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What Car? says

5 out of 5 stars

For It’s very practical and drives like a dream

Against There's less rear legroom than in some rivals

Verdict It's a practical small family car with the ability to make every driver smile

Go for… 1.8 TDCi

Avoid… 1.4 CL

Ford Focus Hatchback
  • 1. Don't bother with the 1.4-litre petrol engine, as it's simply not strong enough
  • 2. In the cabin, you'll find plenty of storage, well laid out controls and a good driving position
  • 3. Watch out for electrical gremlins, notably in the engine's ECU, which can cause a misfire
  • 4. Automatic gearboxes aren't as strong as the manual 'boxes, so they need checking out, especially on older or higher-mileagecars
  • 5. Boot space is good, but some contemporary rivals have more
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Ford Focus Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The Focus is very hard to fault. It was consistently the UK's best seller and, for many years, the best in its class for all-round talent and appeal.

It's hard to believe now, but its styling was controversial when launched in 1998. It has worn well; some still reckon it's better looking than the model that replaced it in 2004.

Avoid the 1.4 and you'll enjoy crisp performance and civilised motorway cruising. The handling is even crisper - the finely honed chassis and all-independent suspension deliver taut body control and terrific agility. Yet the ride is comfortable enough to cushion you from the worst roads.

Inside, the Focus will accommodate five (although rear legroom isn't the greatest) in a cabin designed for real-life use by real people. That means plenty of storage, intelligent layout of controls and a good driving position with decent visibility (bar the thick rear pillars).

Trade view

James Ruppert

A lot in circulation but values are firm, especially 1.6 Zetec

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The Focus received a facelift in October 2001, and models from after this date are more desirable. You can spot them by their different grille, smarter bumpers, and headlights that incorporate the indicators.

Anti-lock brakes became standard across the range in January 2003, so check whether any car you're interested in from before that date has them fitted.

If you're carrying rear passengers a lot - and especially if you use child seats - the five-door is a must.

Don't bother with the 1.4-litre petrol engine - it struggles. The 1.8 and 2.0 petrol cars are strong, willing performers, as are the 113bhp 1.8 turbodiesels. Our favourite is the 98bhp 1.8-litre TDCi, which has such a satisfying blend of pace, refinement and economy. The 1.6-litre petrol runs it a close second.

There are two high-performance Focuses: the ST170 (from February 2002) and a scorching, but far rarer, 212bhp RS 3dr (October 2002 to November 2003).

LX and sportier Zetec trim levels are our favourites, and the dearer Ghia is well equipped but we'd steer clear of CL, which misses such essentials as deadlocks and remote locking.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Great reliability. Low failure rates and low repair bills, but watch suspension

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

This was Britain's best-selling car every year it was in production, so the economies of scale make parts cheap. Figures from Warranty Direct show that, on average, it's about 25% cheaper to fix than a Vauxhall Astra of the same era and almost 50% cheaper than a Volkswagen Golf.

All of the diesels sail past 50mpg on the official combined test - our preferred model, the 98bhp TDCi, is best with 53.3mpg - and fall into group 6 for insurance.

The cheap petrol 1.4 and 1.6 models (both group five) deliver an official 40mpg-plus, while the 1.8s (group six) are not far behind 37.2mpg. All very impressive, in other words.

The standard 2.0-litre cars (as opposed to the RS or ST) are heavier on the wallet: 31.7mpg and group eight. All compare well with their rivals on this score.

Trade view

James Ruppert

A lot in circulation but values are firm, especially 1.6 Zetec

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The Focus is generally extremely tough. However, the suspension can give trouble, especially on higher-mileage motors. Of all the claims made by Warranty Direct customers on this Focus, half have been for suspension and axle problems.

Electrical gremlins can strike, notably the engine's ECU, which can cause a misfire. Check the automatic gearbox on older or high-mileage examples, too - it tends not to last as long as manual gearboxes.

Check that recall work has been carried out. There were seven on this first-generation Focus (and another specifically for the RS).

Two were for potential problems with alternators, one for a door latch and one over concerns that oil filler caps could come loose. Two recalls involved specifically the 1.6-litre model - potentially a loss of power and, on automatic versions, stalling.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Great reliability. Low failure rates and low repair bills, but watch suspension

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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