It’s nearing its second birthday, but the Ford Focus is still a strong family hatch choice. With a sparkling driving experience, superb refinement and top-value price, it deserves to be on any buyer’s shopping list.
It’s certainly the most distinctive car here. With its bold mix of curves and creases, the five-door Ford is sleeker than the upright Volkswagen and slightly frumpy BMW. Our Titanium model is further set apart by LED tail-lights, extra gloss black trim for the grille and optional 18-inch alloys – 16-inch wheels are standard.
There’s less to shout about inside. Not only is the dashboard fussy and less intuitive to use than rivals’, the quality of the materials and the level of fit and finish isn’t up to the high standards set by the VW Golf.
Still, what the Focus lacks in upmarket appeal it makes up for with standard kit. As with the Golf, there’s a DAB radio, Bluetooth, an iPod connection and dual-zone climate control. It just can’t match the VW for safety kit – Active City Stop is part of the £850 optional Driver Assistance Pack, while adaptive cruise control is a £750 extra.
The Ford claws back some ground in terms of space, as rear passengers get more head and legroom than those in the 1 Series, while there is lots of useful storage. But the cramped 316-litre boot trails the Golf’s by a huge 64 litres.
The 138bhp Focus also struggles to match the VW for pace. Not only does it give away 10bhp to the new car, it also weighs 67kg more, at 1,421kg. As a result, it was 1.2 seconds slower in the sprint from 0-60mph, and one-tenth slower than the less powerful 1 Series, with a time of 10.0 seconds. Still, on the road the Ford feels just as lively as the BMW, and is every bit as fun to drive.
A poised chassis has long been one of the trademarks of the Focus, and this is upheld by the current car. Sharp steering, strong grip and excellent agility make it more engaging in corners than the Golf. A slick and precise gearshift, progressive brakes and superb body control complete the dynamic masterclass.
Better still, this nimble handling doesn’t come at the expense of comfort, as the supple Focus glides over bumps and potholes. It’s just not as quiet as the VW, with more road and wind noise disrupting the otherwise calm cabin.
There’s no doubting the Ford’s showroom appeal, thanks to its bargain £21,045 price and long kit list. Do the sums, though, and its financial advantage begins to crumble. It has the weakest residuals and the highest CO2 emissions, and costs the most to service.
Plus, this was the thirstiest model in our test, returning a disappointing 43.8mpg. Will that ultimately cost the Focus a shot at victory in this extremely close encounter?