Ford Focus hatchback (2011 – ) expert review

By Stuart Milne and Andy Goodwin, 29th November 2011

The verdict

The third generation Ford Focus is more refined, efficient and safer than ever before, although it lacks the sharp-edged driving thrills of previous models.

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Expert rating:

4.0

Pros

  • Well equipped
  • Comfortable and quiet
  • Excellent Ecoboost petrol engines

Cons

  • Steering lacks feel
  • Feels a little cramped up front
  • High price against rivals

Full Review

1. Exterior

The third generation of the Ford Focus is a styling evolution from the Ford Fiesta, which means sleek lines giving the impression of movement, even when it’s standing still. All models come with alloy wheels, although it looks best on the five-spoke 18-inch wheels fitted to our test car. The front has Ford’s family look, while the rear is dominated by the huge tail-lights, which sweep onto the sides of the car. The Zetec-S model has extra visual bite, thanks to lower front and rear bumpers, unique 17-inch alloy wheels and rear LED lights.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

The interior features a thoroughly modern look, with comfortable seats and smart instrumentation that’s very easy to read. The plastics used look and feel high quality, and the sharp angles and unusually-shaped handbrake are attractive. Although the controls are logically arranged, the sheer number of them on higher-spec models can appear intimidating. The Zetec-S is more sports orientated and gets a ‘premium’ piano black centre console, sports pedals, sports trimmed seats and Ford Power start button.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

Ford admits some practicality has been sacrificed for style, citing the existence of a number of similarly-sized models such as the C-MAX MPV as justification. Space in the front is about average, although the overly-chunky centre console makes it feel more cramped than it is. Leg and headroom in the back is good, and storage spaces beside the seats are useful. The Focus hatchback gives away almost 60 litres of boot space to the Volkswagen Golf, but at 316 litres it’s still pretty big. The seats fold flat once the seat bases have been flipped forwards adding to its carrying capacity.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

The third generation Ford Focus feels more grown up than previous models, with more comfort and refinement than ever. Even with the large 18-inch alloys fitted to our test car, it rides smoothly over bumps, but the suspension is firm enough to allow it to corner well. The steering is direct, but feels a little too light. The Zetec-S trim tightens things up considerably, thanks to 28 per cent stiffer suspension – allowing the Focus to scythe through corners with very little understeer and adding some welcome heft to its steering feel. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact the ride quality is still maintained, the Zetec-S feeling no less comfortable than the standard car over all but the roughest roads.

Our rating: 4

5. Performance

A range of petrol and diesel engines are available. Petrol choices are all 1.6, featuring outputs of 84, 104, 123 and 148bhp. We tested the 148bhp version which is a member of Ford’s new Ecoboost range of engines, and found it an exceptional performer offering pace far in excess of what’s usually expected from a 1.6. The other petrol units are more average performers, reaching 62mph in 11-12 seconds. Diesel choices are more varied, with 94 and 113bhp 1.6-litre engines and 2-litre units developing 138 and 160bhp. Zero to 62mph figures are 12.5, 10.9, 8.9 and 8.6 seconds respectively. Until the Focus ST hot hatch arrives in 2012, performance fans are most likely to opt for the Zetec-S 178bhp 1.6-litre Ecoboost petrol, which hits 62mph in 7.9 seconds. It’s a smooth and quiet engine at lower revs, but really comes alive in its mid-range, emitting a pleasant snarl and providing plenty of punch. With its enhanced suspension and turn of speed, this Zetec-S is a well-balanced car which can cover ground surprisingly quickly.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

All engines’ emissions fall beneath 140g/km, making it a good choice for company car drivers, while road tax for private buyers is affordable. The 1.6-litre diesels are the cheapest to run, with emissions of 109g/km and an official average fuel consumption figure of 67.3mpg. Insurance, servicing and repair costs should be in line with key rivals such as the Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf. Even the 178bhp Zetec-S emits just 139g/km of CO2 and averages 47.1mpg, making it affordable for most owners to run.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

The new Ford Focus appears to be well built, and our test car, which was one of the first off the production line was without any rattles, creaks or niggles. Ford’s reputation for quality is growing, so we’d hope the Focus – which will sell 90,000 a year in the UK alone – will be built to a high standard.

Our rating: 3

8. Safety

The Focus hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash test programme yet, but Ford is expecting a full five-star rating. All models come with ABS, electronic stability programme, traction control and driver, passenger, front side and front and rear curtain airbags. The optional Driver Assistance Pack includes technology to detect if the car moves out of lane and aid the driver to stay within it, driver drowsiness warning, automatic high beam, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring and a system to reduce low-speed crashes, and is superb value.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

There are currently six grades in the Focus range. The entry-level Studio version was added in September 2011 and includes a radio/CD player, USB connection, air-con, remote central locking and electric door mirrors.  The Edge model adds an alarm, body-colour door handles and Ford ECO mode. More than 50 per cent are expected to choose the Zetec model which adds DAB radio, front fog lamps, Bluetooth, alloy wheels, a heated windscreen, sporty front seats, heated door mirrors and additional cabin storage. Zetec-S is the most overtly sporting trim, available with the 123 or 178bhp petrol and 113 or 161bhp diesel motors. It adds a body styling kit, alloy pedals, LED rear lights and ‘premium’ centre console. Titanium models are upgraded with cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, climate control and LED lighting. The Titanium X adds larger alloys, Bi-Xenon headlamps, part-leather trim, heated front seats and electric drivers’ seat and park sensors.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The third generation Ford Focus is the most mature yet. It shuns some of the driver enjoyment of previous models for additional refinement and a more upmarket appearance. It’s a worthy challenger to the best in class. Fitted with the 178bhp petrol Ecoboost engine, the Zetec-S model is the most impressive latest-generation Focus yet – thanks to its well-considered balance of speed and comfort.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.0stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • Performance5
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability3
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

The Ecoboost engine is an exceptional performer with pace far in excess of what’s expected from a 1.6