Ford Focus review - Hatchback (2014 - )
For many people, the Ford Focus is the car that embodies the small family hatchback. It's one of the best cars of its type to drive and, even though it's a little less impressive in some other areas, it's still a great all-rounder.
- Really enjoyable and very comfortable on the road
- Some cracking engines on offer
- Cabin strong on ergonomics
- Not as smart inside as some rivals
- Not particularly cheap and questions over resale values
- Standard equipment could be more generous
At a glance
The Focus isn’t the most flamboyant-looking car of its type, but if you’re after something with a smart, sophisticated look, you won’t be disappointed. The horizontally slatted grille and slim, angular headlamps instantly identify it as a relation of the Fiesta and new Mondeo, and there are some reasonably intricate and imaginative shapes dotted around the body. However, precisely how smart your Focus looks will depend greatly on which trim you choose. The base version has black door handles rather than the body-coloured ones that the rest of the range has, and you have to step up to mid-range Zetec trim before you get alloy wheels as standard. At the top of the range, the ST hot hatch has a unique styling package that includes a honeycomb grille, deep side skirts, a rear roof spoiler and substantial diffusers either side of the exhaust.
The interior of the Focus looks smart and modern, with a simple, minimalist design that makes the various controls easy to find and use. The same goes for the touch-screen infotainment system that comes with high-grade models, because it has logical menus and clear graphics. The materials on display look and feel reasonably substantial and plush, too, but the Focus still doesn’t match rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3 for classiness. That said, you do get a great driving position with loads of adjustment, and a good view out.
The Focus does a decent job on practicality. Two adults will enjoy pretty generous space in the back seats, while three will squeeze in at a push, and the boot is good for both size and shape. However, some rivals give you more space for people and luggage, and are cleverer about the way the space is used. For instance, when you fold down the rear seats in the Focus, they don’t lie completely flat.
Ride and handling
Even though buyers are currently spoiled with a choice of family hatchbacks that are super-impressive to drive, the Focus ranks among the very best. It’s terrific fun along your favourite country road thanks to strong grip, crisp body control, excellent balance and quick responses. The steering is especially helpful on that last point, because it’s devilishly quick, both to react and to turn. Despite the car’s sharpness, though, it always keeps you comfortable, at all speeds and on all sorts of roads. Refinement is just as impressive, keeping life quiet and serene in any situation. Hot-hatch fans will be delighted that all these positive qualities translate into the ST. Yes, the ride is a little on the firm side, but it’s more than acceptable, given the fine body control. More importantly, the ST handles really well, with huge amounts of grip and a wonderful balance through the bends that can only inspire confidence in the driver.
There’s a huge range of engines available for the Focus, but so far, we’ve only had the chance to try a couple of the mainstream motors. The first was the 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, and it’s a little cracker. It feels punchy and flexible at the bottom of the rev range, and it’s capable of sprightly pace when you work it harder. Granted, the throttle response could be a bit sharper, but the engine always stays impressively quiet and smooth. This engine is likely to be ignored by most buyers, though, who will probably plump for one of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrols (available in outputs of 99bhp and 123bhp) or the 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel. We've tried the diesel, and it’s impressive, with good flexibility and a progressive power delivery, and it’s smooth and quiet to boot. Of all its attributes, though, it’s this engine’s low running costs that’ll seal the deal for most people. Hot-hatch fans will love the Focus ST. Its turbocharged petrol engine is super-quick to respond from just 2,000rpm and is really strong at the top of the rev range, making this a very quick car. The trouble is, it's almost too keen, struggling to put its power down even in the dry. And, you don’t even need to unfurl the full power for the front wheels to tug at the steering or dive down any changes in camber. The same happens in the diesel version of the ST, and although it delivers vicious pull in the mid-range, the tail-off in performance towards the top of the rev range isn't really what you want in a true-blue hot hatch.
The Focus isn’t cheap in the family hatchback scheme of things, and it’s priced very closely to some seriously impressive rivals. What’s more, the car’s resale values have traditionally been pretty weak due to the vast number of them on our roads, and that will severely impact the whole-life cost of owning your car. However, most of the engines are among the better performers in the class for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, so you’ll save a bit on fuel and tax. That’s especially important if you’re a company car driver (and if you’re considering a Focus, then there’s every likelihood you are), for whom the 1.5-litre diesel engines will prove most cost-effective.
Ford is currently riding fairly high in the manufacturer standings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and the Focus has a fairly solid score as an individual model. If things do go wrong, parts and repairs are pretty affordable by and large. The build quality isn’t as solid as it is in some rivals, but everything feels dependable and sturdy.
The Focus comes with all the safety kit you expect, such as stability control and whole bunch of airbags, along with a few bits you might not expect. For instance, all trims have tyre pressure monitoring as standard, along with MyKey, which allows you to impose various safety settings (such as maximum speed and maximum radio volume) when your kids borrow the car. The highest-end versions also have autonomous braking systems and a parking feature that’ll steer you in and out of parallel spaces, and into a perpendicular space. This version of the Ford Focus hasn’t yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but we expect it to perform well when it is.
The Focus provides enough kit as standard, but doesn’t go the extra mile. The entry-level Studio trim includes air-conditioning, remote locking, electric front windows, and a stereo with USB port and audio controls on the steering wheel, while Style trim adds a DAB radio and a Bluetooth phone connection. Zetec trim adds a heated windscreen, alloys, and foglamps, while Zetec S adds sportier design touches and a lowered suspension. Titanium cars have the upgraded touch-screen infotainment system, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, cruise control and keyless entry, while Titanium X provides LED lights front and back, part-leather upholstery and seats that are both powered and heated. At the top of the range, the ST hot hatch comes in three trim levels, all with Recaro sports seats, DAB radio and Bluetooth. ST-2 adds climate control, part-leather upholstery and LED lights, while ST-3 brings a touch-screen infotainment system, xenon headlights, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
The Focus is one of the most enjoyable cars of its type to drive, and for some drivers that’ll be enough. For most, though, practicality, quality and affordability will play and even bigger part in the decision, and thankfully, the Focus holds its own here as well.