Since the Ford Focus replaced the Escort in the late 1990s, it has been one of the UK's favourite cars. Always compared directly against its closest rival, the Volkswagen Golf, it also fights for sales with the Vauxhall Astra, SEAT Leon, Peugeot 308 and DS 4, as well as the Toyota Auris, Skoda Rapid, Skoda Octavia and Renault Megane.
The latest model continues to commend itself as a well-equipped family hatchback that's particularly fun to drive and has a wide variety of models and engines to choose between. It also benefits from Ford's huge dealer network, so buying and maintaining one should be convenient and easy.
Whatever your requirements, there's bound to be a Focus for you. There's the usual five-door hatchback as well as a roomy estate to choose from. You can prioritise economy, luxury or sportiness, or any combination of the three. Ford's sporty-looking ST-Line trim level is available on the Focus with both petrol and diesel engines and as a hatchback or estate – as is the high-performance Focus ST itself. There's also the very high-performance Focus RS hatchback if speed is your absolute goal.
The Focus wears Ford's current corporate identity, with a front grille that may remind you of an Aston Martin, narrow headlights and a broad choice of colours, some of which are quite bold. It looks just as up-to-date inside and models towards the top of the range are fitted with Ford's SYNC 2 touchscreen infotainment system, which dominates the centre of the dashboard.
Every Focus has a reasonably generous amount of standard equipment, though we wouldn’t recommend the entry-level Style model as they don’t really save enough money to be worth considering over the sporty Zetec or more lavish Titanium, which is our favourite Focus. It comes with dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, parking sensors and the SYNC 2 system. Titanium X adds heated front seats, part-leather trim, a rear-view camera and parking assistance.
A relatively recent addition to the Focus range, the ST-Line features much of the ST's sporty styling inside and out, but at a lower price and with lower running costs thanks to less powerful engines. The actual ST has a 246bhp petrol or 182bhp diesel engine and is available in three trim levels: ST1, ST2 and ST3. The ST1 does without SYNC 2, while the ST3 has additional luxury items like heated front seats.
It's hard to complain about time spent inside a Focus. It's a good-looking interior, well put-together and of generally high quality. There are a few patches where the plastics aren’t quite as tactile as in, for example, a VW Golf, but it still feels solid and, crucially, desirable overall. The interior is also reasonably accommodating, although the Golf and Leon both have a bigger boot.
There's a wide choice of engines, our favourite of which is the remarkable 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which is available in our preferred Titanium specification. This is a very powerful engine for its size and feels perky when used around town, although the 123bhp version is more suited to spending time on motorways. It should be noted, though, that the fuel consumption you’ll see can vary somewhat from Ford's figures, depending on how the car is driven.
Higher-mileage drivers will be better off with one of the 1.5-lite TDCi diesel engines – we’d suggest the more powerful 118bhp version. It has plenty of shove and boasts impressive economy, combining a 10.5-second 0-62mph capability with a claimed 74.3mpg. If you can manage with less power, there's also a 93bhp version that returns exactly the same fuel consumption.
The Focus name has for a long time been a byword for driver enjoyment. The first generation was a leap beyond the Escort in terms of fun and the latest model doesn’t disappoint, either. Sharp steering makes it lively and responsive in corners and the suspension is cleverly designed to allow the car to feel agile while keeping passengers comfortable.
Independent crash-testing by Euro NCAP delivered a five-star verdict, which offers reassurance to anybody considering the Focus as a family car. It comes with all the usual airbags and safety electronics and journeys are further safeguarded by a lane-departure warning system and driver fatigue monitor.
The Focus certainly deserves consideration for anybody looking for a fine-looking, great-driving car that offers plenty of equipment at a reasonable price.