Ford Focus Hatchback Review
The Ford Focus is one of Britain’s best-selling cars, and with good reason. It’s one of just a few family hatchbacks that can go toe-to-toe with the Volkswagen Golf, which puts it in something of an elite. Behind the ultra-modern bodywork is a car that has been honed over more than 20 years, evolving and changing to keep its place at the top of the class. It has a deserved reputation for being the keen driver’s choice, but as the coming paragraphs (and thousands of owners) will tell you, there’s far more to this car than just the way it drives.
Select's rating score* - 4.3 / 5
The current Focus is, more or less, unrecognisable from the car that took the market by storm in the late 1990s. Until then, the Volkswagen Golf had things its own way, but Ford came, saw and conquered. Ever since, the Focus has offered consumers impressive road manners, solid build quality and understated good looks, not to mention choice in abundance.
Today, you get the choice of hatchback and estate versions, giving you the opportunity to stretch the boot out to 608 litres, which is even more than you’ll find in a Mondeo. There are plenty of different petrol and diesel engines, too, offering different mixes of performance and economy, while a range of trim levels offer everything you need, from the rugged good looks of the Active versions to the surprisingly luxurious Vignale models. The sportily styled ST-Line variants are among the most popular, though, channelling the looks of the go-faster ST model without the power or the expense.<
Drivers are drawn to the Focus by the way it looks and handles, and though the technology and engineering is impressive, even on the most basic models, it’s the little features that really sell it. The door edge protectors, which are optional on lowlier cars but standard on high-end models, are a case in point.
They’re unbelievably simple mechanical devices, but they prevent any worries about dinging the door on walls or other cars. The hands-free tailgate found on top-end estate models is a similarly useful gadget. Simply ‘kick’ the air under the rear bumper with the key in your pocket, and the tailgate will rise electronically, allowing you to load up even if your hands are full. Clever, eh? To misquote Vanilla Sky, there’s nothing bigger than the little things.
Engines and gearboxes have long been highlights of even the most mundane Ford models, and the Focus is yet another example of that engineering know-how. You get a choice of engines, from the basic 1.0-litre petrol to the more potent 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines found further up the range. Most come with a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes, and all drive the front wheels. Ford will even sell you mild-hybrid versions of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, which harvest energy normally lost under braking and then use it to help the engine out, reducing fuel consumption.
Power outputs range from 120hp to 155hp, although the ST model comes with a choice of two much more powerful motors. You could have the 2.0-litre diesel with 190hp, or the 2.3-litre petrol with 280hp. Both are quick, but the petrol’s 5.7-second 0-62mph time is especially rapid.
But although the ST may be the fastest and most hardcore version of this ‘Mk4’ Focus, you don’t need that model to have fun. Every Focus, from the most basic Zetec Edition variant, comes with a well-sorted chassis, decent steering and a great gearbox. Find a good road, and it’s staggering how good this common-or-garden hatchback can be. Of course, the ST model is a little sharper to drive, but the ST-Line isn’t far away – particularly with one of the sportier engines on board. In fact, there are plenty of so-called ‘hot hatchbacks’ that don’t handle as well as a middle-of-the-road Focus.
And that driver engagement doesn’t come at the cost of comfort. Vignale models lead the way on this front, but even the sports suspension of the ST-Line isn’t too jiggly. Sure, the full-fat ST is a bit stiff, but that’s par for the course. Every other model is supple and smooth, and long journeys won’t be a chore.
For the economy-conscious drivers, the diesel and mild-hybrid petrol Focuses are likely to be at the top of your shortlist. If you don’t do a vast number of miles, the mild-hybrid route will probably be for you, with the 125hp version returning between 51.4 and 55.4mpg. If you do more miles, though, you might want to look at the 1.5-litre diesel with 120hp. That car will return up to 62.8mpg when paired with a manual gearbox.
That said, there isn’t too much to choose between the engines. The 2.0-litre diesels offer a great mixture of performance and economy, achieving way over 50mpg on the official economy test despite churning out decent amounts of power. The only real gas guzzler is the 2.3-litre petrol in the ST, which manages just 34.4mpg. Admittedly, though, that’s fairly standard for such a high-performance car.
Those keeping their CO2 emissions in check will opt for the mild-hybrid powertrains, with both the 125 and 155hp versions hitting between 116 and 125g/km. Even the 1.5-litre diesel can’t quite match that, although it comes very close. The 150hp 2.0-litre diesel isn’t far behind, either, hitting between 125 and 130g/km. But the hybrids remain the choice for company car drivers, slotting into tax brackets between 26% and 28%, depending on the model.
Interior quality hasn’t been a strong suit for Ford in recent years, but the current Focus is a step ahead of its predecessor. The plastics are generally soft to the touch, although there are a few disappointingly hard touchpoints.
Some of the buttons on the steering wheel, for example, feel a tad cheap, and the switchgear in the doors doesn’t always feel that solid. But there the criticisms end. Everything else feels solidly bolted down, the design is modern and the materials are mostly high quality. If you go for the top-of-the-range Vignale model, you even get leather that wouldn’t look out of place in a BMW.
Even the most basic Focus currently on sale – the Zetec Edition – comes with an eight-inch touchscreen and satellite navigation, not to mention countless other goodies. You get wireless phone charging as standard, plus the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. Climb higher up the range and you can add to that with B&O speakers, as well as a fighter jet-style head-up display.
FordPass Connect is also available across the range, providing “connected services” including the ability to lock and unlock the car remotely, plus readouts for the fuel level and tyre pressure. You can even get vehicle health notifications that tell you if there’s a problem, and you can program your satellite navigation system before you even get in the car.
The space on offer has improved dramatically compared with previous-generation Focus. Not only is there enough room to carry four adults in relative comfort, but at 375 litres, the boot space is now on a par with the likes of the VW Golf. That means there’s plenty of room for luggage.
As with most cars of this size, though, filling all five seats is not something you’ll want to do often. Kids might get away with using the middle seat for a medium-length journey, but adults won’t enjoy sitting there for very long at all. They will, at least, have plenty of places to hide all their belongings, with sensibly sized door pockets and storage boxes dotted around the cabin. There’s an adjustable boot floor, too, giving you a hidden compartment or more space, depending on your requirements.
As you might expect from one of the UK’s most popular family cars, the Focus scored well on the Euro NCAP crash test. Its five-star rating included a hugely impressive 96% score for adult occupant protection, and it scored highly for child occupant protection, too. Its driver assistance tech was rewarded, too, thanks in part to the standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system. This gizmo can detect an impending collision with a pedestrian, cyclist or another vehicle, then apply the brakes automatically if the driver does not respond. It’s part of an arsenal of driver assistance tech offered on the Focus, which includes lane-keeping assistance and post-collision braking, slowing the car down after an accident to reduce the risk of another impact.
Of course, all this comes alongside the usual safety equipment. The Ford has a fleet of airbags as standard, and there are Isofix mountings for two child seats in the rear. The front passenger airbag can be disabled, too, allowing the use of a rear-facing child seat in the front.
Ford has played around with the Focus range over the years, slowly adding equipment to every version, so every trim level is now suffixed with the word ‘Edition’. Ford also binned the old Style model, which used to denote the cheapest version in the line-up. Now, the Zetec Edition is the entry-level model, but you’d never guess. Alloy wheels, automatic headlights and satellite navigation are all included, along with wireless phone charging and front and rear parking sensors.
Moving up the range puts you in the Titanium Edition, which gets heated seats, two-zone climate control and automatic windscreen wipers, while the sportier ST-Line sits just above that. That version comes with more aggressive bumpers, bigger wheels and sports suspension, although both the ST-Line Edition and Titanium Editions can be upgraded to X specification, offering part-leather trim and some other luxury goodies.
Then there’s the Active Edition, which is designed to look a bit more like an SUV, with jacked-up suspension and plastic body cladding. Again, that can be upgraded to Active X Edition for a tad more luxury. But the most luxurious Focus is the Vignale Edition, which puts the Focus into the realm of premium models such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series. The bodywork is adorned with smart chrome trim, while the interior is decked out with leather and premium carpets.
Alternatively, you can go for the faster ST model, which gets even more aggressive styling than the ST-Line Edition, plus Recaro seats and ST badges. It gets plenty of toys, including a head-up display and specially tuned suspension, not to mention the more powerful engines.
Unless you’ve opted for a top-of-the-range Vignale Edition car, the most important option is likely to be the Convenience Pack. Tech geeks will love the Active Park Assist system, which effectively allows the car to park itself, but the most useful features are the door edge protectors – handy in tight parking spaces – and the wide-angle reversing camera. Most models offer the usual choice of colours and alloy wheel designs, too, with some vivid metallic reds and blues on offer.
Since it arrived in the late 1990s, the Focus has been embroiled in a pitched battle with the Volkswagen Golf for the family hatchback crown. Although the Focus was once the more driver-orientated, less practical choice, it’s now neck-and-neck on pretty much every front. The Focus is still arguably a nose ahead in the handling stakes, but last year saw the Golf edge it on the sales front.
But the competition is increasing in terms of quality and quantity, and the Focus is firmly in the sights of the newly launched, Golf-based Seat Leon, the ageing but compelling Peugeot 308 and the fabulous Mazda 3. The premium market is trying to muscle in, too, with the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the BMW 1 Series all offering similar talents with a little more prestige. And some seriously well-sorted SUVs, such as the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Karoq, are also looking to lure buyers away from the Ford dealer.
The Focus has been among the best in its class for years, and the latest model only cements that position. With so many variants on offer, there’s something for every taste. The Vignale is the ideal choice for those downsizing from a larger, more premium vehicle, while the ST and ST-Line models will suit those looking for something sportier. If you like driving and you want a family car, the Focus simply has to be on your shortlist.
Lease price: from £199.19**
*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top six leading independent car website reviews of the Focus.
**Correct as of 16/09/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £ 1,792.69 . Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.