Ford Focus review
The Ford Focus is brilliant to drive, and offers brilliant EcoBoost petrol engines and lots of tech at a top-value price
The Ford Focus , alongside the Volkswagen Golf, is the benchmark family hatch, and the one that all others are compared to. It’s been a massive sales hit in the UK ever since the original Mk1 car appeared in showrooms back in 1998 – with the current third generation car continuing this success.
It remains the best handling car in its class, with buyers drawn to its superior driving dynamics, distinctive looks and great-value price. Adding to the appeal are lots of hi-tech gadgetry, including optional self-park systems, quick-clear windscreens and reversing cameras – not to mention the bags of safety equipment that comes standard across the range. Interior quality is better than ever before, although the latest VW Golf and Audi A3 have both raised the bar in this respect.
The Golf has the edge on boot size, too, but buyers wanting more space from their Ford Focus have the option of a larger, more practical Focus estate, which unusually drives just as well as the hatch.
Under the bonnet, you get a choice of economical diesel and smooth petrol engines – the highlight being the widely acclaimed three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engine, which not only promises lively petrol performance, but the low running costs you’d normally associate with a diesel. Topping the range is a high-performance Ford Focus ST model. It undercuts rivals like the Renaultsport Megane and VW Golf GTI in terms of list price, yet offers an impressive 247bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s a great driver’s car, but is set to be joined by an even faster Ford Focus RS at some point in 2014, which is likely to feature a 2.3-litre petrol engine boasting as much as 350bhp – meaning 0-62mph in less than five seconds.
Our choice: Focus 1.0T EcoBoost (125) Zetec
The Ford Focus certainly stands out with its neat shape, but some questionable detailing detracts from the design – and it’s nowhere near as distinctive as the original model from the 1990s. The current model gets some triangular air intakes at the front, as well as an unusually large gap between the badge and the bonnet – making it look like it hasn’t been closed properly. The SEAT Leon is arguably a more flamboyant choice in the family car market, while the VW Golf continues with its conservative yet desirable design. Inside, cool blue lighting floods the interior and high-quality interiors make the Focus feel like an upmarket product. The dash looks smart too, but the design is a little bit button-heavy and potentially confusing when travelling at speed. Still, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, with reach and rake steering adjustment, plus plenty of seat movement for both driver and passenger. Even the entry-level Studio models come with alloy wheels, while mid-spec Zetec models add front foglights and sports seats. Top-of-the-range Titanium models add a whole range of extra equipment, including LED daytime running lights, and heated front seats. The rapid Ford Focus ST gets an aggressive body kit, bigger alloy wheels and some lairy paint options – not to mention the brilliant turbocharged engine.
The Ford Focus remains the best compact family car to drive and is the car that all others in its class are compared to. Sharp steering, an agile chassis and strong grip mean it's more engaging from behind the wheel than a VW Golf or Vauxhall Astra, while superb body control, a precise gearshift and progressive brakes mean its nearly as poised as the much more expensive BMW 1 Series. The ride is firm, but still comfortable, yet it could be slightly more refined at high speeds. If you want a car that will munch motorway miles, then the Focus is a solid bet, but doesn’t come close to the whisper-quiet VW Golf. Engine options include 1.6-litre petrols ranging from 104bhp to 180bhp and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels with between 95bhp and 161bhp. However, our pick is the 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol, which is surprisingly fun and remarkably economical. The 113bhp 1.6 TDCi diesel is better value and will return more mpg, but it doesn’t give the lively performance you naturally associate with a small petrol engine. Buyers wanting the ultimate efficiency should go for the ECOnetic model – this looks and drives like any other Focus, but promises fuel consumption of over 80mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions for free road tax. Meanwhile, keen drivers will love the scorching 247bhp ST hot hatch, which covers 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and has uprated suspension for even better cornering ability.
As is the trend for most cars in the family hatchback market, the Ford Focus achieved the maximum five-star rating in the stringent Euro NCAP crash tests – thanks in part to its impressive adult occupant protection score of 92 per cent. Front, side and curtain airbags come as standard, as does electronic stability control and electronic brakeforce distribution. In addition, the Ford Focus can be specified with a hi-tech Driver Assistance Pack, which adds a city safety function, collision avoidance kit, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and road sign recognition. The Focus is a reliable choice, too, with no reports of major problems. Not all owners are happy with their car, though, as proved with its disappointing 70th place in the Auto Express Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey. That said, the fantastic handling and faultless ride were widely praised, as were the Focus’ low running costs and long list of standard kit.
There’s much more head and legroom in the rear of the latest five-door Focus than ever before – the car certainly has the edge over rivals like the BMW 1 Series in this respect. Unlike before, there is no three-door model available, but inside there are plenty of large cubby holes, and the rear seats will easily house a couple of full-size adult. However, the extra interior space seems to have come at the expense of luggage capacity. Boot size stands at only 316 litres with the rear seats in place, which is disappointingly smaller than the old Ford Focus and a long way behind the VW Golf, which has similar overall dimensions but offers a more generous 380-litre capacity. Still, once you’ve flipped the rear seatbases forward, the seatbacks fold completely flat to free up a maximum 1,101 litres. Those who want more room can opt for the more practical Ford Focus estate – not only does this have a 476-litre boot that expands to 1,502 litres, it also provides extra headroom for rear passengers thanks to its lack of a sloping roofline.
Emissions are low across the latest Focus range – the only version to produce more than 140g/km of CO2 is, of course, the high-performance ST. The efficient new engine range can take part of the credit for this, but it’s also down to a series of weight-saving measures. In spite of all the extra kit and advanced safety features, the third-generation Focus is lighter than ever before and as a result is cheaper to run, too. Leading the way for efficiency is the diesel ECOnetic model: it promises 83.1mpg fuel consumption and is exempt from road tax, emitting only 88g/km of CO2. The new VW Golf BlueMotion is even cleaner, with 88.3mpg and 85g/km, but as with all Golfs, commands a higher list price, too. Even the standard 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel returns 67.3mpg and emits 109g/km, but our pick of the Focus range is the 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol model. Its turbocharged engine gets a claimed 56.5mpg and 114g/km, yet retains the lively performance of the old 1.6-litre engine. This year for the first time Ford will offer its electic battery powered Focus in Europe, which has a 100 mile range from its lithium ion batteries and emits no local CO2 at all. However this car is incredibly expensive at well over £30,000 before the government's electric car grant and it brings compromises to both handling and practicality. Whichever Focus you choose, you get plenty of kit and a great-value price tag, while the line-up ranges from insurance group seven for basic cars up to group 34 for the ST. Due to its popularity, you’ll find plenty for sale on the used market, while parts and servicing shouldn’t break the bank. That said, residuals aren’t as strong as the equivalent VW Golf, and you’ll be lucky to get more than 40 per cent of its value back in three years time.