If you want to see exactly how far ‘ordinary’ cars have come in the past 20 years, look no further than the Ford Focus. For it was in 1998 that Ford’s ‘New Edge’ hatchback made its debut as one of the most advanced family cars there had ever been, complete with radically different styling, and ‘control blade’ independent rear suspension to provide class-leading ride and handling.
That first generation of Focus really was a game-changer. It was as much fun to drive as a sports car, roomy, good value and cheap to run. In fact, it set such a high bar that subsequent generations of Focus, while still hugely popular, have always lived somewhat in the shadow of the breakthrough achievement of the mighty Mk1.
Which is why for this all-new, fourth generation of Focus, Ford didn’t merely want to take another evolutionary step. Rather it has set out to achieve a revolution, if not in the family car class as a whole, then certainly in the two-decade-old Focus range.
FORD FOCUS TECHNOLOGY
That this new Focus would need to be dynamically brilliant was never in question. Where Ford has lost ground to rivals in recent years though is in areas such as space, technology and interior fit and finish. Hence why the new Focus is much bigger inside than its predecessors (indeed, it is now one of the roomier cars in its class), daringly modern in its styling, and packed with more technology than a Richer Sounds warehouse.
As you’d expect, equipment levels vary depending on what trim level you opt for. To that end, our ST-Line X test car sits about halfway up the rather overcomplicated Focus line-up. It is pitched as the sportier offering, both in the way it looks and the way it drives, with its lowered suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and a more aggressive bumper treatment among the changes.
On the drivetrain front, Ford is currently offering petrol and diesel, varying in size from 1.0 to 2.0 litres, and with a variety of power outputs. Drive is sent to the front wheels, and the standard six-speed manual gearbox has been joined by an eight-speed automatic.
Among the technological highlights is the availability of optional adaptive dampers that can not only alter the ride quality depending on road surface and driving style, but also help to mitigate the dreaded thump as you hit a pothole. Perhaps more impressive still is that, even without this tech on board, our test car still had a very well judged ride, and was never anything less than comfortable.
Then there’s the safety systems, which now allow you to pair adaptive cruise control with lane centring assist to stop you getting too close to the vehicle in front or inadvertently wandering into another lane. As per the regulations, these systems are very much driver assist in nature, rather than offering any kind of driverless capability, but they can still be very useful, particularly in stop-start traffic.
Throw in adaptive LED headlights, a fully automatic parking function, blind spot monitors, a B&O 360-degree sound system, head-up display and more, and you can see how the Focus has matured into one of the most advanced cars in its class.
All that technology would be for nothing if the Focus wasn’t still great to drive. Thankfully, it takes all of two minutes behind the wheel to know that it hasn’t lost any of its handling magic. The steering is still faithful and sweetly weighted, and when you start to push you can feel how the front and rear tyres are working in harmony to whip you eagerly along on your way. Do note, though, that you’ll need to get used to the occasional corrective squirm from the steering if the safety systems decide they want to intervene.
Our test car was powered by Ford’s 1.5-litre diesel, which is about as refined a four-cylinder unit as we’ve experienced. In an age where diesel is fast falling out of favour, its smooth running, effortless mid-range pull and excellent range from a single tank are reminders of just how good it can be. What’s more, the engine’s quiet nature contributes to what is overall a very soothing car on a long journey, seemingly on a par with a Volkswagen Golf in this respect.
That’s especially so when the engine is combined with Ford’s new eight-speed torque convertor automatic. Under normal driving conditions this is a wonderfully smooth gearbox, and helps to keep the engine in its most efficient operating window, where more than 50mpg is possible. Admittedly, it can feel a bit flustered when you want to really get a move on, but the same can be said of most automatics this side of Porsche’s PDK system.
Perhaps the only area where the Focus hasn’t toppled the class leaders is in its touchscreen system, which although far from disastrous is also not as straightforward to use as the VW Group or Hyundai/Kia equivalents.
To let such a detail dissuade you from taking a test drive in the latest Focus, though, would be an error. Because make no mistake that this latest model could be every bit as significant as the Mk1 of 20 years ago. It’s a brilliant example of how good the Focus can be, not to mention one of the very best family cars on sale today.
Price: Ford Focus from £18,300. As tested ST-Line X 1.5 TDCI automatic £26,410
Power: 118bhp @ 3,600rpm
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 120mph
Fuel economy: 64.2mpg (WLTP Combined). On test: 53mpg.
FORD FOCUS HISTORY
Ford Focus Mk1 (1998-2004)
The original Focus of 1998 introduced Ford’s New Edge design language, and was quite simply miles better to drive than anything else in the family car class. Throw in low running costs, good reliability and a plentiful line-up (including the quick ST170 and RS models), and it’s not difficult to see why it caught on.
Search for a Ford Focus Mk1 on CarGurus
Ford Focus Mk2 (2004-2011)
While not as stylistically adventurous as the Mk1, Ford’s follow up was still a rewarding drive, not to mention more refined on the motorway, and still affordable to buy and run. No surprise then that it was also hugely popular. That there are plenty left on the road today is a clear indication of their durability, too.
Search for a Ford Focus Mk2 on CarGurus
Ford Focus Mk3 (2011-2018)
Whereas the Focus had previously been offered in body styles that included a saloon, a three-door hatchback and even a convertible with a folding metal hardtop, the Mk3 simplified things, with only five-door hatchback and estate models on offer in the UK. While a much better car than its predecessor in most respects, the Focus couldn’t compete with its best contemporary rivals for space or interior design. It is still an enjoyable car to drive, though.
Search for a Ford Focus Mk3 on CarGurus
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