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Ford Focus

A great-value hatchback that’s fun to drive while being practical for all the family.

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6
Out of 10
Average Price £10,308
Model review

The Ford Focus has been one of the best-selling C-segment cars in the UK ever since its introduction in 1998.

 

When it first burst on to the scene to replace the iconic Escort, it was met with near-universal praise. Contemporary reports commended its stylish looks, excellent handling and high equipment levels, winning it numerous car of the year awards.

 

Buyers agreed, with four million being sold in the first six years of production, making it Britain’s best-selling car for each of those years. Sales took a bit of a hit though, with the downsizing revolution of the mid-2000s and the introduction of less bold styling on the second-generation car.

 

Even so, the Focus has been a mainstay at the top of sales charts and continues to be one of the safest family cars on the market.

Value for money

One of the Focus’s key selling points is its value for money, both in the new and used markets.

 

The entry-level Style trim is no longer available so the most basic version is the Zetec, which starts at £19,095. It offers the best value for money as it comes with alloy wheels, a heated windscreen, fog lights and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Unless you simply must have everything on offer, you’re better off sticking to this trim and adding any optional extras rather than splashing out on the high-trim Titanium variants.

 

Looking at the used market, it’s possible to pick up Titanium cars registered in late-2015 and early 2016 with less than 10,000 miles for well under £20,000. With this in mind, buyers looking for the most value might be better off looking for a year-old car to avoid taking the brunt of the depreciation hit.

 

For those looking for performance, the best value comes from the top-spec Focus RS model. It makes 345bhp and is widely regarded to be the best hot hatch on sale today. It starts at £31,250 and offers the kind of pace more commonly found on cars costing much more.

 

With a waiting list of around a year, residuals are strong as buyers looking to avoid the wait are willing to pay a premium.

Latest model

The third generation of Ford Focus was introduced in 2011, with the model receiving a facelift in November 2015. The exterior styling was given a mild makeover, taking cues from Ford’s global design language, which debuted on the Mondeo.

 

The biggest improvement was seen with the interior. Although most of the materials and build quality remained the same, the number of buttons on the centre console was streamlined for a less cluttered appearance.

 

There is a wide variety of engines on offer, with four petrol and two diesel powerplants available with 10 different power outputs. For those who spend much of their time in the city, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine with 99bhp is more than enough, but those who often travel long distances will find the 123bhp version of the same engine easier to drive.

 

As for diesels, the 118bhp 1.5-litre turbo unit offers an excellent compromise between economy and drivability, and is available with both a manual and automatic transmission.

Looks and image

Ever since the first model was introduced in 1998, one of the Focus’s key selling points has been the way it drives. All generations have been considered one of the best driving cars in the C-segment.

 

For keen drivers, there are few family hatchbacks that can match it for driving fun on country lanes. Particularly in ST-Line trim, it feels like a ‘warm’ hatchback without the sort of running costs associated with the full-fat ST and RS performance models.

 

However, those who prefer comfort should steer well clear of the sportier trims. Every other variant offers excellent levels of comfort on all road surfaces, though there is a little more road noise than in more premium rivals.

 

The interior is the only area where the Focus falls behind some of its rivals. It feels well put together with quality plastics used throughout, but the marginally more expensive Volkswagen Golf feels much more premium inside.

 

The latest redesign was only introduced at the end of last year, but there are already a large number of cars hitting the used market. These offer excellent value as they reduce the depreciation hit of a new car while still packing the same features, technology and safety equipment.

Space and practicality

Most people will find the Ford Focus to be adequately spacious, but big families and those requiring a lot of luggage space might find the Ford Focus a little cramped.

 

Up front, the driver and passenger are well catered for, with plenty of headroom and space to move around. A decent-sized glovebox and relatively large door cards mean that road trip storage should never be an issue, while the centre console allows plenty of room for smartphone stowage.

 

Rear passengers will feel a bit more of a squeeze – the sloped roof infringing on headroom, while legroom is less impressive than on rivals such as the Skoda Octavia. Average-sized adults should be able to travel long distances without being too uncomfortable, though.

 

Rear boot space is a bit of a letdown in the latest model. There’s a large lip, which makes loading heavier items tougher than in some rivals, and at 316 litres it’s much smaller than the VW Golf (380 litres) and Vauxhall Astra (351 litres). With the seats folded down, that rises to a more respectable 1,215 litres – the Golf grows to 1,270 litres.

 

Safety-conscious families will be pleased to know that the Ford Focus received a five-star NCAP rating. Aside from its excellent impact protection, its score was helped by driver aids such as Active City Stop, Driver Alert, Forward Alert and a lane-keeping aid.

What’s under the bonnet?

With a wide range of petrol and diesel engine options that cover the whole spectrum from economy to performance, all buyers are well covered.

 

Let’s start with the petrols. The 1.6-litre should be avoided, purely because it’s been around for a very long time and there are better, more modern options available. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine has been widely heralded as king of the downsizing trend. Its tiny dimensions and excellent economy – on paper – make it seem like a great option.

 

However, in the real world you’ll really struggle to achieve the claimed economy figures. The 99bhp version is only really suited to inner-city driving as it’s slow to accelerate and its five-speed gearbox results in poor economy at motorway speeds.

 

The 123bhp is a better drive but still suffers in the real world – even with the six-speed manual gearbox most owners have reported getting nowhere near the claimed 60.1mpg. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost is the pick of the bunch, giving decent punch and real-world economy not far off the 1.0.

 

The diesel options are better suited to the Focus family runaround personality. There’s a 1.5-litre available in both 94 and 118bhp forms, and a 2.0-litre with 148 and 182bhp. For most, the 118bhp car offers the best compromise of performance and economy – it makes 74.3mpg on the combined cycle, but expect low-60s in the real world.

 

For those looking for performance there are two go-faster petrol options. The ST, which is available in three levels of trim, comes with a 2.0-litre engine making 247bhp, while the top-spec RS’s 2.3-litre makes 345bhp. Both are brilliantly capable engines sure to put a smile on any car enthusiast’s face.

 

The 182bhp diesel also wears an ST badge, and although it receives the same performance upgrades as the petrol version, its relatively narrow power band and lower power figure make it a much less exciting package.

 

Running costs

Ford has really run with the idea of downsizing in search of frugality. That’s why there are options across the range designed to save you money.

 

The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engines come in under the magic 100g/km of CO2 figure, meaning they’re free to tax if you act fast. In April 2017, vehicle tax rules change so that while low-emissions cars will be cheaper to tax, only pure-electric vehicles get away with paying nothing.

 

However, despite the low tax, many owners have reported that the small EcoBoost engine doesn’t quite live up to its claimed economy figures. Depending on the specification, the official figures suggest about 60mpg, but it’s more like low 40s in real-world driving.

 

There are diesel options available producing between 98 and 115g/km so if you go for that option, tax won’t be extortionate. And with more achievable economy figures, most owners will find a diesel a better option.

Things to look out for

The Focus is typically quite reliable, but there are some issues to be aware of.

 

The gearbox is typically an issue across the range but it appears to affect the 1.0-litre engines more often, while clutch problems have been known to rear their ugly head.

 

As mentioned above, it’s worth taking note of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost’s real-world economy figures, as the discrepancy between what owners typically find and what Ford claims can really put a dent in calculated running costs.

 

Rivals

This segment is hotly contested with a number of big-name rivals. Fortunately for the Focus, it is at the top end of the comparison charts.

 

Two cars that really give it a run for its money in the overall stakes are the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia. The former’s build quality and premium feel can make the Focus feel a bit cheap inside, so if you can find the extra cash the German car is worth a look.

 

The Octavia on the other hand is more budget-focused, but because it’s based on the Golf you’ll find the same levels of build quality at a lower cost. Also, the Skoda name holds less weight than the likes of Volkswagen and Ford, so these can typically be found used at great prices.

Depreciation warning

Despite losing value at a slower rate than the Skoda, the Focus doesn’t exactly hold its value well. The fact that it’s so popular means that there are numerous cars littering forecourts, so customers don’t have to fight over them.

 

This popularity does help the Focus avoid falling off a cliff value-wise, so don’t worry too much about throwing money away if you really must have a new car.

Which Focus to Pick

Trims Explained

Ford has recently decluttered its trim levels to make it less confusing, but there are still quite a few different options to keep a variety of buyers happy.

Zetec

The Zetec entry-level model will be the go-to variant for most buyers. Ford removed the old lowest-spec Style trim, meaning that all models now come with a larger interior screen and alloy wheels.

Zetec - £19,095

ST-Line

The ST-Line gives a sportier look and harder suspension, so should be avoided if comfort is required. However, for those who enjoy driving but can’t stretch to the ST or RS models, it’s a great compromise.

ST-Line - £20,845

Titanium and Titanium X

The Titanium trims are targeted at those looking for extra comfort and sophistication, and also allow the higher-performance engine option boxes to be ticked.

Titanium - £20,845, Titanium X - £22,845

ST-2, ST-3 and RS

The ST and RS models are purely performance-orientated, with the ST being much less expensive to run of the two. The RS has supercar-shaming performance, though, so those who don’t mind a longer wait and the extra expense will be well rewarded.

What to look out for

  1. The Focus has smaller luggage capacity than some rivals
  2. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engines are not as economical as figures suggest
  3. The 1.5-litre diesel with 118bhp is probably the best all-round engine
  4. Keen drivers will enjoy the car’s great handling, even on lower trims
  5. ST-Line trim adds ‘sporty’ suspension, which impacts on comfort
  6. One- or two-year-old Titanium cars can be picked up for the same price as new Zetec
  7. Five-star NCAP safety rating
  8. Avoid five-speed manual transmission if you’ll be doing predominantly motorway miles

Review Rating

"Few mid-sized family estates are as entertaining to drive as the Ford Focus Estate.... Read More"