Ford Focus review
The Ford Focus is fantastic to drive, and offers brilliant EcoBoost petrol engines and lots of tech at a top-value price
The Ford Focus is the best-selling family hatch in the UK, and with good reason. There’s a wide range of models, from basic to high-performance, while the turbo petrol and diesel engines deliver decent running costs.
This latest third-generation Ford Focus sets the standard in the family hatchback market, providing supreme quality, comfort and handling - a true rival for the Volkswagen Golf. In late 2014 it was given a facelift, including a more upmarket-looking chrome grille, narrower headlights and a much improved interior. A new range of engines and technology were also introduced, helping it to better battle the Golf.
Those wanting more space have the option of the Ford Focus estate, too. Unusually, the estate version of the Ford Focus actually drives just as well as the hatch.
The Ford Focus is available in six main specifications - entry-level Studio and Edge, mid-range Zetec and Zetec S and top-of-the-range Titanium and Titanium X. Meanwhile, those after a little extra performance should opt for the excellent ST hot hatch - a great alternative to the likes of the VW Golf GTI and Renaultsport Megane.
The Ford Focus engine line-up features economical diesel and smooth petrol engines. We'd opt for the popular three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engine, which strikes a balance between lively performance and low running costs.
Our choice: Focus 1.0T EcoBoost (125) Zetec
The facelift in 2014 sorted out much of the Focus' problems when it came to styling. It was a bit anonymous, even a little awkward, but the new narrow headlights and chrome grille have transformed it into a car that's now actually pretty striking. The SEAT Leon remains perhaps the best-looking but at least the Focus isn't quite as dull to look at as the Golf.
The rest of the car follows a standard hatchback template, although the roofline is slightly longer than its rivals’, giving the Ford a slightly squarer profile.
From the side there’s an awkward clash of body lines under the mirrors, but overall the Focus has the same profile as before. At the back are new, slimmer tail-lights and a revised hatch, although only diehard fans are likely to be able to tell the new car from its predecessor.
The biggest changes are reserved for the cabin, where the all-new dash brings things bang up to date. Material quality is excellent, with soft-touch plastics and improved climate-control switches; the latter are larger, so easier to operate. The blue-lit instruments look classy, while a larger trip computer display between the dials is clearer to read.
Overall, the Focus has greatly benefited from the update, and it feels like a quality product.
The Ford Focus has clearly been designed with comfort and efficiency in mind, but having said that it's still an enjoyable ride. It's certainly more exciting to drive than a Vauxhall Astra, and we'd say that it offers up more agile handling than a Volkswagen Golf thanks to sharp steering, a great chassis and strong grip. It's like a big Fiesta, and there's no higher compliemnt for a front-wheel drive car than that.
The Focus has always had a reputation for serving up strong driver thrills, and the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, espeically in 123bhp guise, suits its sporty nature. So, too, does the new 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine, available with either 178bhp or 148bhp.
Although the three-cylinder thrum from the 1.0-litre model won’t be to all tastes, the six-speed manual version features a dual-mass flywheel that eliminates vibrations well. The engine is settled at motorway speeds and doesn’t spoil cabin comfort, while the suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps. The car is very surface-sensitive though - older motorways produce a lot more road noise in the car than newly resurfaced ones, whereas rivals mask surface changes better.
Ford sells 1.6-litre TDCi diesels and 1.5-litre TDCis; since the 1.5-litre engine is newer and more efficient we'd recommend going for that – it's worth the extra money.
In corners, the Focus is very entertaining, with quick steering and a responsive chassis. It’s not quite as focused as past models, but still has an edge over its rivals for handling. The facelifted models come with tweaked steering and suspension, giving a subtle boost to the handling.
Those wanting a sportier version of the Ford Focus can choose the ST, which is by far one of the best hot hatchbacks available on the UK market. Its powerful engine reaches 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds, and it offers a firm but comfortable ride, too.
When you consider how many Focuses have been sold, it appears to be a fairly reliable car. Owners aren’t greatly enamoured with it, which is why the model dropped from 19th place in the Driver Power 2012 survey to 70th in 2013 – but there are no major issues that potential buyers need to be aware of. Owners like how the Focus drives and the technology it offers, although a 29th place finish for Ford’s chain of 700-plus dealers isn’t great.
The 1.0-litre EcoBoost is still quite new but is proving to be really reliable. We had no problems with it in the Focus Estate we ran on our fleet, though, clocking up 20,000 miles in a year.
Ford’s safety technology helped the Focus earn a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. You get six airbags and ESP as standard, while the Zetec model includes handy extras such as heated mirrors and a Quickclear heated windscreen. On top of that, you can add Ford’s £550 Driver Assistance Pack, which brings pre-collision city braking, a lane keeping aid, traffic sign recognition, auto lights and wipers and a driver alertness monitor.
The Focus isn’t the most practical compact hatch on the market. While its dimensions are on the large side in this class, the car is small inside.
One criticism of the pre-facelift Focus was the limited boot space next to its class competitors, and unfortunately this hasn’t been remedied with the facelift. The 363-litre boot is 22 litres down on the Nissan Pulsar, and there’s 1,148 litres available with the back seats folded, which also lags behind some rivals. However, access is good thanks to a wide-opening tailgate, and there’s no step in the floor when the seats are down.
Back seat space is restricted, with less legroom than rivals like the SEAT Leon and Nissan Pulsar, although the doors open wide. One neat feature are the edge protectors that pop out of the doors as you open them to prevent car park dings. While the Focus is tight in the back, there’s plenty of space up front. It’s easy to get comfortable at the wheel, and storage is plentiful, too, with decent door bins, a deep armrest cubby and a big glovebox.
Plus, if you really need more practicality, you can always opt for the Ford Focus Estate. This has a 476-litre boot, which expands to 1,502 litres. There's lots of extra headroom for rear passengers, and large cubby holes for storage.
If you don't count the sporty Ford Focus ST, every car in the line-up emits less than 140g/km of CO2, which is pretty good if you consider how large the engine range is.
The latest Ford Focus is lighter than ever before and as a result it's cheaper to run, too. Highlights in the range include a frugal 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which is capable of emissions as low as 99g/km of CO2 in the facelifted car. The reality is that you would have to drive extremely cautiously to get near Ford's claimed fitures, though.
We'd also recommend the 1.5-litre TDCi, which offers tax-free CO2 emissions of 98g/km and still manages 74.3mpg. The old 1.6 TDCi is slightly behind that.
The great thing about the Ford Focus is you get lots of equipment and accessories as standard - all for a great-value price tag. Probably best to avoid the Studio models unless you're on a budget, though – it looks basic next to even the Style versions, which are just one grade above.
The Ford Focus' insurance group ratings fall between group seven for entry-level cars and group 34 for the Ford Focus ST.
Due to the popularity of the Ford Focus, you're likely to find plenty for sale on the used car market, while parts and servicing should be relatively inexpensive. However, residuals aren't as good as the Volkswagen Golf and you'd probably be lucky to get even 40 per cent of its value back after three year's time.