Let’s begin with a quick rundown of the engine options. For petrols, you can opt for 1.0-litre or 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged Ecoboost motors. That’s not an end to it, though, because the 1.0 is offered in three power outputs ranging from 84bhp to 123bhp, while the 1.5 comes with 148bhp or 180bhp.
While we haven’t yet driven the lower-powered versions in the current Focus, previous experience of these in other Fords tells us that for decent efficiency combined with reasonable performance, the 123bhp 1.0 is the best bet for private buyers.
Okay, it revs out steadily rather than with enthused gusto, and flat out through the gears it isn’t frisky enough to wake up your adrenal glands, but officially it’ll still crack 0-62mph in 10.0sec – about what you can expect from a Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI. But what matters most is that it’s pretty flexible if you keep it revving past 2000rpm, pulling effectively from 30mph to motorway speeds in third gear.
If you regularly carry lots of people or simply need more oomph, the 1.5 petrols have a bit more guts. Thus far, we’ve tried only the 180bhp version. While it’s certainly more potent, it lacks the fizz of the less powerful Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 150 and its Octavia equivalent.
Diesels will still be popular with fleet buyers, and the Focus is available with four-cylinder units ranging from a 1.5 engine with 94bhp or 118bhp to a 2.0 version with 148bhp. The 118bhp unit hits the sweet spot, offering a good spread of shove once you get past its momentary low-end lag.
All Focuses come with a quick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, while an optional eight-speed auto ’box is available throughout most of the range. This can take a moment to react to kickdown requests but shifts promptly between gears.
The suspension options for the Focus can get a little complicated, but basically, lower-powered versions have a simpler design, with a torsion beam at the rear, while pokier models get a more complex, fully independent arrangement that’s designed to enhance ride as well as handling. And you can take that complexity a stage further, should you wish, by adding adaptive dampers.
There are also sportier ST-Line and ST-Line X trims, which offer a lower, stiffer set-up no matter which engine – and, therefore, which suspension design – you choose. The only difference is that you have a more compliant ride on ST-Line cars, due to smaller 17in wheels, compared with the 18in alternatives on ST-Line X.
Are you still with us at the back? If not, don’t worry, because fundamentally the Focus is a great-riding car no matter which version you buy; it sits somewhere between the ultra-supple Golf and sometimes lumpy Octavia in the comfort stakes.
The simpler set-up offers a composed and fluid ride, whether you’re trundling around town or blasting through the countryside, while the fancier arrangement produces a little less high-speed fidget over corrugated surfaces, but the margins are small. Even the stiffer ST-Line trim is no boneshaker, although you do need to put up with its greater firmness over potholes.
We haven’t yet tried the adaptive dampers, which are only available on selected pricier trims, but our gut feeling is that the standard car is so good that this option would be a bonus rather than a necessity.
If you’ve read the ‘ride comfort’ section above, you’ll already be familiar with the numerous suspension options available.
But don’t panic, because buy any Focus and you’re guaranteed a car that handles deftly; the only difference is how deftly. Certainly, higher-powered cars with the more complex multi-link rear suspension design feel that bit more composed if you hit a bump mid-corner, while the stiffer ST-Line set-up has the least body lean in corners, making it feel the most agile.
Yet along roads strewn with all sorts of challenging cambers, contours and crests, every Focus – even those with the more basic design – simply flows with balletic balance. Add in steering that is light in town, yet precise and meaty enough for you to glide it accurately down meandering roads, and there’s little doubt that keen drivers should choose the Focus above all else in this class.
Think of refinement and you naturally think noise and vibration, right? In this respect, Ford has worked hard to make the Focus as isolated as possible. The three-cylinder petrol engines, especially the 1.5, are pretty smooth and produce only a background thrum under hard acceleration; the 1.5 diesel is grumblier at idle but no worse than its rivals, and quiet at higher speeds.
There’s a bit of wind flutter over the Focus’s door mirrors on the motorway, but the suspension works reasonably quietly and tyre noise is as well suppressed as it is in the Golf; overall, it’s a much more hushed companion than the Octavia.
But what’s really impressive is the refinement in less obvious areas. The manual gearchange, for example: it's the sweetest in the class and even a mechanical philistine would be turned by its effortless precision. That’s supplemented by the light clutch, so you can impress your passengers with how smoothly you drive around town.
Let’s start with the seat, which is excellent. It’s height adjustable and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat is standard on all trims, and if you have the Comfort seats (optional on cheaper models) there’s 18-way manual adjustment that includes extendable seat squabs. This is definitely a worthwhile addition.
Electric seats are available on all ST-Line X, Titanium X and Vignale models. There’s also loads of steering wheel rake and reach adjustment to let you pick a position that’ll fit, no matter your proportions.
Then there are the pedals. These line up perfectly with the seat and steering wheel, and if you opt for Zetec trim or above, there’s even the added luxury of a front centre armrest.
We love the uncluttered dashboard layout and the orderly instruments. In fact, these are so easy to read that it makes the optional head-up display a welcome addition, rather than indispensable.
The view out of the Focus is generally good. The front pillars are no more obstructive when looking forward than in any other car in the class, and while the rear window line tapers up towards a couple of thickish rear pillars, again, that’s par for the course among the competition.
Parking sensors are standard only once you get to the upper-middle ST-Line X trim, but for only a few hundred pounds you can add them on cheaper models at the front and rear. A rear camera is part of the Convenience Pack.
LED headlights are optional only on the upper trims (standard on Vignale); you can upgrade these to adaptive LED headlights if you’re prepared to pay a fairly hefty premium. As well as being able to run on full beam even with other cars in front – by creating small shadows around them – these also use a camera to view the road ahead; when it sees a corner, it’ll point the light in that direction.
The 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav on Titanium and ST-Line X models is fine in isolation, but use it against the systems employed in the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia and it shows some weaknesses. It isn’t as intuitive nor as quick to respond, the graphics aren’t as sharp and some of the icons are quite small to find when you’re doing 70mph on the motorway. And following on from that last point: it would be nice to have physical shortcut buttons to hop between the main functions, because they are easier and less distracting to find on the move.
Big-selling Zetec and ST-Line trims make do with a 6.5in touchscreen that doesn’t have built-in sat-nav; upgrading to the larger screen that has sat-nav included doesn’t cost the Earth, though. And all trims, apart from entry-level Style, have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to tether your phone and control selected functions through the touchscreen, including navigation apps. Wireless charging is also an inexpensive option.
As for Style trim, the 4.2in screen you get is pretty basic, but there’s a DAB radio, Bluetooth, two USB ports and an emergency assist function, which phones the emergency services in the event of an accident so that they can check on your condition. We’d still suggest upgrading to Zetec, though.
The standard stereo has six speakers, while the upgraded B&O Play sound system has 675W and 10 speakers (including a subwoofer). It is pretty punchy and well worth considering if you love music; it’s included with the Vignale model. It does reduce the size of the boot, though – something you can read about in the ‘boot space’ section.
Interior excellence was notable only by its absence in the previous Focus, and for some this was a reason not to buy one. The current model improves on that situation, but it still doesn’t lead the way in quality.
Starting with the good bits, it’s reasonably sturdily made and all the upper surfaces are soft and squidgy, plus every model from Zetec upwards gets a nice leather-wrapped gearknob and steering wheel. There are even nice touches that mark the car out, such as carpeted door bins in the front, so that your keys won’t jangle about annoyingly.
The exalted trims come with faux chrome, wood or carbonfibre highlights to spice up the interior (some reasonably successfully; others simply look as cheap as a pack of Pound Shop pens), while top-spec Vignale trim has a leather-wrapped dashboard to match its seats.
Yet a Golf it certainly isn’t – or an Octavia, or a Kia Ceed, for that matter. They all look and feel plusher. In the Focus, none of the surfaces has a particularly eminent lustre and there’s liberal use of harsh and shiny plastics lower down the interior, such as around the heater controls.
There’s more than enough room in the front of the Focus, to the extent that you’d have to be really lanky to struggle. Leg room definitely won’t be the trouble, though; there’s as much as there is in the class-leading Skoda Octavia. There’s a little less head room than the Octavia, but even so there’s more than enough for most people, and the interior is wide enough for you and your passenger to enjoy plenty of personal space.
There are lots of storage spaces dotted around, including a couple of cupholders and trays for your phone in the centre console. The glovebox and front door bins aren’t that big, though.
Once, a shortage of rear space was the Focus’s Achilles heel; that's no longer the case. The current model is on a par with the voluminous Octavia, meaning that if you’re lanky, you’ll still be able to sit happily with decent leg room behind your equivalent in the front. Head room isn’t quite as good as in the Octavia, but you’d only struggle if you’re well past the 6ft mark.
A tall middle passenger will struggle a little more in that department due to the slightly raised middle seat, but otherwise, the width of the rear bench, the relatively small central floor tunnel and very good foot space under the front seats make the Focus one of the best in the class for three in the back. The panoramic sunroof eats into head room, so make sure you try before you buy if you regularly transport tall passengers.
It’s all fairly basic in this respect on the cheaper versions, because you get passenger seat lumbar and height adjustment only once you get to ST-Line X trim. So we’d suggest paying the relatively small charge for the optional Comfort seats, which grant your passengers 18-way manual seat adjustment, including a tilting and extendable seat squab that delivers better under-thigh support.
The rear seats split-fold in a 60/40 arrangement as standard, but there are no handy release levers by the tailgate, as you’ll find in some its rivals; instead, you have to open the rear doors and press the release levers on top of the seatbacks.
While it won’t amaze like Wookey Hole (or the Octavia, for that matter) with its cavernousness, the Focus’s boot is as usable and voluminous as the Volkswagen Golf’s. There’s a little lip at its edge to lift items over, but its square shape and decent proportions will still hold a large pram or up to five carry-on suitcases. We’d suggest adding the optional height-adjustable boot floor for its extra storage flexibility and because it smooths out the step left when you fold down the rear seatbacks.
Be aware of one little idiosyncrasy, though. If you order the B&O Play sound system (or go for the Vignale model, which comes with it as standard), this adds a subwoofer that lives under the boot floor. It makes the boot slightly shallower and means you cannot add the variable-height boot floor.
There are seven trims to choose from and entry-level Style is about the same price as an entry-level Skoda Octavia and cheaper than any five-door Volkswagen Golf. However, most people will go for mid-spec Zetec and ST-Line models, which are relatively pricey compared with the Octavia and cost not far off the price of the better-equipped Golf SE, so the Focus isn’t as cheap as you might think.
It’s a different story if you compare three-year, 10,000-mile-per-year PCP finance deals, when the disparity in monthly cost to the Octavia is just a few pounds per month. A Kia Ceed could work out significantly cheaper, though.
Predicted resale values for the Focus after three years or 36,000 miles are also respectable, roughly matching those of the Golf and Octavia. Servicing costs, however, are a little higher for the same period.
Whichever capacity or power output you choose, all the Ecoboost three-cylinder petrol engines have efficiency-enhancing cylinder deactivation; this shuts down one cylinder when you’re cruising gently and means, for example, that the 123bhp 1.0 (badged Ecoboost 125 and the likely best seller) manages average economy of 58.9mpg and 108g/km of CO2 in official tests. That matches what Skoda and Volkswagen claim for the Octavia and Golf 1.0 TSI.
While Style trim is relatively cheap and gets some decent kit, including 16in alloy wheels, air-con and electrically operated front and rear windows, we’d still recommend jumping up a rung if you can.
Doing so will take you to the heart of the range: the biggest-selling Zetec and sportier ST-Line trims. As well as the infotainment upgrades mentioned earlier, both feature cruise control and a heated windscreen, while the latter adds keyless start, aluminium pedals, sports seats, 17in alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension and more aggressive styling.
However, our pick would be Titanium trim. It’s still reasonably priced and very well equipped, adding power-folding door mirrors, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, auto wipers, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and the larger 8.0in touchscreen with sat-nav. ST-Line X also has the majority of these features, along with sports suspension, 18in alloy wheels and the same sporty styling as the ST-Line.
Models further up the range, culminating with the range-topping Vignale, add ever-plusher luxuries. These are eye-catching but, for us, don’t necessarily provide the best value for money.
By 2019, you’ll also be able to order an Active version that, like the recently introduced Fiesta Active, adds an SUV flavour with black plastic wheel arches and a ride height that’s 30mm higher.
According to our most recent survey, Ford’s reliability record is only average. The data – compiled from information supplied by you – placed the manufacturer 18th out of the 31 surveyed. This current version of the Focus was too new to be included.
If you should find yourself in need of warranty back-up, this lasts for three years or 36,000 miles. That’s nothing compared with Kia’s seven-year manufacturer’s warranty, although you can extend Ford’s cover for an extra cost.
The Focus gets only four stars from us; although it got five stars when tested by Euro NCAP, it’s results were not class-leading. If you look at the adult occupancy protection scores, for example, they weren’t quite as high as some of its rivals. That said, the Focus certainly comes with lots of active safety aids.
These include automatic emergency braking (which works for cars, pedestrians and cyclists) and lane-keeping assistance for all trims, while the reasonably priced Driver Assistance Pack adds traffic sign recognition, automatic main beam and adaptive cruise control.
The latter includes steering assistance that works at motorway speeds, as well as a ‘stop and go’ function that stops the car in a traffic jam and restarts it when the car in front moves off. Blindspot warning is part of a pack that includes a feature to alert you if you’re about to reverse out of your driveway into the path of a crossing a car.
All models come with a Thatcham Research category one alarm and immobiliser that mean it’s good at resisting being broken into or stolen.
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