If, in choosing a Focus-sized Family Hatchback, you merely want to buy a very good one and pay as little as possible for it, then Hyundai has a proposition for you - its much improved third generation i30. With more efficient engines, a smarter look and the option of an impressive dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox, it's certainly a more competitive proposition than before. Spacious, sensibly-specced and value-laden, this is one car that all the other big volume manufacturers are keeping their eye on.
We've yet to drive this MK3 model but the prospects look good. Let's look at the engines on offer - there are three petrol units and one diesel. If you're a mainstream buyer fuelling from the green pump, you'll be choosing between a couple of advanced T-GDI units, a three cylinder 1.0-litre 120PS variant and a four cylinder 140PS 1.4-litre derivative, which can be ordered either with a six-speed manual gearbox or 7speed DCT auto transmission. The same transmission choices are also offered to diesel folk, who get the 1.6-litre CRDi 110PS powerplant carried over from the previous generation line-up. At the top of the range, the i30 N hot hatch gets a 2.0 TGDI petrol unit developing either 250 or 275PS.
Hyundai says it's put a lot more work into ride and handling this time round, developing this car in Europe at venues like the famous Nurburgring Nordschliefe. This is where the marque's first high performance 'N'-branded i30 model was developed, a variant we'll see shortly. In more mainstream i30 variants, the completely reworked chassis should certainly make the car feel more responsive, aided by more accurate electric power steering that is supposed to be 10% more direct than before.
There's a choice of three i30 bodystyles, a five-door hatch, a 'Tourer' estate and a sleeker five-door 'Fastback' model. Either way, you'll find the front end marked by the brand's latest stylistic signature, its so-called 'Cascading Grille'. In combination with the three-projector LED headlamps and the vertical LED daytime running lights, this gives the car a much stronger visual presence than it had before. To further enhance this, projector-type front fog lamps are integrated into the air curtains. Under the skin, the structure is much stronger, with 53% of the framework now fashioned from Advanced High Strength Steel.
It's much smarter and classier inside too. The floating screen of the optional eight-inch navigation touch screen on the dashboard integrates all navigation, media and connectivity features and there's a redesigned multifunction three-spoke steering wheel too. For enhanced comfort, the front seats can be heated or cooled in three stages. When customers choose power seats, these can be adjusted in 10-ways including lumber support. There's an optional panoramic glass roof to fit with the current segment trend. And bootspace has been slightly increased - to 395-litres. Overall seats-folded space is slightly down on before though, now rated at 1,301-litres. Versatility is enhanced with a practical two-stage luggage board and a ski hatch in the rear centre seat. Go for the Tourer estate version and you get a 602-litre boot, extendable to 1,650-litres.
In summary then, an effective package - as this i30 has always been. For complete desirability in this segment though, you sense that in the future, a touch of unpredictability might be needed from Hyundai when it comes to a car of this sort, something truly ground-breaking that still ticks all the boxes on every Family Hatch buyer's wish list. We've little doubt that one day, the brand will provide it.
In the meantime though, what we already have here is still enough to leave the industry's more established car makers with furrowed brows. Ultimately, it's hard to do too much better for the money. Which means that for the time being at least, the i's still have it.Click here to find out more about our Hyundai i30 range
The Ford Focus has evolved, this MK4 version offering slicker looks, higher interior quality and extra technology. There's also greater efficiency beneath the bonnet thanks to the addition of a hi-tech range of petrol and diesel engines. The best part though, is that this car should still remain as rewarding to drive as it's always been. The Focus might have grown up but it certainly hasn't lost its spark.
Our test of this fourth generation Focus confirmed that the sharp driving dynamics that marked out previous models have been retained. That's aided by the standard inclusion of a driving modes system this time round with settings that can alter steering feel, throttle response and, if you've an auto variant, transmission response times. Talking of autos, there's a new 8-speed self-shifter on offer. Otherwise, you'll be swapping cogs with a 6-speed manual.
The engine range initially looks familiar, but closer inspection reveals that it's been heavily revised. As before, the range primarily hinges around Ford's familiar three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, which gets a new turbocharger and cylinder head and is available in 85, 100 and 125PS guises. There's also a new 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine with 150 or 182PS. Plus a fresh 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel with 95 and 120PS. And a 2.0-litre EcoBlue unit with 150PS. As for the suspension, well a little disappointingly, Ford has followed Volkswagen's lead in equipping lower-powered 1.0-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel variants with a cruder twist-beam set-up. If you want the more sophisticated independent rear double wishbone suspension system that's supposed to improve ride comfort, you'll need an estate, the 'Active' crossover version, top-spec 'Vignale' trim or a hatch with 1.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel power. The 'ST-Line' version gets stiffer, lowered suspension.
There's nothing particularly striking about the way this fourth generation Focus looks but the lines are crisp and pleasing, whether you opt for the five-door hatch body style or the alternative small estate. The overall length is 18mm longer than before and the car rides 15mm lower. Or at least it does in standard guise. The SUV-style 'Active' variant has a slightly higher ride height; the sporty 'ST-Line' model rides slightly lower than normal versions. As ever though, what's more important is the stuff you can't see: this Focus rides on the brand's latest 'C2' platform, which enables the wheelbase to be 53mm longer, freeing up extra cabin space.
You should certainly feel that inside. Rear knee room has increased by 56mm and, thanks to a re-profiling of the rear doors, the rear passengers' heads are now adjacent to glass rather than metal, so they'll be able to see out more easily. Up-front, as you'd expect, it all feels of much higher quality - the fascia now has half the number of buttons that were there before. And shoulder room is class-leading. The extra body length has freed up more boot space too. In the estate version, there's now a class-leading 1.14m of width between the wheel arches and overall load length with the rear seats folded (1,700mm) is up by 134mm. That means 1,650-litres of carriage capacity.
Has any car had more of an impact on modern era motoring than the Ford Focus? With over 16 million global sales on the board, it's hard to argue the point. Other manufacturers can better this car in some regards, but they still can't make their family hatchback contenders drive like a Focus.
True, this car is still far from perfect. There are cheaper rivals - and there are certainly more spacious ones. As an overall package though, it remains hard to beat. This car no longer depends solely on handling supremacy to justify its position at the top of the sales charts. Smarter and more sensible, it is, more than ever, number one for a reason.Click here to find out more about our Ford Focus range
The Scala is Skoda's most credible tilt yet at the Focus-class family hatchback segment. Though the engineering's familiar from other VW Group models, the way the Czech brand has packaged it all up is quite appealing, with a decent combination of value, practicality and efficiency. If you prioritise sense and sensibility, want value in a car of this kind and are looking for something a little different from the obvious contenders in this class, the Scala could be worth a look.
Let's get the under-bonnet stuff out of the way first. The Scala comes with three petrol engines with a cylinder capacity of either 1.0 or 1.5 litres, plus there's a 1.6-litre diesel. Most will choose the 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, available with either 95PS or 115PS. The former unit comes only with a 5-speed manual stick shift, but if you choose the 115PS variant, you'll be offered the choice of either 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG auto.
The DSG 'box is also optional on the other two engines in the range. The 1.5 TSI 150PS petrol unit's worth a look, equipped as it is with efficient Active Cylinder Technology that means it's almost as efficient as the 1.0-litre option. As usual, you'll choose the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel if you want more pulling power; there's 250Nm of torque - though the 1.5 TSI petrol can match that. As usual with a compact Skoda, expect solid, safe handling; you won't be buying this car for driving thrills. Skoda suspension set-ups tend to be slightly on the firm side too. Optional is an Adaptive Cruise Control system that can automatically keep the car a safe distance behind the vehicle in front on the motorway, being even able to slow you right down to a stop and start you off again if you come across a tailback.
The Scala is a crisp piece of design work with its clearly defined surfaces, flowing lines and sleek aerodynamics. The front is actually quite striking with an upright radiator grille, a large air inlet underneath and side Air Curtains. The side profile 'tornado line' makes the vehicle look longer and works well with the sweeping roof line. There are LED head and tail lights, wheels of between 16 to 18-inches in size and as an alternative to the standard tailgate, the car can be ordered with an extended rear window. Under the skin, the car sits on the VW Group's latest stiff, sophisticated MQB-A0 platform.
Inside up-front, the Scala gets the brand's latest generation infotainment system with a free-standing screen positioned high on the dashboard in clear view of the driver. Plus there's the option of a 10.25-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument binnacle display. Classy touches include ambient lighting with a white or red light, plus the warm hues and contrasting coloured stitching on the seat covers provide a pleasant feeling of spaciousness. The long 2,649mm wheelbase allows for more rear seat leg room than you might expect to find in a car of this class. Out back, there's a large 467-litre boot, the largest in the class. This increases to 1,410-litres with the rear bench folded.
We always thought that the Rapid Spaceback was an under-rated car and there's every chance the Scala will be too. If you really don't want to pay an awful lot extra for the slush-moulded sophistication of a Golf but want all the same engineering and practicality, then you'll find it here. And in a form that doesn't carry any sort of budget brand stigma.
There are more exciting class choices to be sure. But, by and large, you don't buy a family hatchback for excitement. All the reasons you would want such a thing are covered off here with typical Skoda thoroughness. And with enough style and quality to make brand loyalists feel rather smug. This probably won't have been the car you started out wanting in this class, but there's just a chance that it may be the one you actually need.Click here to find out more about our Skoda Scala range