Ford Focus hatchback review
"The latest Ford Focus hatchback fuses sporty road manners with comfort, safety and style"
- Attractive looks
- Entertaining drive
- Spacious interior
- Indifferent image
- Lacklustre residuals
- Average after-sales record
Both the Focus and its predecessor, the Escort, have been phenomenal sales successes for Ford around the world. There are those, though, who say that the previous, third-generation Focus was evidence of Ford getting a little complacent, as the car was short on the magic that characterised previous models, and lost much of its lead over the rapidly-improving SEAT Leon and Kia Ceed. With fierce competition also coming from the latest Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf, Ford could hardly afford to rest on its laurels with the next one.
The fourth-generation Focus is now to address the criticisms of the previous model and get its popular family hatchback back on track. Ford wants to hang onto its existing customers and recapture those who have decamped to the more upmarket Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. As with the previous model, there's no three-door version but five-door hatchback and estate versions are available, while an off-road-style Active version aims to draw attention away from fashionable SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008 and SEAT Ateca.
Achieving the above is no mean feat, and some previous, rather anodyne generations of Focus have fallen short on showroom appeal. But although many will spot areas of the latest car's shape that pay homage to certain rivals, there's no denying today's Focus is a more handsome car than before.
When the Ford Focus first appeared in the late 1990s, it leapt straight to the top of the class for driver enjoyment and handling agility. It's fair to say that subsequent generations lost a little of this sheen, but Ford claims to have moved mountains to regain its lead for driving fun. A new, clever electronically monitored suspension system and stiffer, lightened chassis are said to be key to its revival, and a range of modern petrol and diesel engines provide plenty of power, too.
Those engines are familiar from other Ford models, but have been developed further for better response and economy. The 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost is joined by a more powerful 1.5-litre version, and Ford claims that its cylinder-deactivation system is the first offered on such an engine – it can run on two cylinders when full power isn't required. A four-cylinder EcoBlue diesel is available in 1.5 or 2.0-litre guises, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox is offered, with control via a rotary gear selector.
The more distinctive style of the latest Focus' exterior is matched inside, where Ford boasts big improvements in interior quality. There's loads of space inside, too, and the boot is almost on a par with that of the Volkswagen Golf. Standard equipment is comprehensive on the entry-level Zetec, generous on the mid-range Titanium and opulent on the range-topping Vignale, with the ST-Line getting a sporty identity of its own and special features to suit. There’s also the rugged-looking Focus Active models, and the ST hot hatchback; we’ve reviewed both of these models separately.
A convincing five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP means the Focus is one of the safest cars in its class, with more safety technology than any Ford before it. Ford's 24th-place finish out of 30 manufacturers in our 2020 Driver Power survey isn't particularly impressive, though.
And that really would seal the deal, because the fourth-generation Focus really is the best yet. It looks fresh and up to date inside and out, drives brilliantly and has all the technology most buyers will need. Some rivals may be more practical or upmarket – the soon-to-be-replaced Volkswagen Golf is still the class-leader for interior quality – but the latest Ford Focus is a brilliantly talented all-rounder and far more than just a competent family car.