Chassis, especially the upper-spec, and engines. Safe and spacious too
Interior not as premium as some rivals, seats could be more supportive
What is it?
The Focus is a chuffing important car for Mr and Ms Car-Buyer here in Britain. Last year it was our fourth best-seller, beaten just by the VW Golf, Vauxhall Corsa and its sibling Fiesta. It's part of the proof 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 last year 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. But look, it hasn’t aged too badly, has it? It immediately improved on its predecessor thanks to a sleeker profile (and a super-slithery aerodynamic drag of 0.27Cd), stiffer dynamics, improved crash safety, and all that yet weighing less than the old one – a reasonable 1,325kg for the three-cylinder manual.
Much the same can be said for the interior too, though Ford hasn’t left it completely untouched. While earlier, lesser-specced models came with a 6.5-inch infotainment display, as of 2019 every Focus now comes with an 8.0-incher, which handles the nav, media, and phone connectivity. In front of the driver sits a recently updated 12.3-inch instrument cluster, complete with conventional dials and a secondary screen showing speed, navigation arrows, economy, driver-assist system info and such-like. The automated systems are as comprehensive as any car in the class, too.
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, last year the Focus went mild hybrid in the shape of a starter/generator motor, 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 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. The lesser-powered engine (available from lowest-spec Zetec trim upwards) starts just shy of £24k, while the more powerful unit (available from Titanium trim upwards) starts around £25.5k. Both emit 116g/km of CO2 and claim 51.4mpg – an increase of 17 per cent over the non-hybrid equivalent, and a figure we found mostly achievable if treading lightly.
Of course you can still get a 1.0-litre without all the mild-hybrid stuff, plus 1.5 and 2.0-litre diesels. But our experience so far suggests you should ignore these and go for the hybrid. More on that over on the Driving tab.
How does the interior fare?
The good news is the Focus more than holds its own on this front, too. In the current era of aping-Tesla style touchscreens, Ford has kept things simple with an 8in infotainment system (now standard), physical climate control buttons (hoorah), and easily accessible driver assist systems. It all screams common sense; it’s the sort of the car that anyone could easily get in and drive.
And it’s a pleasant enough experience behind the wheel, too. 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 longer wheelbase over its predecessor. Boot space is a useful 375-litres with the seats up too, just five less than the Volkswagen Golf.
There’s plenty of tech as standard, too. In base-spec Zetec trim you get Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless charging pad, front and rear parking sensors, heated windscreen and mirrors, lane keep and pre-collision assist… you get the idea. Head over to the Buying tab for the full lowdown. The ride, meanwhile, leads us to the next question…
Anything else we should know?
There seem to be nearly as many suspensions as there are engines. Hatches with the lowest power now 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.
Finally, 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, the first time these have been offered on a mainstream Focus. Make sense?
Read a long term review on the Ford Focus by clicking these blue words.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
A BMW 1 Series will impress your neighbours more, but it's you that drives your car, not them. This Focus, especially with the better rear suspension, is the sweetest drive in the mainstream hatch class, and it’s little surprise that even after a couple of years on sale, the fourth-generation remains as popular as ever.
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.