First Drive: The new Ford Focus remains the best car in its segment

An all-new Ford Focus is with us, and it’s packing plenty of tech and equipment to ensure it remains the leader of the pack. Jon Reay tells all

The Focus benefits from a raft of new tech
The Focus benefits from a raft of new tech

What is it?

Twenty years after the first Focus was launched, Ford’s mid-sized hatch might not be the sales chart-topper it once was – now usurped by its smaller sibling, the Fiesta – but there’s no underestimating how important it still is to the brand and to buyers in the UK.

What’s new?

As you’d expect, Ford isn’t messing around here. This fourth-generation car is entirely new, is filled with even more technology than before, and promises to be even better to drive thanks to a stiffer chassis and some clever suspension bits and pieces.

Large alloy wheels give the Focus plenty of presence
(PA)

There’s also an array of new or heavily improved engines available, including new 1.5-litre petrols with fuel-sipping cylinder deactivation tech.

Also new is the eight-speed automatic gearbox, complete here with a Jaguar-style rotary dial for selecting park, reverse and drive. Replacing the previous PowerShift dual-clutch set-ups, this is a proper automatic – and a good one at that.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Focus gets four engines – two petrols, two diesels – in various states of tune. A 1.0-litre EcoBoost borrowed from the old car is the cheapest, although we’d advise against the entry-level 83bhp version in a car of this size.

Next up is a new 1.5-litre petrol with either 148bhp or 179bhp, the latter only available with a manual gearbox.

The Focus is available in a range of trim lines
(PA)

Finally, on the diesel front there’s the choice of a new 1.5 – either with 94bhp or 123bhp – and a new 2.0-litre with 148bhp.

We drove the 148bhp 1.5 petrol and it felt just about right: torquey all the way through the rev range, with just enough power to have some fun. It’s refined too – virtually silent most of the time, only generating that typical three-cylinder thrum with heavy use of the throttle.

The Focus is one of the best-selling cars of all time
(PA)

Information about gradient, cornering speed and driving style is fed to the gearbox’s computer, which does a surprisingly good job of working out when to shift down or up on its own, meaning you’re rarely left waiting for the right gear to materialise.

The Focus’s manual options – two six-speed ’boxes – have been tweaked for improved shift quality and efficiency too.

What’s it like to drive?

Aside from its bold design, it was driving dynamics where the original 1998 Focus really stood out from the crowd – so does the fourth generation carry on the tradition?

In a word, yes. It’s still great fun to drive, and arguably more enjoyable behind the wheel than the car it replaces.

The Focus benefits from a longer wheelbase for increased legroom
(PA)

Even in comparatively unsporty Vignale trim, it steers with an accuracy and fluidity that many of its rivals still haven’t quite matched, and has a ride that manages to soak up road imperfections while still remaining composed around the twisty stuff.

ST-Line models meanwhile get a firmer, 10mm-lower suspension that helps the Focus handle even more neatly. Whether that pay-off is worth it back in pothole-addled Britain as opposed to the super-smooth roads of Nice that we tested it on, however, remains to be seen.

The six-speed manual has been updated too
(PA)

Additionally, 1.0-litre models don’t get the Focus’s trademark fully independent rear suspension set-up, but since their twist-beam set-up is good enough for the new Fiesta ST, we don’t anticipate too many complaints.

There’s now the option of adaptive dampers too, although we’re not convinced they’re worth the extra cash at this point. A drive on some questionable UK road surfaces might change our minds, however.

How does it look?

ST-Line trim remains the best-looking model to our eyes, although the chunky Active spec cars – not yet released – also give the Focus a nice rough-and-tough crossover look that’s sure to be a hit with the crossover crowd.

What’s it like inside?

The driving position is spot on, dials are all clear and easy to read, and most trim levels come with plenty of seat adjustability (for the driver at least).

The interior is solidly built
(PA)

Front and rear visibility is on a par with rivals’, and the Focus is easy enough to park without the use of any electronic aids. That said, parking sensors are included on Titanium trim and above, while Ford’s newly improved Active Park Assist system is even easier to use than before: provided your Focus has the eight-speed automatic, it’ll now accelerate and brake as well as steer itself into a space.

The Focus gains Ford's latest infotainment system
(PA)

Its wheelbase has been increased to allow for extra rear legroom, and the dashboard is now less deep and sculpted in such a way that the interior feels airier and more spacious. Rear passengers get plenty of legroom even in hatchback models, although taller passengers could feel the squeeze on headroom – particularly when the panoramic sunroof option is fitted.

What’s the spec like?

If comfort is your top priority, pick the Vignale trim level. Its soft leather seats are adjustable every which way, while double-glazed windows and active noise cancellation mean road (and particularly engine) noise is eerily absent most of the time.

Vignale comes as the tip-top trim level
(PA)

However, if practicality is a priority, the estate version has you covered. With the rear seats in place it’ll now take loads that are 43mm higher and 25mm longer than before, while folding them flat – now at the pull of a switch – gives a load capacity of 1,650 litres. That’s not quite as spacious as the cavernous Skoda Octavia estate, but it does beat the similarly sized Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer by 20 litres or so

Verdict

Surprise surprise, the new Focus is – from the driver’s seat at least – probably the best car in its segment once again. There are rivals with posher interiors, cheaper price tags or longer warranties, but as an overall package the Focus is still the one to beat.

  • Model as tested: Ford Focus 1.5-litre 150ps Vignale Automatic
  • Price: £27,300
  • Engine: 1.5 EcoBoost
  • Power (bhp): 148
  • Torque (Nm): 240
  • Max speed (mph): 129
  • 0-60mph (seconds): 8.9
  • MPG: 46.3 (combined, on 18-inch wheels)
  • Emissions (g/km): 138 (on 18-inch wheels)
  • Rivals: VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Mercedes A-Class
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