"The latest Ford Focus proves that family hatchbacks can be fun to drive and is definitely the best to date."
The ever-popular Ford Focus is now in its third generation and is a major step forward over the last model in terms of efficiency, safety and reliability. The all-new Volkswagen Golf still presents the Focus with its stiffest competition, but the Ford beats it for comfort and handling. Entry-level models such as the Edge and Zetec are well priced and good to drive, while the top-of-the-range Titanium and Titanium X are expensive but very well equipped. The Focus range is now joined by the excellent ST, which represents good value for money and provides a lot of driving enjoyment.
The Ford Focus has arguably become a much softer car over its three generations, with the current model being clearly designed for efficiency and comfort rather than pure driving enjoyment. Ford haven’t taken out all of the agility and fun of the first two generations, however, and it's still better to drive than the Vauxhall Astra or VW Golf and remains the choice for people who enjoy driving. The electric power steering is one of the best in class and grip in all driving conditions is assisted by a torque vectoring system that makes sure power is redirected where it's most needed, giving greater confidence to the driver. The engines produce plenty of speed, and even the 1.0-litre ECOboost engine is fairly zippy while providing excellent economy. The line-up is wide, with 1.6-litre petrol engines ranging from 104bhp to 180bhp and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels ranging from 95bhp to 161bhp. The Focus ST represents the sporty end of the range and is one of the best hot hatches on the market with a powerful engine and a firm-but-comfortable ride that doesn’t cripple its driver.
The latest Focus's ability to absorb bumps is much better than the previous generation. About town, it copes with potholes without transmitting significant crashes inside the car. On larger wheels, such as the 17-inch and 18-inch optional extras, some of the ride comfort may be lost as the suspension remains quite stiff. The Focus ST is noticeably firmer than models lower down in the range but still manages to be comfortable over longer distances and soft enough to drive around town without discomfort. Seats in the front and rear are supportive and comfortable, and the driver can adjust the seat and steering wheel in a number of directions to find a good driving position. Reasonably thin pillars at the front and the rear make it easy to see out. With its ability to absorb bumps and cruise at motorway speeds without much noise from the wind or road, the Focus feels like a much bigger and more luxurious car. The premium-quality interior is logically laid out, with a mobile phone-inspired console. However, high-spec models have too many buttons.
Ford sees the Volkswagen Golf as main rival to the Focus, but has always fallen behind the VW in terms of reliability. The latest Focus is a significant improvement in this area. In the Driver Power survey for 2012 it came in at 19, a full 59 places higher than the previous generation. Interior quality is also much better than before, with better plastics and switches helping make it feels much more luxurious. Safety has also been a priority on the latest Focus and the full five stars it secured in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests are backed up by front, side and curtain airbags, lane-departure warning and a tiredness monitor. All of which helps make the Focus a safe place for you and your family.
The Latest Focus is noticeably bigger than the previous generation and as a result the car is more practical than ever. With more headroom and legroom, rear space is adequate for even the tallest passengers, even when sat behind six-foot occupants in the front. However, the boot space in the Focus is not up to the class average. With only 316 litres, the boot is only 17 litres larger than the smaller Fiesta, which itself trails cars in its own class. The rival Vauxhall Astra trumps the Focus by 54 litres, much closer to what you'd expect from a car in this class. A saving grace of the Focus is the ease with which the split-fold rear seats fold flat, making it easy to transport larger objects.
Value for money
Prices for the Focus are surprisingly high, with most models in the range costing more than the equivalent Golf. For that, though, you do get more equipment, even on the lower-spec models. Not including the ST models, which have their own range of specifications, there are six spec levels in the Focus range. Starting with the Edge, equipment includes digital radio, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows and central locking. Zetec adds 16-inch alloys, a quick-clear windscreen and heated door mirrors. Top-of-the-range Titanium and Titanium X models get automatic lights and wipers, keyless go, cruise control and hill start assist. The excellent Focus ST represents very good value for money, with the highest-spec ST3 being nearly £1,000 cheaper than the outgoing Golf GTI, and carrying more equipment for that price, too.
Every model in the Focus range is equipped with the latest technology to make them more efficient. Every car in the range - with the exception of the sporty ST - is capable of emitting less than 140g/km of CO2, an incredible feat considering the number of engines on offer. This makes the Focus a cheap car to run, whichever model you buy. Our choice would be the 1.6-litre TDCi five-door, which emits only 88g/km and returns 83mpg in fuel economy. Three other ECOnetic engines all claim emissions of 99g/km and economy above 70mpg, which reflects Ford's continued commitment to producing enjoyable yet energy efficient cars. Insurance and servicing costs are also reasonable across the range. Depreciation is not as good as the VW Golf's but it's still likely to retain enough of its value for you to get a good deal on resale price.