What is it?
The latest Ford Focus is the fourth-generation version of the third most popular UK car.
More space, lots of new technology, lower starting prices
Ford wants the Focus back at the top of the UK sales charts and the new version may just achieve it.
More technology, greater space, improved quality and an impressive on-the-road performance result in a car that ticks all the boxes.
The Ford Focus is a very important car in the UK market, basically because so many of you out there buy them. Ford’s family hatch has consistently sat at around number three in the UK best-seller charts, in 2017 beaten only by the Volkswagen Golf and the table-topper, smaller sister the Ford Fiesta.
According to the suits showing off the new Focus at its UK launch this month, this new Focus has the ability to reclaim that top spot, which it held for some time after its debut some two decades ago. This, we are told, is the “most innovative, dynamic and exciting Ford ever”.
And it has to be. The Focus has always scored on the way it does everything well enough and drives exceptionally well. But the competition is getting ever tougher, and coming from new challengers, such as the very good Kia Ceed we drove recently. Meanwhile, tempting finance packages have even brought premium contenders from the likes of Audi and BMW onto customer radar. So a new Focus cannot merely be ‘good enough’.
This is a car designed from a clean sheet of paper, on a new platform, and without the need to suit a global audience that resulted in a level of blandness on its predecessor – the new Focus is focused firmly on European buyers. Ford says it is the first model to follow a new ‘human-centric’ design philosophy, and at the same time to deliver class-beating aerodynamics.
Generally, the car offers a satisfying visual presence. The bonnet is longer than the previous version, which with a wheelbase extended by 5cm and a lower roofline adds purposeful looks, while also extending interior space. Apart perhaps from the bluff flanks behind the rear wheels, the curves are generally in the right places.
It’s not in looks where the new Focus will score most points, however. Ford is pitching the new model’s bid for top honours primarily on its interior space and particularly on a host of new technology, some of it not previously seen on any model from the brand.
We know, too, that while we are testing the five-door hatch, there will as in previous models be a Focus family. An estate launches with the hatch, the upmarket Vignale model is on the way, while a new member will be the Active with its jacked-up crossover style. And while Ford won’t currently confirm anything, you can bet that we will see potent ST and RS versions of the new Focus before too long.
Buying and owning a Ford Focus
The Focus is based around a seven-strong line-up, and notable straight away is the starting price. The entry-level Style, from £17,930, is £2,300 cheaper than the outgoing base model, while the popular Zetec and ST-Line variants, which take 55% of Focus sales, have had their prices cut by £850 and £250 respectively.
Admittedly equipment is not exactly extensive on the style, though it does get 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, DAB digital radio with Bluetooth and Emergency Assist, an electronic parking brake, tyre pressure monitoring, and hill-start and lane-keeping aids.
It also gets autonomous emergency braking as standard. Safety is a strong suit on the new Focus, earning it a five-star Euro NCAP rating. The system will detect pedestrians and cyclists too, while other safety tech available depending on model includes a slow-speed evasive steering system, blind spot and cross-traffic alerts and a rear camera that shows a 180-degree view of the entire back of the car.
Technology is a core theme of the new car, with the most attention focused on a new embedded modem dubbed FordPass Connect. This allows various car functions to be accessed from a mobile phone app, from checking fuel levels and such like, through finding where you left it parked and whether it’s locked, to starting the engine before you get in the car so it’s toasty and defrosted ready for your drive.
It’s good, though it does replicate functions already provided by other cars, such as tyre pressure levels, and features such as parked car location which are a standard function of the average smartphone app.
Other new tech available includes a new more advanced auto parking system, adaptive cruise control that can stop and go in traffic jams, and headlights that see around corners before you get to them – as well as reading road signs and adjusting the beam accordingly, for example widening it at junctions. Clever…
Inside the Ford Focus
The interior of the previous Focus was always well put together but the new one moves matters significantly forward. Immediately noticeable is the marked effort to remove clutter, which results in clean lines, in turn, making everything feel rather upmarket.
This is particularly the case around the driver where the number of buttons and switches has been significantly reduced. However, the important switches remain, while those resigned to menus on the touchscreen (six or eight inches, depending on model) are easy to access as the screen is placed high atop the centre console within easy reach of the driver.
Typical of the decluttering is around the gear lever. Automatic models don’t have a lever any more, replaced by a rotary dial, and all versions lose the handbrake lever in favour of an electric switched version, in the process creating room for cupholders.
One oddity is the main instrument panel, which appears almost to be sloping towards you – in fact it’s virtually upright, instead of the industry norm that actually slopes away from the driver. And this is not the only way of gaining info – certain models can specify a head-up display, the first on a European Ford, right in the driver’s eye-line at the base of the windscreen. This displays such info as speed and navigation instructions, and works very well.
The other big plus is space. This is a much more roomy Focus than its predecessor, particularly in the rear. Knee room goes up more than 5cm, shoulder space by almost 6cm, and three adults can be carried in the back in comfort.
The rear is also a brighter place to be. Where alongside passenger heads used to be the metal of the rear screen pillar, now there are small windows, so they can better enjoy the view outside. Add to this a boot of 375 litres, rising to 1,354 litres with the rear seats folded, and the Focus just beats the VW Golf for practicality.
Driving the Ford Focus
Engine choices for the new Focus currently range across 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol units, both of which include cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel, and 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre diesels. Both diesels are new units and Ford still expects significant sales with them, while also predicting the 41% diesel mix of the previous model will drop to 29% in the current environment.
Also new to the range is an eight-speed auto transmission, as mentioned controlled by a rotary knob on the centre console. And we are told a mild hybrid Focus is on the way.
There’s more – depending on which trim level one chooses decides which rear suspension you get. Lower spec versions use an industry-standard torsion beam, the more upmarket versions an independent system and with the option of adaptive dampers, and a lower ride height on sporty ST-Line models.
On the launch event, The Car Expert got to try out the 125hp 1.0-litre petrol unit and the 120hp 1.5 diesel, and we were not in the least surprised to find that both offered all the refinement one would expect. The petrol engine did not feel over powerful, while never actually appearing sluggish, while the diesel was easy to love with its torquey yet smooth acceleration.
Ford models, particularly the Focus, are traditionally renowned for their on-the-road dynamics – the performance all the rivals have to beat. Some feel the previous generation Focus dropped the ball slightly, but if that was the case the new one restores the balance.
While the launch test route was not that challenging, the Focus delivered a combination of excellent ride comfort and assured cornering, with plenty of feedback through the well-weighted steering. Overall this is an impressive car on the road.
The new Ford Focus is the complete deal, in its design, its quality, its technology and its performance. Ford appears to have taken the somewhat ‘meh’ impression of the previous version to heart – the new car ticks all the boxes and in style.
If there are criticisms of the new Focus they are mere niggles, almost pedantic. This is one very good new car that should be checked out by anyone wanting a family hatch. Will it regain that UK best-seller spot? Very possibly…
|Make & model||Ford Focus||Vauxhall Astra||Kia Ceed|
|Specification||Titanium X||Elite Nav||3|
|Price (on-road)||£22,820 (range starts £17,930)||£22,370 (range starts £18,350)||£21,505 (range starts £18,295)|
|Engine||1.0-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol||1.4-litre petrol|
|Power||125 hp||105 hp||140 hp|
|Torque||170 Nm||170 Nm||242 Nm|
|0-62mph||10.0 sec||10.5 sec||8.6 sec|
|Top speed||124 mph||124 mph||130 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||57.6 mpg||58.9 mpg||48.7 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||111 g/km||110 g/km||132 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2018)||5 stars (2015)||Not yet tested|
|TCE rating||8.4 / 10||7.8 / 10||7.8 / 10|