The latest Ford Focus struggled to stamp its authority on the compact family market when it made its debut in 2010. However, its fortunes were revived last year by the introduction of the brand’s innovative three-cylinder EcoBoost engines, which promise to deliver a winning blend of performance and efficiency.
Externally, there’s little to distinguish the Focus EcoBoost from other models in the line-up. That means you get the same bold mix of creases and curves, as well as the company’s trapezoidal grille treatment. Our Zetec car also benefited from standard 17-inch alloy wheels and front foglamps.
However, while the Ford has the upper hand on the outside, it can’t match its rival inside. The Focus’ dash is more imaginatively styled, but the layout is fussy and the fit and finish aren’t up to the VW’s high standards.
The driving position is excellent, though, and like the Golf, there’s room for five adults, with those sitting in the back getting adequate head and legroom. There’s also loads of useful storage for odds and ends, including deep door bins and a large glovebox.
Less impressive is the Ford’s cramped 316-litre boot, which is 64 litres smaller than the VW’s. Folding the rear seats flat liberates a useful 1,101 litres of capacity, but that’s still 169 litres less than the Golf provides.
What the Focus lacks in practicality, it makes up for with standard kit. Zetec versions come with desirable additions including a heated windscreen, leather steering wheel and electric rear windows – you’ll have to pay £570 to have the last two items on the Golf.
The Ford also steals a march on its rival at the track, where the more powerful 1.0-litre engine helped it cover 0-60mph three-tenths faster than the Volkswagen, in 10.3 seconds. However, in the real world there’s little to separate the two, as both respond crisply to the throttle and pull strongly from low revs. Only at high revs does the Ford push home its performance advantage.
The real highlight is the sparkling chassis. VW has closed the gap on its agile rival, but the Golf still can’t quite match the Focus’ handling balance. Well weighted and direct steering, great body control and strong grip are matched to a remarkably comfortable ride, while the progressive brakes and snappy gearshift complete the dynamic masterclass. Few family hatches are as much fun.
For all its brilliance on the road, though, the Focus can’t rival the VW for refinement. It’s not as well insulated from road, wind and engine noise as the whisper-quiet Golf.
At £18,295, the well equipped Ford is only £135 more expensive to buy than the rather spartan VW. Factor in a healthy dealer discount, and it will undercut the Golf. This could help to offset the weaker residuals, smaller boot and a less upmarket cabin.