Ford Focus review - Engines, performance and drive
In either of its two suspension configurations, the Focus is more fun than a family car has any right to be
The first thing to know is that the Focus gets a couple of different suspension configurations depending on which engine you choose. Opt for the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol or the 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel and you’ll get relatively simple twist-beam rear suspension; go for the 1.5-litre petrol or the 2.0 diesel and your car will feature a multi-link set-up. Picking ST-Line or ST-Line X lowers the set-up by 10mm, incidentally, regardless of which suspension layout is at the back.
This sounds like one half of the range could be the poor relation, but it’s worth remembering that some of the Focus’s main rivals (notably the Volkswagen Golf) have a similar split in the technical line-up.
It shouldn’t bother you much anyway because, regardless of suspension layout, the Focus is the best-handling family car around. Start your journey in town and you’ll find the car quick to respond when you turn the wheel to cut through traffic. But this doesn’t mean it’s nervous at speed; there’s just about enough play off-centre for the car to remain composed on motorways. It’s comfortable, too, the primary and secondary rides working nicely to soften all but the very sharpest of jolts from the road.
And when you find a twistier bit of road, the Focus trots out its party piece. Don’t expect the steering to chat away to you all the time, but the electrically powered set-up goes down as one of the best we’ve experienced in a family hatch. Suffice it to say that you will very quickly learn to lean on the Focus’ front end.
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Of course, none of this front-end bite would matter if the rest of the package felt like it wasn’t playing its part in proceedings. There’s the faintest, fleeting feeling of weight transfer if you ask the Focus to change direction in a hurry, but it passes so quickly that it’s unlikely to ever be an issue. As a handling package, it’s extremely well-judged.
Step up to a 1.5-litre petrol ST-Line on the more expensive suspension and there isn’t a giant leap forward in terms of agility; that’s testament to the regular set-up, more than it is any explicit criticism of the multi-link arrangement. You do feel the extra complexity when you start trying to change direction quickly over poorer surfaces; the faster Focus remains just that little bit more composed than its less powerful stablemate. But if you think the 1.0 is going to be fast enough for you (and it should be fast enough for plenty), you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about settling for the simpler chassis set-up.
We’ve also tried the most modest of the Focus diesels – the 120PS EcoBlue 1.5 – and it’s a decent option if you know you’re going to rack up big mileages. It’s not quite as sweet and hushed as the EcoBoost when cruising along, but it maintains speed reasonably well.
No matter which version you go for, refinement is strong. This is especially true of the flagship Vignale versions, which come with extra sound insulation – keeping all the worst road and wind noise at bay. We wouldn't step up to this model for that reason alone, but it's a notable advantage of the most expensive Focus on sale.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is slick enough, although it does prefer a positive throw instead of tentative shifts. The eight-speed automatic, meanwhile, is not without the occasional glitch but in general it’s a smooth enough performer. We still think that the VW Group’s dual-clutch DSG units are ever so slightly more polished than this torque converter auto, though.
The Focus has a mix of petrol and diesel engines. The core of the petrol range, badged EcoBoost, is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine that’s offered in two states of tune. There’s a 99bhp version offered solely for the Zetec model, while a 123bhp unit is available with all other trim levels.
The 123bhp 1.0-litre isn’t especially fast, but keep it spinning somewhere just north of about 2,250rpm and it’ll reward you with quick enough progress for most requirements. It’s at its best pootling around town or cruising along on the motorway, where it fades nicely into the background.
There is also a three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine, offered with either 148bhp or 180bhp - and the more powerful of those two motors actually has enough shove to take the Focus halfway towards being a warm hatchback instead of a regular family car. Both models are quiet around town and refined at high speed, too.
The diesel options are a 1.5-litre unit, called EcoBlue and offered with either 94bhp or 118bhp, and a 2.0 with a punchy 148bhp. The Focus doesn’t have any ‘hot’ diesel options like some of its VW Group rivals, incidentally. We found that the 118bhp engine performs reasonably well, although it does need revving to get the most out of it as there's not much torque below 2,000rpm, and this can be a little frustrating when pulling out of junctions or when overtaking. At least the six-speed manual gearbox has a positive shift to make life easier.
Ford has plans to launch a mild-hybrid Focus – using 48-volt technology instead of plug-in compatibility - but we’re unlikely to see it before 2020.
In this review
- 1Ford Focus reviewThe Ford Focus is a great-handling family hatchback that matches is rivals on interior quality and cabin space
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingIn either of its two suspension configurations, the Focus is more fun than a family car has any right to be
- 3MPG, CO2 and running costsPetrol engines are efficient enough to recommend them over diesel, unless you’re focused on sub-100g/km emissions
- 4Interior, design and technologyConservative design belies a considerable amount of tech, including slick SYNC 3 infotainment on most versions
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spacePlenty of space in the cabin for a family with fast-growing children - and the boot should be just about big enough to cope with their luggage too
- 6Reliability and safetyNew platform brings some risk but the engine line-up features some proven motors. Warranty is slightly above average