Few hatchback buyers will consider the i30 without also running the rule over another perennial class favourite – the Ford Focus. The latest model has had a tough time making an impression in the sector, narrowly losing out to the VW Golf back in Issue 1,168, but the Zetec version we have lined up for this test makes a lot of sense.
The Ford’s modern exterior design falls somewhere between the high-impact styling of the Hyundai and more sombre Golf. It looks good, yet there are some awkward angles and it’s not universally popular with our team of testers. Zetec models do come with smart 16-inch alloy rims, front foglights and a subtle roof spoiler as standard, though, and these all add to its desirability.
The modern theme continues on the inside, but the dash layout is initially confusing. Classy touches such as the deeply cowled dials and chunky steering wheel are overshadowed by the huge array of plastics and busy design. After the Golf’s simple arrangement, it takes a while to get used to.
Build quality is reasonable and the driving position is spot-on, yet some of the materials look cheap compared to those you find inside the Hyundai.
The Ford also lacks the attention to detail that makes the VW feel like such a premium product. However, the Focus’s real stumbling block is its modest practicality.
The 316-litre boot is the smallest here and will demand careful packing on family trips – the i30 and Golf both offer significantly more space for bags. In fact, the Hyundai boasts an extra 215 litres with the rear seats folded down, as well as better head and shoulder room in the back.
In the competitive family car sector, such small margins can mean the difference between success and failure. The Ford also put in a solid but unspectacular showing at the test track. Despite using the same 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel as the Mazda, it took a second longer to cover the 0-60mph sprint, posting a time of 12.1 seconds.
The margins were a lot smaller in our in-gear tests, but on the road you have to drive the Ford hard to keep pace with the other cars in our line-up – long gearing makes it feel a touch slower than the Golf and Mazda.
Point the Focus down a twisting country road and the tables are turned, as Ford’s trademark handling know-how comes to the fore. The chassis is grippy and poised, and the steering is wonderfully direct and precise, giving you plenty of confidence when cornering. Add a supple ride and slick manual gearbox, and the Focus strikes the best dynamic compromise between fun and refinement behind the wheel.
Perhaps this explains the disappointing fuel economy, as we managed only 41.8mpg on test – significantly less than in the other three cars. Add the Ford’s higher price, and it struggles to compete with the i30’s value.
Chart position: 3WHY: The Focus is a mainstay of the Ford fleet and part of the UK motoring landscape. The 1.6 TDCi is typically great to drive, too.