"The latest Ford Focus proves that family hatchbacks can be fun to drive and is definitely the best to date."
The Ford Focus continues to rule the small family hatchback market for Ford in the UK, making it one of the manufacturer's biggest success stories. The latest, third-generation Focus has become as popular as its predecessors while also simultaneously taking a major step forward in reliability, efficiency and safety to offer the best Focus yet. Its biggest competition still comes from the latest Volkswagen Golf, especially in terms of that car's supreme quality, but the Focus easily knocks it for six for handling and comfort.
The standard Ford Focus comes in six main specifications – entry-level Studio and Edge models being competitively priced and great fun to drive. Mid-range Zetec and Zetec S models add quite significantly more equipment and accessories, while the S offers better handling and a sportier ride. The top-of-the-range Titanium and Titanium X cars start to become a bit more expensive than a Focus really should be (it is still a Ford, after all) but they are very well equipped for the money. If you feel the need for speed and have your heart set on a Focus, then the excellent ST undoubtedly provides good value for money (it's cheaper than the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Renaultsport Megane for a start), while also putting a big smile on your face. For boosted practicality, you can get also an estate model that offers a much bigger boot than the standard hatchback.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
With the exception of the super-performing ST, every car in the Focus line-up manages to emit less than 140g/km of CO2, which is pretty incredible if you consider the sheer range of engine options to choose from. So, whichever Focus you do pick, it will definitely be a cheap car to run. Ford has made sure that every model in the Focus family comes fitted with the latest technology and equipment to make them as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. We recommend looking at the 1.6-litre TDCi five-door, which emits only 88g/km of CO2 and returns a superb 83mpg in combined fuel economy. But then, the remaining three ECOnetic engines also manage to come below the 99g/km CO2 emissions mark, making them road tax exempt, too, and returning more than 70mpg at the same time. This reflects Ford's continued commitment to producing fun but efficient cars.
Interior & comfort
The latest Focus is without doubt more comfortable than previous models, in particular its ability to iron out the bumps and potholes in the UK's uneven road surfaces. Even bigger potholes are dealt with without juddering the passengers around the inside of the car (too much, anyway). Unless, of course, you insist on having the 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels from the options list installed, in which case some of the ride comfort is inevitably lost simply because the suspension is quite a lot stiffer even though handling is improved. But it never becomes uncomfortable. Even the ST, the hot hatchback of the range with significantly harder suspension, still manages to be comfortable over long distances and proves cushioned enough to drive around the city without any discernible loss of comfort.
Inside, all the seats are comfy and provide a decent level of back support, with the driver able to adjust their seat and the steering wheel for reach and rake in a number of directions to find that ideal driving position. This extra ability to absorb the bumps and calmly cruise along the motorway with hardly any wind or road noise to disturb, makes the Focus feels like a much larger and more luxurious car than it actually is. Thinner pillars at the front and the rear also make sure that visibility is great all around the car, and the high-quality premium-feel interior is logically laid out and easy to use, with a mobile phone-inspired console that does lean towards the cluttered but is still not difficult to use. We do think that high-spec models have too many buttons, though.
Practicality & boot space
The dimensions of the current generation of Focus are noticeably larger than the car it replaced, which does make it more practical than it's ever been. However, that doesn’t make it best in class in comparison to some of the inventive interiors and boots offered by newer pretenders to the family hatchback throne. That is best reflected by the 316 litres offered by the boot, which is less than the class average and only a paltry 17 litres more than its sister car, the Ford Fiesta supermini, which itself falls below the supermini class average. The Focus’ main competitor, the Vauxhall Astra, offers a full 54 litres extra than the Focus, with a figure that is much nearer to what you’d expect to get from this kind of car. The Focus’ greatest assets are its standard-fit split-folding rear seats, which fold flat very easily to allow easy loading of big and bulky objects. But if you really do want practically, you have to look at the estate model instead, which is much more practical. Beyond the boot, space in the rear of the standard car is also reasonable, even for any taller passengers, with just enough knee room for a six-footer in the back to sit behind another six-footer in the front.
Reliability & safety
The Focus’ main competitor has always been the Volkswagen Golf, and the Focus has consistently come second best to it in terms of reliability. That's still holds true, but the gap has never been closer, with Ford's entire current wave of cars making significant improvements in this area. The Focus itself has had somewhat mixed fortunes, with a tendency to yo-yo up and down the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey in recent years. The 2013 survey saw it drop 51 places down to 70th place in the top 100 list of cars. That's especially disappointing given that the Focus actually pulled off the very unusual feat of climbing 59 places up the chart to come 19th in 2012. In reality, it probably just puts the Focus about where it probably would have been if it had never reversed the usual downward trend of the survey in the first place. Ford itself doesn’t perform as well as you might think, given its status as the UK's biggest car manufacturer. It did actually improve in the 2013 survey by two places, to rank 23rd out of 32 car makers in the manufacturers rankings.
When you get inside the Focus, the interior is much better quality than its predecessors, constructed with superior plastics and studier switchgear that really do help make it feel quite a lot more premium. Ford has also been on a big safety push – along with all the major manufacturers – and the Focus earned the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with every model coming fitted with front, side and curtain airbags, lane-departure warning and a tiredness monitor as standard. Overall, the Focus isn’t perfect but it is a comfortable, safe place for families to travel in.
Engines, drive & performance
For a car that has clearly been designed more with comfort and efficiency in mind rather than focused driver enjoyment, it is still remarkably fun to drive. Ford's trend of softening its models over successive generations seemingly hasn’t hurt their overall quality – and you’ve always got the ST versions if you’re after pure driver enjoyment and performance. The Focus remains more exciting to drive than the rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf of Vauxhall Astra thanks to its agility and the sense of fun that Ford has managed to bring over from the first two generations of the car. In the small family hatchback class, it remains the first choice of those who really enjoy driving. You get best-in-class electric power steering and superb grip in all driving conditions that you can encounter in the UK, thanks to a technology system that redirects the power to whichever wheel needs it most to maintain grip and keep the car on track, which gives the driver greater confidence behind the wheel. There's plenty of performance on offer from the whole range of engines, with even the 1.0-litre ECOboost engine offering excellent acceleration as well as its frankly amazing fuel economy. The broad line-up also includes 1.6-litre petrol engines ranging from 104bhp to 180bhp, plus 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels that span 95bhp to 161bhp – but please be aware that the diesel is only the best buy if you regularly clock up a lot of miles across long distances.
The Focus ST obviously occupies the sporty end of the range and is by far one of the best hot hatchbacks available on the UK market, with its powerful engine and a firm-but-comfortable ride making it more fun than an affordable family car has a right to be.
Price, value for money & options
It's genuinely surprising that the Focus is as expensive as it is, with most models in the range actually costing more than those in the equivalent section of the Volkswagen Golf range. Admittedly, you do get more equipment and accessories for that extra money in the Focus, even in the base Studio entry-level model. Ignoring the performance-focused Ford Focus ST hot hatchback – which has a range of specifications all its own – you can get the Focus in six main specifications – the Studio, then Edge, which comes fitted with digital radio, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, electric windows and central locking as standard, followed by mid-range Zetec models that include 16-inch alloys, a quick-clear windscreen and heated door mirrors, and the top-of-the-range Titanium and Titanium X models, which are fitted with automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, keyless go, cruise control and hill start assist. Arguably the best value for money is offered by the truly marvellous Focus ST, with its highest-spec ST3 model costing nearly £1,000 less that the equivalent Golf GTI, and including more technology for that price tag, too. The Focus won’t hold its resale value on the used car market as well as the more desirable Golf, but you should still get a pretty decent second-hand deal for it. Plus, this is offset by reasonable servicing and insurance costs across the range.