First Drive: Ford Focus

More than just a facelift, Ford has worked their magic on the new Focus, promising to make it faster, more efficient and more desirable. I find out if they’ve succeeded…

This is the latest version of Ford’s most important model, the Focus family hatchback. Since its introduction back in 1997, the Focus has gained a reputation for involving and entertaining handling, without sacrificing the sensible traits any family car should have.

With this version, Ford has tidied up the exterior of the car, grafting on an Aston Martin-esque front grille and revamping the rear to create something that is clean and stylish, and far more desirable than the outgoing model.

Inside there’s been more changes, with a completely redesigned cabin that eschews the countless tiny buttons littered around the hard plastic dashboard and replaced it all with a soft-touch and elegantly simple layout, highlighted by an occasional piece of chrome.

The biggest changes are under the bonnet, with downsized engines across the range. The 1.6-litre turbo diesel or petrol has gone, replaced by a 1.5-litre version of both, while the 2.0-litre diesel is more powerful and less thirsty than before. The tiny 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine remains.

Finally, Ford has been brave and fiddled with the handling and ride qualities.

The styling changes have worked very well. Focus is now bang on trend to look at, with sharp lines and a modern look, while the interior is a massive step forward. The infotainment system is still a little clunky in places, but the gap to the best has been reduced significantly.

The new engines fit well in to the range. The 1.5-litre petrol tested here is quiet and brisk, especially when attached to the slick-changing six-speed manual gearbox. Moving the gear stick around takes a little more effort than on a Kia or Honda, and that’s true also of the pedals.

Ford requires the driver to use a little more heft, involving themselves in actually driving the car, which is why the lighter steering is a little bit of a disappointment. The disparity between the pedals and gear stick, and the steering wheel is slightly jarring, but not a deal breaker.

Especially as the handling and ride is as fine as ever. the revised Focus is a little jittery over tiny surface changes, but the upside of that is that it handles longer bumps (the like of which you’ll find on motorways) with a seamless ease, while also maintaining body control once the roads get twistier.

And it’s on those twisty roads that you realise why the Focus is so loved in the UK. A quick trip to the shop for a pint of milk could easily involve a 20-mile detour around country roads, such is the appeal of the smile you’ll undoubtedly be left with. The long way round might just be the right way.
Interior design is a huge step forward.Interior design is a huge step forward.

The changes to the Focus means there’s now more room inside for storage, which is welcome news. Those changes don’t extend to freeing up any more passenger space though, which means that the Focus remains competitive if not class-leading.

There’s Isofix in the back, as you’d expect, and the doors open wide enough that moving a child seat in and out isn’t the hassle it could be in some other cars. There’s a sensible sized boot that looks about the same size as every other boot on every other family hatchback, so you won’t have any issues in lugging around golf clubs, pushchairs or bags of topsoil.

The 1.5-litre petrol engine is perhaps not the best option for those travelling significant distances, such is the economy improvement offered by the 1.5-litre diesel powered car, but for a private buyer covering average miles, the 74.3 mpg and 98 g/km of CO2 means it’s reasonably frugal and not too heavy on tax.

On a practical level, there’s no reason why not. The Focus has always provided the necessary components that combine to create a family car, and the new model is no different. It just does it better than before.

The current darling of the class, the Volkswagen Golf, undoubtedly still offers a classier, more stylish option, but it falls slightly short when it comes to enjoying your motoring. The Ford also undercuts it on price by some margin.

The Mazda 3 makes a strong case for itself, being a more stylish and rarer option than the norm, as well as slightly cheaper than a like-for-like Focus, but it again falls short on driving engagement.

Which means it all comes down to whether you really enjoy driving, or whether you’re after a car for getting from A to B with the least fuss. The Focus aces the first option, and ties for the second.

Model Tested: Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost Titanium
Price: £20,795
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 131 mph
0-62 mph: 8.9 seconds
Power: 150 PS (148 bhp)
Torque: 240 Nm (177 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 51.0 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 127 g/km
VED Band: D / £110 per year
Car insurance group: 19E
Kerb weight: 1,524 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.