REVIEW ➤ The all-new Ford Focus: A thoroughly family affair
By Wayne Gorrett
In the twenty years since its UK debut, the Ford Focus has taken up permanent residence at the winning end of the sales charts, going argy-bargy for top honours alongside traditional rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Honda Civic.
What set the Ford Focus apart from those cars was just how good and capable it was to drive. Its arrival in 1998 refashioned the traditional family hatchback sector with its superior handling and agility to become the go-to family car choice for those who simply like to drive.
However, over the past decade or so, Ford has seen Focus sales plummet by almost 45% as an increasing number of drivers switched to strengthening competition from the likes of KIA, Citroen, Hyundai and Skoda, not to mention the rush for the elevated ride obtained in crossovers and SUVs.
Ford had to do something to boost sales of its bread and butter car and, in this fourth generation Focus they have come out fighting. The new Focus offers much lower prices and leasing rates than the outgoing model and comes with more cabin space, is safer and packed with the latest technology. And let’s not forget the drive…and yes, that’s better, too!
Being an all-new model, this Focus started its journey on a clean sheet of paper. It rides on a new platform that Ford calls the ‘C2’ and was from day one, focused firmly on European buyers (the car has never sold well in the States).
Designed by Ford Australia’s Jordan Demkiw, the new Focus is very much an evolution of previous iterations. The car is wider and lower, with a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs, yet maintains roughly the same exterior dimensions. Fun fact: Ford’s designers deployed 26,000kg of modelling clay while creating the new Focus.
Interior and comfort
Where the new Focus has more noticeably grown is inside the cabin and thanks to some clever design, the interior offers much more room than the model it replaces. From the quality of the materials to the fit and finish, the new Focus is a pleasing place to be. There is now a mature refinement belying its mass-market family hatch appeal.
The dashboard has been pushed 100mm closer to the base of the windscreen freeing up space for the front occupants, while the 50mm longer wheelbase has resulted in more knee, leg and shoulder room in the back. There’s no transmission tunnel either, resulting in even more space for those consigned to road trip purgatory at the back.
From the driver’s seat, most of the important controls are positioned logically around the steering wheel and centre console, while the 6.5-inch touchscreen (an 8.0-inch upgrade is available) extends from the dashboard to display navigation, media and other infotainment options via Ford’s rather good Sync3 interface.
The manual handbrake lever is no more, replaced by an electronic switch, while the traditional gearstick on the automatic has also met its demise to be replaced by a Jaguar-like rotary dial gear selector.
Little touches like felt-lined door pockets front and rear go a long way to eliminating those annoying rattles and scrapes that can mar an otherwise pleasant drive as objects shift around in pockets without such trimmings.
With the rear seatbacks in place, the new Focus beats the VW Golf for boot space with a well-shaped 375-litre capacity, which rises to 1,354 litres with them folded down. There is a slight loading lip which could make loading heavy items a little tricky, but overall the good load space enhances the car’s practicality.
Trim grades and equipment
Ford’s familiar trim levels including the popular Zetec and Titanium remain and are joined by the new top-of-the-range luxury Vignale spec.
Standard equipment on range-entry Style models is good and includes 16-inch alloys, auto lights, DRLs, manual air-con, DAB radio, pre-collision assist with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, switchable drive modes (normal, eco and sport), plus a modest 4.2-inch colour display, Bluetooth and a pair of USB ports.
Zetec models come with a larger 6.5-inch screen that sits atop the car’s dash, and also adds voice recognition technology, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring. The touchscreen is responsive and bright, but the onscreen graphics aren’t quite as sharp as some rivals.
From ST-Line X models all the way to the range-topping Vignale, the screen size increases to 8.0-inches and navigation in standard. Also added from ST-Line X is a 4.3-inch colour instrument cluster screen for clearer driving information on the move. An inexpensive wireless smartphone charging pad can be added to all but entry-level models.
Safety and security
The new Ford Focus achieved a full five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP when crash-tested in July this year and comes with plenty of active safety aids.
These include automatic emergency braking (which detects cars, pedestrians and cyclists) and lane-keeping assistance for all trims, while the reasonably priced ‘driver assistance pack’ adds traffic sign recognition, automatic main beam and adaptive cruise control.
The latter includes steering assistance that works at motorway speeds, as well as a ‘stop & go’ function that stops the car in a traffic jam and restarts it when the car in front moves off. Blind spot warning is part of a pack that includes a feature to alert you if you’re about to reverse out of your driveway into the path of a crossing car.
All models come with a Thatcham Research category one alarm and immobiliser that mean it’s good at resisting being broken into or stolen.
A total of eight engine configurations are on offer with the new Ford Focus – but at launch none are hybrid.
Ford’s award-winning 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is available in three power outputs (85hp/170Nm, 100hp/200Nm and 120hp/200Nm), while the larger three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol comes in 150 and 182hp forms, both with 270Nm of torque. All petrol engines are hybrid compatible, so we can expect them to arrive sometime in 2019.
Two Ford EcoBlue diesel engines are offered: a four-cylinder 1.5-litre unit available in 95 and 120hp power outputs (both of 300Nm), plus a potent 2.0-litre oil burner that produces 150hp/370Nm.
The pick of the EcoBoost turbocharged petrols would be the 125hp 1.0-litre triple as tested. It’s much stronger and peppier than its numbers suggest and will be less expensive to own and run.
If it’s a diesel you’re after because you constantly slog up and down the motorway, then the 120hp 1.5-litre engine will have all the punch you need while comfortably achieving in excess of 60mpg.
Both transmissions – the six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearbox – are new, with the latter replacing the ageing PowerShift six-speed unit from previous iterations of the Focus.
Like most automatics, the new eight-cog unit is perfectly good at driving around in a calm, sensible manner, with smooth changes and decent driveability. However, should you need to push on, the changes can be jerky and hesitant, not to mention a rather irritating delay when you least expect it. It’s quite bullish pulling off the line, too, which may take a bit of getting used to.
Less expensive than the automatic, the six-cog manual ‘box is one of the most driver-centric manual transmissions available anywhere, with a smooth, well-weighted shift action that is thoroughly enjoyable and easy to use.
Here, things can get a little complicated, but for both our benefits, I’ll keep it simple.
Lesser-powered versions of the new Focus have a simpler design incorporating a torsion beam at the rear, while more powerful models are awarded a more complex, fully independent arrangement that’s designed to enhance ride as well as handling…and you can take that complexity even further by opting for a set of adaptive dampers.
The simpler set-up still offers a composed and fluid ride, while the more technical arrangement produces a little less high-speed fidget over corrugated surfaces. But, to be honest, the margins are small.
I haven’t yet driven the new Focus with adaptive dampers, but I suspect that unless you intend to chuck the car through the twisty bits on a daily basis, the standard car is so good as to leave the money in your pocket and not really bother with them.
Ride and handling
Superb handling is what the Ford Focus has always been about and this new one is an exception – because it’s even better.
Thanks largely due to the new C2 chassis, there is a wonderful balance between composure and stiffness. That, coupled with the car’s exceptional grip levels mean that the car is unlikely to misbehave even over the meanest of British roads.
The steering is nicely weighted and is welcomingly sharp and accurate. Like most electronic steering setups these days, there is little feel as to what’s really going on down below. That said, the car’s body control is great and the car manages to remain composed through corners no matter what you throw at it.
This Mk4 Ford Focus suggests that Ford is back to its very best covering, as it does, all the requirements of the family hatchback buyer: comfort, space, practicality, safety and good kit levels.
That it is once again the best driver’s car in its class is a bonus. It perhaps lacks that clinically Germanic degree of finesse and quality you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf, but as an overall package it’s difficult to find fault.
Can the new Ford Focus regain the top spot on the UK’s best-seller list? Yes, and we shouldn’t be too surprised when it does.
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