Ford Focus review – still ahead of the curve

Ford Focus review – still ahead of the curve
Ford Focus review – still ahead of the curve

There’s a reason Ford has sold two million Focuses in the 20 years since it was launched.

Back in 1998 it was groundbreaking in the segment, offering styling and handling like none of its rivals. Since then it’s become a byword for a car that can meet the varied family needs of the nation without compromising on driver engagement.

Over the generations it’s got fatter and uglier but the core attractions have remained, it’s always been good to drive, well equipped and big enough for your average family.

Now, with this fourth generation new from the ground up. it’s even better to drive, even better equipped and even bigger. Plus it’s better looking.

Ford Focus ST-Line X

Price: £26,410 (£31,450 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 118bhp
Torque: 221lb/ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 120mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Economy: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 116g/km

This all-new model is built on a new platform to be bigger yet lighter than before. The wheelbase is stretched meaning that the new model offers more interior space (8cm more rear legroom) while only growing 2cm in overall length and there’s more head and shoulder room than before. It’s still not as generous feeling as a Honda Civic but will do fine for a family of four. Five adults, however, will feel squeezed and legroom in the rear is compromised by a tall driver.

The interior is central to Ford’s “human-centric” design, created to “deliver rich user experiences with every interaction”. That’s marketing speak for making it easier to use and nicer to sit in.

It’s certainly both of those. There are half as many buttons as in the previous model, which means the interior looks and feels less cluttered. There are still buttons for all the important functions but it feels more organised than before and better thought out than the newly launched Kia Ceed.

Ford Focus

Ahead of the driver, the instrument cluster carries the usual information but you can also opt for a handy head-up display. All except the most basic Style versions also get a Sync 3 touchscreen  with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay while higher-trim models get sat nav and an optional B&O Play stereo.

Also new for the Focus, lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking are standard on all models, as are alloy wheels and air con.

Later this year we’ll get the Active variant along with more engines choices but at the moment the Focus comes in seven trims with the choice of three petrol and two diesel engines. Basic Style models start at £17,930 while the sharp looking ST-Line X in the pictures weighs in at more hefty £24,050.

Ford Focus

On the launch I tested two of the expected best selling engines – the 118bhp version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost and the 1.5-litre 118bhp diesel. Both felt adequate without convincing me that they were the best fit for the car.

The 118bhp is the most powerful petrol at the moment (84bhp and 99bhp are also available) but takes a while to wind up to A road speeds. And if you push it hard it feels rough. More powerful 1.5-litre petrols are coming later in the year that might be a better match.

The diesel also displayed some pretty rough characteristics under heavy acceleration but was impeccably smooth and quiet on a motorway cruise. On A roads it felt less responsive but I’m inclined to blame a fairly sluggish auto gearbox for that.

Both drivetrain setups felt that they were slightly holding the car back, which is a shame because it drives brilliantly – Ford’s engineers have hit it out of the park again.

Ford Focus

The weight, feel, speed and response of the steering and other controls remains class-leading. The chunky steering wheel feels sporty and offers great input and feedback and the chassis and body control are better than any other mainstream C-segment hatchback.

The lower spec models now get a twist-beam rear suspension, which is more basic but still offers a strong drive. Bigger engined and higher-specced cars get newly fettled independent rear suspension with the option of continuously controlled adaptive damping.

While rattling along an A road remains a pleasure, the Focus also handles the dull motorway work easily, proving quiet, smooth and comfortable.

It’s helped by new and optional tech including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with lane centring and queue assist for stop/start traffic.

Ford Focus

Other elements that lead to Ford boasting that the Focus is the most technologically competent model ever include camera-based predictive curve lighting, that head-up display, evasive steering that helps avoid stationary objects and fully automated parking assist.

There’s also the FordPass Connect app that allows you to check your fuel levels, lock and unlock the car and even start it from anywhere in the world. The fact they couldn’t get it to work on the carefully choreographed launch doesn’t bode well and the whole thing smacks of a gimmick for its own sake.

Quite simply, the Focus doesn’t need such gimmicks anyway. Many other mainstream rivals are decent, competent cars – the VW Golf remains a class act, the new Kia Ceed is closer to the Ford than ever and the Peugeot 308 is a stylish, comfortable option – but the Focus is still doing what it started out with 20 years ago. Nothing else quite blends its style, family friendliness, technology and driving pleasure in such a complete way.

Ford Focus

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