagary.

Ford Focus Zetec S: 80kg heavier than the Astra, and doesn’t feel that quick out of the traps. Doesn’t matter, though. Glorious powertrain with rorty noises gangs up with crisp, precise gearchange to elicit serious enthusiasm.

Kia Proceed GT: Quickest here, but a porker on a par with the Focus, so not by a margin that a 53bhp power advantage might posit. Engine eager to rev and eager to shout about it; enjoys a good thrashing. 

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Great engine, lusty in tone and temperament; installed in the lightest car here and abetted by tidy gear change, surprisingly quick too. Undetectable two-cylinder shut off boasts the best fuel economy and emissions here. 

With these piano black plastics and connectivity you are really spoiling us

Crawl over her to get to you…

Vauxhall Astra SRi: Great balance of ride comfort and handling agility, with a mild tendency to float over larger undulations. Road noise dominates, giving the driver all the surface information the steering refuses to. Huge potential for hot version.

Ford Focus Zetec S: Evidence of the sizeable fortune splurged on the first Focus by Parry-Jones still shines through. Fantastic steering, flat, tingling ride and fabulous poise gives it the ability to effortlessly maintain a higher speed through corners. 

Kia Proceed GT: Speculation that this is an even less worthy candidate for a carnival music-backed ad campaign than the mastication marathon that is Ryvita would be misplaced; the Kia delivers healthy dollops of classic hot-hatch fun.

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Solid, refined and revoltingly good at getting on with it. All controls a constant pleasure to use, with a newfound deftness and danceablity about the handling which renders the £830 adaptive chassis option pointless.

Tired cabin, great driving position


Vauxhall Astra SRi: Presentable and polished. Still carrying the train but now with a better chance than ever of a little usher action. 

Ford Focus Zetec S: Lamb dressed as mutton. But definitely still worth an extended run under the duvet.

Kia Proceed GT: Price undermines the Kia’s premise of more go for less dough. More mild than wild child in this company.

VW Golf 1.4 TSI: Wonderfully complete car; nearly perfect. Reassuringly expensive. A threat to piggy banks everywhere. 

Intuitive controls, classy cabin, delightful ergonomics etc

The specs

Vauxhall Astra SRi Nav 1.4i 150PS Turbo

Price: £19,595 
As tested: £20,985
Engine: 1399cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 148bhp @ 5000rpm, 181lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 7.8sec 0-60mph, 134mph, 51.4mpg, 128g/km CO2 
Weight: 1278kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: ****

Ford Focus Zetec S 1.5 Ecoboost S/S 

Price: £20,845 
As tested: £22,520
Engine: 1499cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 148bhp @ 6000rpm, 177lb ft @ 1600rpm 
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.9sec 0-62mph, 130mph, 51.4mpg, 127g/km CO2 
Weight: 1358kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: ****

An old-school hot hatch, complete with old-school dash plastics

Kia Proceed GT 1.6 T-GDi

Price: £23,105 
As tested: £23,105
Engine: 1591cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 201bhp @ 6000rpm, 195lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 7.3sec 0-60mph, 143mph, 38.2mpg, 170g/km CO2 
Weight: 1359kg
On Sale: Now 
Rating: ***

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI ACT 150PS R-Line (winner)

Price: £25,265 
As tested: £28,620
Engine: 1395cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 148bhp @ 5000rpm, 184lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.2sec 0-62mph, 134mph, 57.6mpg, 115g/km CO2 
Weight: 1270kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: *****

Golf oh so at home on expansive gravel driveways

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche