Chassis, especially the upper-spec, and engines. Safe and spacious too
Seats could be more supportive. Can spec a non-ST to well over £30k
What is it?
The Ford Focus is a chuffing important car for Mr and Ms Car-Buyer here in Britain, even if it doesn’t enjoy quite the popularity of old. It is perhaps the greatest example of the fact that, despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of crossovers, actual hatchbacks still rule.
But the Focus matters here at Planet Top Gear for more reasons than just not being an SUV, because over the years it has been a consistently good drive, as well as throwing up some of our fave hot hatches. We shed a tear when Ford announced there wasn’t going to be another RS, thanks mainly to ever-tightening emissions rules, so it’s mighty relieving that the fast Focus lives on in ST guise.
WHAT GENERATION ARE WE ON NOW?
Only the fourth, but we get your point – the current iteration has been about since 2018 and was only mildly facelifted in late 2021, getting a new front grille and standard LED lights front and rear. This fourth-gen car had immediately improved on its predecessor though thanks to a sleeker profile, stiffer dynamics and improved crash safety, so there wasn’t much for Ford to do at refresh time. Oh, and it already weighed less than the third gen car – a reasonable 1,325kg for the three-cylinder manual.
WHAT ABOUT THE INTERIOR?
The mid-life facelift also brought very slight interior updates, with all but the base-spec Trend trim getting a giant 13.2-inch infotainment system which handles navigation, media, and phone connectivity. Ford says that the screen is the largest you’ll find in the segment, but crucially it comes at the expense of proper climate control buttons, all of which now move into a little bar at the bottom of the display. Seems like a backwards step to us.
It’s a pleasant enough experience behind the wheel, though. The front seats are admittedly not the most comfortable we’ve ever sat in, but it’s impressively roomy in the back, thanks to a considerably longer wheelbase than the cramped third-gen Focus. Boot space is a useful 375-litres with the seats up too, just five less than the Volkswagen Golf.
There’s all the usual driver assist systems that buyers have come to expect these days, and you're not only assisted, you're also connected. Download the Ford app and you can perform various tricks remotely – finding the car, checking fuel, locking and so on. Local hazard information also warns you of any potential dangers ahead, even if the incident is not visible due to a bend in the road or other vehicles.
WHAT’S UNDER THE BONNET?
Plenty of petrol and diesel options for you to choose here, but here’s the biggie – much like its Puma, Kuga and Fiesta counterparts, the Focus has now gone mild-hybrid with a starter/generator motor that’s connected to a 48-volt lithium-ion battery neatly tucked away under the front seats.
Said battery stores energy harvested from braking and coasting, then uses it to boost torque from the teeny 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine – available in either 123bhp or 153bhp guise – by up to 50 per cent at low revs, or 15lb ft at full load.
With the hybrid gubbins the lesser-powered engine (available from lowest-spec Trend trim upwards) starts at just over £25k, while the more powerful unit (available from next-up Titanium trim upwards) starts at closer to £26k. Both emit between 116 and 134g/km of CO2 and claim 47.9mpg and above – an increase of roughly 15 per cent over the non-hybrid equivalent, and a figure we found mostly achievable if treading lightly. Worth bearing in mind that the lesser-powered MHEV can only be had with a seven-speed DCT gearbox, while the more powerful setup can also be combined with a six-speed manual.
Of course you can still get a 1.0-litre petrol without all the mild-hybrid stuff, plus there’s a 1.5-litre diesel for those who still want to fill from the black pump. But our experience so far suggests you should ignore these and go for the hybrid. More on that over on the Driving tab. The ride, meanwhile, leads us to the next question…
ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?
There seem to be nearly as many suspension setups as there are engines. Hatches with the lowest power have a torsion-beam setup. It uses banana-shaped springs that push the outer rear wheel outwards as the car rolls in a corner, keeping the trailing arm pointing straight and the wheel better aligned.
Meanwhile, more powerful hatches get a short-and-long arm setup (as the original Focus pioneered). Its advantages are ride quietness and steering precision.
Then there's the crossover-style Focus Active with its extra black plastic cladding and what Ford describes as 'rough road suspension' with a slightly increased ride height. Not an out and out off-roader, then.
Estates get a different layout of SLA system, with the dampers laid near-horizontally, to improve boot space. Top models get the option of adaptive dampers too. Make sense?
You can read our long term review of the pre-facelift Ford Focus by clicking these blue words.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
A BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A-Class will impress your neighbours more, but it's you that drives your car, not them. This Focus, especially with the more sophisticated rear suspension setup, is still the sweetest drive in the mainstream hatch class, and it’s little surprise that even after four years on sale, the fourth-generation remains as popular as ever.
The mid-life facelift brings even more equipment as standard to lots of the trim levels and we reckon that new front end looks very sharp. The giant touchscreen is great too, although we are still mourning the loss of physical buttons.
The driving appeal comes from a balance of sweet engines, fine steering, great cornering ability and a well-tuned ride. But success in a hatch isn't just about the drive. The Focus has the rest of the bases well covered too. It’s one of the easiest cars to recommend as a daily driver, and for good reason too.