Ford is making some bold claims about the new Focus being the best car it’s ever built. True or not, it’s certainly the year’s most important launch
On the road
On the road
The Focus is a big deal. This is the most important company car to be launched this year, because it’s a car that is perennially up among the UK’s top sellers for both fleet and retail.
And despite the shifting tastes towards crossovers, Ford is still pinning big hopes on the new Focus, branding it the best car it has ever built.
According to Ford, the new Focus is lighter, stronger, roomier (despite no major change in exterior dimensions), has better aerodynamics and offers the most engaging drive and highest levels of driver assistance systems. Which is quite a list.
The car launched as a five-door hatchback, with the estate arriving by the end of the year, and a new Active model (the third Active Ford after versions of the Fiesta and Ka+) coming next spring to bridge a gap between the hatchback and higher-riding crossover models, such as Ford’s own Kuga.
The new car looks chunkier all over than the previous Focus, although the rear has a somewhat squat stance. Overall, the look works best in the sportier ST-Line trims, but a touch less so in other models that don’t have the same body adornments.
Ford has set out the Focus line-up with the Style and Zetec models as the entry points, and it then runs the higher-spec Titanium and Titanium X models effectively parallel to the sportier look of ST-Line and ST-Line X, depending on customer preference for better looks or higher equipment levels. The plush Vignale trim level tops the range, as it does on the majority of Ford models now – Fiesta, Mondeo, S-Max, Kuga and Edge all have Vignale models to crown their line-ups.
Few customers are likely to go for the Style trim, because although it’s £1000 less than a Zetec, it misses out on the Ford’s Sync3 6.5-inch touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as cruise control, Ford’s excellent Quickclear windscreen and leather steering wheel with built-in audio controls.
The engine range is comprehensive from the off, with five petrol alternatives and three diesels. The petrol engines are 85hp, 100hp and 125hp power outputs of Ford’s 1.0-litre, followed by 150hp and 182hp versions of the 1.5 Ecoboost engine. All have a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and all bar the most and least powerful versions have the option of a £1850 eight-speed automatic transmission.
The diesels are 1.5-litre 95hp and 120hp engines (the latter driven here), and a 150hp 2.0-litre; the more powerful two are also available with the eight-speed auto. It’s worth noting though, the auto carries a big CO2 penalty, on the petrol engines in particular, of up to 19g/km.
Ford has made a major play of the driver-assistance technology that the new car is equipped with, claiming a wider range of advanced features than any Ford before. That includes the £500 Driver Assistance Pack bringing adaptive cruise control, lane-centre assist and speed sign recognition. On cars with automatic gearboxes the ACC includes Stop & Go, which will automatically drive off again if the traffic clears within three seconds of bringing the car to a halt.
All Focus models get lane-keep assist and departure warning, autonomous emergency braking and post-collision braking, as well as Ford’s MyKey system that can programme individual keys to have different limited top speeds of the vehicle and maximum audio system volume.
The top Vignale’s standard kit includes Active Park Assist, a rear camera and what Ford claims is the best head-up display system in the sector.
The regeneration levels – energy recuperated under deceleration to replenish the battery – can be set by the driver using what would be the gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel on a conventional car. There are three levels, the most severe of which negates the need to use the brake pedal in most driving situations, and the car can even be brought to a complete halt by a longer tug on the paddle. There’s also a dashboard display that highlights how much energy, in mileage terms, has been put back into the battery with each slowing. A controlled and gradual stop from 70mph, for example, will add more than half a mile. It is a shame, though, that the readout only seems to show that specific instance, clearing the display once the car’s accelerating again. It would be more interesting, and more of an incentive to drive with regeneration in mind, to see how many miles good driving had added across an entire journey.
The brand is also making a step forward regarding connectivity with its new car, albeit not anything that hasn’t been seen from other brands. The new Focus is the first Ford in Europe to be fitted with a modem, and the car is described as the “first steps to a smart vehicle for a smart world”. The company says its Ford Pass Connect system is more than just a simple app; it offers functionality including sending navigation destinations to the car, checking fuel level, tyre pressures, where the vehicle is located and the ability to unlock it, as well as offering a wifi hotspot within 15 metres of the vehicle for up to 10 devices. For cars fitted with an automatic gearbox, Ford Pass Connect will also start the car and heat the windscreen to get the cabin ready on cold mornings.
It’s all clever stuff, and up with the best offered by other brands, such as Vauxhall’s OnStar and the BMW ConnectedDrive systems, but isn’t breaking any significant new ground.
But the Focus’s reputation has always been crafted around the class-leading driving experience, and to a large extent that remains intact, although the gap has closed and there’s not much to choose between several models at the top of the sector. But it’s a solid and mature car that is comfortable at higher speed as well as composed and entertaining through twistier stuff. The ride is noticeably harsher on the ST-Line models, which come with sports suspension.
The diesel is a touch boomy under acceleration, but offers decent performance in the case of the 120hp diesel driven here, and has a pleasantly solid gearshift.
Interior space is improved, with rear head, shoulder and legroom increased by 56mm, 60mm and 78mm respectively, doubtless at least partly helped by the 53mm increase in wheelbase thanks to the wheels being pushed further into the corners of the car. One interesting point is that redesigned rear windows leave taller occupants now able to look out through glass rather than staring at the edge of the roof lining as they were previously made to do.
One area that is still a Focus weak spot is the boot space. It takes a jump from the previous 316 litres to 341 litres, but that’s still well adrift of pretty much every rival; the Honda Civic sits at the other end of the scale at 478 litres, just ahead of the Peugeot 308’s 470 litres. The Kia Ceed and the Vauxhall Astra are both well clear of the Focus too. It’s less of a weakness than before, but still a notable one.
Up-front, the design of the cabin is a modernised step that sees large quantities of buttons removed, but the material quality isn’t always the highest, with bits of rough trim not tricky to come across and plenty of visible hard plastic.
However, emissions are more impressive, with the Focus getting down to just 91g/km for the 95hp diesel on smaller wheels. As the wheel size increases, so do the emissions, but even the more powerful 120hp diesel with the ST-Line X’s 18-inch wheels is only at 100g/km. That isn’t a bad result at all under the revised emissions testing regime.
Residuals are also a touch ahead of the Focus’s volume rivals at 33.3%, although the insurance group and SMR cost could both do with being lower. But overall, there’s almost nothing to split the main players in the segment from a costs point of view, with a couple of pence per mile covering the majority of mainstream five-door diesel hatches.
The Focus is much improved in most areas over its predecessor. It’s a more competitive segment than ever before, and the Focus has risen to the challenge by being better than ever before. It’s good, and certainly won’t disappoint users, but it doesn’t establish any new ground or give itself an impenetrable lead at the top of the class.
The Focus is a huge car in company car circles, sitting second only to the VW Golf in last year's overall fleet sales figures. On top of that, it has been the UK's overall best-seller in nine of the 20 years since it launched, and is second only in that time to the Fiesta in terms of UK sales.
The first-generation Focus (pictured), which was released a full 20 years ago, was an incredible step forward from what was by then an Escort model very much on its last legs. That held true across what were then edgy looks and a brilliant driving experience, the latter being something that really put Ford back on the map as the driver's choice of the segment; it's a position it has clung onto since then.
The second-generation Focus came in 2004, larger and heavier than its predecessor, but this time also with the Focus CC hard-top coupe-cabriolet edition as well as the five-door estate and saloon body styles of the first car.
The third Focus arrived in 2011, and received a slightly more subdued reception, although the sales success continued to a large extent. It also introduced Ford's first plug-in to Europe, thought the Focus electric was never sold with any real gusto.
What they said
What They Said
"Fleets value the wide spread of 85hp to 150hp petrol and diesels, six-speed manual and eight-speed auto transmissions and the wealth of driver assistance aids. With CO2 from as low as 91g/km on the five-door, and 96g/km on the estate, the new Focus is also being seen as an attractive BIK choice by company car drivers."
"The most novel feature for fleets is its embedded modem linked to Ford Pass Connect. The car becomes a genuine mobile office as a wifi hotspot and the Ford Pass Connect app shows drivers the vehicle's location, whether it's locked, and fluid levels".
Owen Gregory, director, fleet operations, Ford UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
Enhanced styling of the ST-Line spec (left) really lifts the looks
The interior also gets nice ST-Line extras including the red stitching
The running lights are a nicer effect than the plain circle of the new Fiesta
...And one we don't
Keyless start without keyless entry leaves you holding keys that don’t slot anywhere
The Focus is still up at the head of the class from a driving experience point of view, but is no longer clear at the top in the way it once was.
Across the range, the figures are good, if not quite at the top of the class. But new WLTP-correlated petrol and diesel emissions are all very competitive.
Interior and boot space are both better than they were, but the luggage area in particular is still way off the class best - a Civic’s boot is 40% larger.
Good levels of safety kit are offered, and the range is set up to offer the right car to a range of tastes, while option costs are, in the main, very reasonable.
Much better in sportier ST-Line spec than the regular models, but the new car doesn’t quite have the elegance of earlier Focus designs.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The 120hp diesel is a touch boomy under acceleration, though it’s not a bad gruff noise. ST-Line suspension is a touch hard.
There are some cheaper elements and rougher plastics, but the design is much-improved.
The latest Sync system works well, though it’s irritating that with a phone plugged in you have to use the CarPlay maps function, rather than the car’s sat-nav.
Whole life costs 8/10
Better residuals than rivals, and priced in the middle of the pack. SMR and insurance could be better.
CCT opinion 8/10
A very competent car, but maybe lacking a stand-out feature or two.
A vital vehicle for the UK company car market, Ford has all the bases pretty much covered, but the claim that the Focus is its best car ever is a stretch.