The Ford Focus
is Britain’s best-selling family hatch, but 12 months after its launch, it’s no longer the new kid on the block, with the arrival of the latest Civic.
The Ford’s bold looks still attract attention on the road and divide opinion in this office. While we’ve grown used to the shape, some of our testers think the detailing still appears a little heavy handed, while others think the Focus is really attractive. Either way, our red Zetec-spec test car looked pretty upmarket.
Inside it feels as solidly put together as the Honda but, with a few cheaper plastics in out of the way places, it can’t match the upmarket feel of the Golf. Comfort is hard to fault, though; the driving position is spot-on, with a huge range of steering wheel and seat adjustment. The seats are also comfortable and visibility is excellent.
Although the interior design isn’t as radical as the Honda’s, there’s still a danger of information overload in the button-heavy Focus. The centre console has the same large, mobile phone-inspired buttons for the stereo as the Fiesta. But there’s also a central trip screen and a pair of control pads on the multifunction wheel, and it all takes a while to get used to.
Driving the Focus is a different story, as the beautifully weighted controls soon help you feel at one with the car. The steering is accurate and delivers plenty of feedback, while the slick gearshift, progressive brakes and positive throttle response also impress.
The Ford has the most responsive turn-in of the trio, plus plenty of front-end grip, and its balance through a corner makes it fun and reassuring in equal measure. Plus, on the standard 16-inch wheels fitted to our test car, the ride is supple and comfortable.
Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre TDCi engine trails the Honda’s on torque by 30Nm, but it’s smooth and refined across the rev range. Just as well, because you need to work the Focus hard to make the most of its performance. To be fair, it was three-tenths quicker than the Golf from 0-60mph, with
a time of 9.5 seconds, and the two cars were also closely matched in our in-gear tests.
In fact, the Ford outgunned the Golf from 50-70mph in sixth and was more responsive than the Honda across the board. But it was the only one of the trio without stop-start, and CO2 emissions of 129g/km are the result. To rival the new Civic’s emissions, you need to look down the Focus line-up to the less powerful 109g/km 1.6-litre TDCi. Still, our 2.0-litre model was the most efficient car in our tests, averaging an impressive 44.4mpg.
It’s also worth remembering that the Zetec-spec Ford is the cheapest car of our trio, costing £1,500 less than the Honda, at £19,595. It does without the cruise control and parking sensors fitted to the Civic and Golf, but does have a DAB radio (like the VW).
And for £1,000 extra you can have the Driver Assistance Pack, which includes hi-tech active safety equipment like city stop braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assistance, traffic sign recognition, blind spot warning and driver tiredness alert.
Private buyers will be disappointed by the Focus’ predicted resale values of 38.1 per cent. They’re the worst on test and mean the car will suffer £527 more depreciation over three years than the more expensive Honda.
Company drivers will be more concerned about the Ford’s high CO2 emissions, which place it five tax groups higher than its rivals. As a result of this, a higher-rate earner will fork out £312 a year more in Benefit-in-Kind tax by choosing the Focus over the Civic.
The small boot is also likely to cause headaches. Opt for the £95 full-size spare wheel and the shallow load bay’s capacity drops to a paltry 277 litres. Even with the standard space-saver, there’s only 316 litres. That’s 161 litres less than in the spacious Honda, while even the 350-litre Golf has noticeably more room in the boot.
The Ford will be fine for most regular jobs, but could struggle when you come to load three or more large suitcases, or want to carry any large items. The floor-to-load-cover measurement is the shortest here.
So while the Focus is comfortable and very entertaining from the driver’s seat, there are a couple of compromises you have to be prepared to accept. Is it still good enough to beat the new Honda, or is the Ford about to be knocked down the compact family car pecking order?
Chart position: 2WHY: Britain’s best-selling family hatchback – the Focus is great to drive and continues to be the nation’s favourite.