In-depth Reviews

Ford Focus hatchback - Engines, drive & performance

The latest Ford Focus jumps straight to the head of the family hatchback pack for handling

Carbuyer Rating

4.1 out of 5

Owners Rating

4.3 out of 5

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Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

We begin this section by totting up the changes that Ford has made to the latest Focus with a view to re-establishing the 'fun-to-drive' reputation of its predecessors.

The company started with a clean sheet of paper when developing the latest Focus – it's the first Ford to use the company's 'C2' platform, which will form the basis for a range of future cars, including the next-generation Ford Kuga SUV. It's lighter and 20% stiffer than before, as well as up to 50% more rigid where the suspension components are attached.

The suspension is clever, too, with some versions compatible with a system called Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD). This uses sensors dotted around the car to fine-tune the ride based on steering and braking inputs and – where the technology is fitted – it can even prepare to handle a pothole before you get to it. Meanwhile, front wheel movements are analysed and sent to the rear suspension, enabling it to pre-adjust for the road ahead. The system is optional on ST-Line X, Titanium X and Vignale models.

On top of this, Ford also claims the latest Focus' power-steering system offers greater feel than before, while a sophisticated traction-control system incorporates torque-vectoring control and torque-steer compensation, helping to send power where it's needed and rein it in where it's not. But does all this technology result in genuine driving pleasure?

The answer is an unreserved yes. Any doubts evaporate when you encounter a twisty road, where the Focus is far more composed than you'd expect a family hatchback to be. The steering lives up to Ford's claims and is among the most communicative power-assisted systems around. There's loads of bite from the front tyres, too – it eagerly locks onto your chosen line around a corner, and there's no drama if you lift off the accelerator sharply. And this is only a 1.0-litre car we're talking about.

Before May 2019, the 1.5-litre ST-Line came with upgraded suspension that sits 10mm lower and improves the car’s handling further – but it’s no longer offered on this version. It does still feature on the 2.0-litre diesel and on the estate range, however.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range. It feels slick, if a little weighty in use, and the smooth clutch makes up for the fact that the gearlever moves quite a long way across the gate. If you'd rather an automatic, you can choose an eight-speed if you opt for the 124bhp 1.0-litre or 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engines, and the 118bhp 1.5-litre and 148bhp 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesels.

The automatic is controlled by a rotary gear selector, which is simple to use, and there are steering-wheel-mounted paddles at hand to enable manual gearchanges. It's generally a smooth gearbox, but prone to the occasional jerky shift. There's also a sense that the gearbox doesn't make full use of the Focus' entire power band. As automatic gearboxes go, it does a good enough job, but isn't as responsive as the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox used by the VW Group.

Ford Focus hatchback diesel engines

The entry-level Focus diesel engine is a 94bhp 1.5-litre, four-cylinder EcoBlue. Depending on trim level, you can alternatively opt for a 118bhp version with similar economy and the option of an automatic gearbox. The 148bhp 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel is a better fit for the sporty ST-Line version and is also available on Titanium, Vignale and Active X trims.

The 94bhp version takes 11.4 seconds to reach 62mph from rest, while the 118bhp manual takes 10 seconds dead. Opt for the 8-speed automatic, and that time increases slightly to 10.2 seconds. The 1.5-litre diesel is a little noisy on start up – perhaps a little noisier than equivalent diesels on rival machines. The clatter dies down quickly, though, and there's plentiful response when you demand power. There's also barely any difference between the petrol and heavier diesel engines when it comes to handling.

Petrol engines

We've been impressed by 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol in the latest Ford Fiesta and it's no disappointment in the Focus, either. You can choose it in 99 and 124bhp forms, since the sluggish 84bhp version was discontinued in October 2019. The 124bhp version takes 10 seconds to get from 0-62mph and the 99bhp engine takes a leisurely 12.1 seconds. Both versions make a 'thrummy' noise but not in an unpleasant way. You can tell it's a small engine by its slight hesitation to accelerate under heavy load, but this lethargy evaporates once there's 2,000rpm or more on the rev counter.

The 1.5-litre version offers greater driving excitement and feels a more urgent as soon as you pull away. It's available with 148 or 180bhp, with the latter delivering particularly strong acceleration from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. It has impressive pulling power throughout the rev range, and the more powerful version will pull hard from just 2,000rpm. It suits the ST-Line X's sporty looks and makes it a genuine 'warm hatchback' contender. This engine is an expensive choice, as it’s only available on the top two trim levels.

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