ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: GROUP TEST
Ford Focus ST versus Vauxhall Astra GTC VXR
As Ford and Vauxhall launch their latest hot hatches, wheelworld reviews editor DAVID HOOPER reviews both models after driving the two cars back-to-back and reports on how the two manufacturers are taking quite different directions with the Focus ST and Astra GTC VXR.
FORD and Vauxhall battle fiercely for sales in all market sectors, but over the years, the hot hatch market has seen both companies produce some spectacular cars.
Ford had its XR3, while Vauxhall had its GTE – later sporting Ford models proudly wear ST and RS badges, while the owners of quick Vauxhalls now talk about VXRs.
Their respective hot hatches offered very similar warmed-up versions of the carmakers’ most popular models with largely comparable performance figures, so a majority of buying decisions came down to badge loyalty or styling preferences.
Today however, as the two manufacturers’ latest performance models hit the showrooms in the shape of the new Ford Focus ST and the Astra GTC VXR, Ford and Vauxhall appear to be heading in different directions.
The Astra VXR is only available as a three-door coupe, while the Ford Focus ST line-up no longer offers a three-door version, only a five-door hatchback or estate – and I’ve been road testing both cars, the Focus ST in the hills around Nice, in the South of France, and the Astra VXR around Rockingham, including a couple of laps of the race circuit.
The character of the two cars is quite different – while both are very quick, the Focus ST has been designed as a usable every-day car, which can still be great fun to drive quickly when the fancy takes you. To this end, the ride quality is better than the Astra’s with a more compliant set-up, while the Astra VXR feels much stiffer, and while not uncomfortable, will appeal more to the hard-core performance fans who enjoy feeling every bump in the road. On the race track though, the VXR is excellent, and as Vauxhall expects many owners to use their cars on track days, from my brief two laps of Rockingham I know they’ll enjoy it.
The brakes on both cars are good, but after relatively short periods of abuse, there was noticeable brake fade on both cars and smoking brake pads, so if you drive either car hard, upgrading the standard brake pads would be a worthwhile early investment.
Both cars feature 2.0-litre turbo-charged engines, but the Astra VXR is the more powerful of the two with 280PS and 400Nm torque, while the Focus ST offers 250PS and 360Nm torque. The benchmark 0-62mph figures, however, are very similar, with 5.9 seconds for the VXR and 6.5 seconds for the ST. Their top speeds are the same, at 155mph.
The quality of the two cars is comparable and both feel very well put together. Standard equipment levels are also good – the Focus ST has three trim levels, while the VXR has one, but both models have extensive options lists and colour choices.
Ford has worked with Recaro to create some excellent sports seats which are electrically adjustable, while Vauxhall has designed its seats in-house. I found both comfortable after a long drive, but the Recaro logo stitched into the Ford perches does have a certain kudos.
Look at the price list and the Focus ST is by far the least expensive, with the range starting from £21,995, which represents incredibly good value for money, while the VXR starts from £26,995 on the road.
Fuel consumption on both cars isn’t great, with the VXR’s combined figure quoted as 34.9mpg, while the Focus ST’s is 39.2, but no great surprises there. Driven quickly and both cars only manage averages in the low 20s according their trip computers.
Both are great fun to drive, the handling is excellent, safe and pretty-much unshakeable, my only criticism being aimed at the brakes, which on performance models like these could be better on both cars.
Another noteworthy difference is that the VXR has a proper mechanical limited slip diff, while the Focus ST uses electronics to create similar effects – and to be honest, both work well and torque steer and traction is well sorted on both cars, although the Ford’s steering responses do feel slightly more artificial when pushed hard.
Two quite different propositions then from Ford and Vauxhall – both are excellent, but I think each is likely to attract a different type of customer, especially if the car is to be the only one in the household. The Focus is the more practical choice, especially with the estate option which is almost indistinguishable to drive from the hatch, while the VXR will appeal more to singletons or couples, who won’t need the rear seats so often and prefer the lines of the three-door bodystyle.
Personally – I would be very happy to own either of them!
FIRST DRIVE FACTS
MODEL: Ford Focus ST MODEL: Astra GTC VXR
BODY STYLES: Five-door Hatch and Estate BODY STYLES: 3-door coupe
ENGINE: 2.0 250PS Turbo ENGINE: 2.0i 16v Turbo
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph: 6.5 secs PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph: 5.9 secs
Top speed: 154mph Top speed: 155mph
MAX TORQUE: 360Nm MAX TORQUE: 400Nm
C02: 169g/km C02: 189g/km
TRIM GRADES: ST, ST-2, ST-3 TRIM GRADES: VXR plus option packs
PRICES: From £21,995 to £25,495 PRICES: From £26,995
IN THE SHOWROOM: Now IN THE SHOWROOM: Now