Ford Focus review
The Ford Focus is great to drive, with an efficient EcoBoost engine and a top-value price tag
The Ford Focus has been a huge sales success in the UK ever since it was launched in 1998. This third-generation model is just as popular – so much so that more sold worldwide in 2012 than any other new car. That’s because it’s brilliant to drive and offers distinctive looks, superb refinement and a great-value price tag, too. It’s available with a host of hi-tech gadgetry usually seen on luxury limos, plus a multi-award-winning turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engine. The quality is better than ever before, but a VW Golf has a bigger boot and will still hold on to more of its value. The Focus is available as a five-door hatchback and a practical estate, as well as a high-performance ST model that was launched in 2012 and is offered in both bodystyles. The ST is powered by a 247bhp 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine and has a starting price of around £22,000, which means it significantly undercuts rivals like the Renaultsport Megane and VW Golf GTI. A new Focus RS is likely to arrive in 2014, and could be powered by a 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine producing as much as 350bhp. This would drop the 0-60mph time below the five-second mark.
Our choice: Focus 1.0T EcoBoost (125) Zetec
The Ford Focus is certainly a distinctive car, although its styling won’t be to everyone’s taste. The overall shape is neat, but the detailing lets it down – the curves and creases are good, but the triangular air intakes at the front are awkward and the huge gap between the badge and the bonnet looks a bit odd. A selection of bright new paint colours and a wide mix of alloy wheel designs help, but the Mk3 Focus is not one of Ford’s best designs. The VW Golf is more handsome and the SEAT Leon more flamboyant. On the inside, the cabin gets cool blue lighting, a neat piano black-covered centre console, smart dials and high quality materials and switchgear – although some might find the fussy, button-heavy design a bit confusing. It’s easy to get comfortable in the Ford Focus, though, with reach and rake steering, plus plenty of seat adjustment. Entry-level Studio cars come with 16-inch alloy wheels, manual air conditioning and USB connectivity. Mid-level Zetec adds front fog lights, a heated windscreen, sports seats and DAB, while Titanium models also get cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and a start button. There are also a few option packs that add gadgets such as lane departure warning, automatic parking and road sign recognition.
The Ford Focus has got progressively softer over the years, but this latest version is still the best to drive in its class, thanks to sharp steering, an agile chassis and strong grip – it's more engaging to drive than a VW Golf and miles ahead of the Vauxhall Astra. It also boasts superb body control, a precise gearshift, progressive brakes and a firm, but still comfortable ride. It’s just a shame that it’s not as quiet as the Golf. The engine line-up includes 1.6-litre petrol units ranging from 104bhp to 180bhp and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels ranging from 95bhp to 161bhp. Our pick would be the 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost, which is surprisingly fun and remarkably frugal. The 1.6-litre EcoBoost is another great engine, but it's costly. The 113bhp 1.6 TDCI Zetec is better value and will return more than 67mpg. If economy is your priority, the ECOnetic model drives like any other Focus, and looks like one too, but returns over 80mpg and emits 88g/km of CO2.
The Focus has scored a full five-star crash test rating from Euro NCAP, with 92 per cent for adult occupant protection. Front, side and curtain airbags come fitted as standard, along with electronic aids such as the lane departure warning system. Anti-skid control and ABS are both fitted as standard, too. Ford’s reputation for reliability has improved dramatically over the last couple of years, and the Focus is a great example of this. Although owners placed the manufacturer towards the bottom of our Driver Power survey - slipping five places this year to a disappointing 25th of 30 - the Mk3 Focus finished a respectable 19th in the model line-up in its debut year. Owners have praised its fantastic handling and faultless ride, as well as its low running costs and long list of technology, too.
The five-door Focus offers plenty of room for passengers. There’s much more head and legroom for rear seat passengers than ever before – and much more than the 1 Series, too. But it falls down with its far from class-leading boot dimensions. At 316 litres, the third-generation Focus has less room than its predecessor, and a much smaller boot than the Golf or Vauxhall Astra. There is lots of useful storage, though, and the seats fold completely flat once the seat bases have been flipped forwards. Those who want more space can opt for the estate model, which boasts extra headroom for rear passengers and a 476-litre boot, which extends to 1,502 litres with the rear seats folded.
All Focus models – bar the high-performance ST model - emit less than 140 g/km of CO2, which is great news for those hoping to keep their running costs to a minimum. This feat is due to an all-new engine range and a series of weight-saving measures – the third-generation models weighs less than ever before, in spite of all the extra kit and improved safety it offers. A road tax and congestion charge exempt 88g/km ECOnetic model is impressive, as it drives like a normal Focus but uses very little fuel, although it's not quite as clean as the new Golf BlueMotion. The 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel, which does 109g/km and returns 67.3mpg, is also a decent bet. Our pick of the range, though, is the 1.0-litre EcoBoost. Its turbocharged motor will return 56.5mpg and 114g/km but retains the lively performance of a petrol engine. The Focus also has a bargain price tag and a long list of kit, but one of its biggest problems is its weak residual values – a Golf will hold onto more of its value over three years.