What Car? says...
As SUVs become ever more popular, the Ford Focus and other traditional family hatchbacks face a serious challenge to retain sizeable share of the market. Even so, the Focus still does well in the sales charts, and that owes a lot to perhaps its greatest asset: fun handling.
For this latest version, Ford has worked to improve the areas that previous generations of Focus have dropped the ball: interior quality, rear leg room, boot space and on-board tech. Those are all things it needs to get right if it’s going to be competitive in the hotly contested family car class.
To help increase and broaden the appeal of the Ford Focus, there's a choice of more variants than ever. The trim options include entry-level Titanium, performance-focused ST-Line and there's even rugged Active version with SUV-inspired styling.
Key rivals of the Ford Focus hatchback include the Kia Ceed, Seat Leon, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf. However, at the top of the Focus range, prices stray into Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class territory.
So, is the Ford Focus the best family hatchback out there? That’s what we’re going to figure out over the next few pages, as we put it through its paces in key areas including performance, practicality and running costs. We'll also let you know which engine and trim combination makes most sense.
When you've decided on the right model for you (regardless of brand), make sure you pay a fair price by searching our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It's a great place to find new family car deals.
Read our comparison test: Ford Focus vs Ford Fiesta
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We really like the Ford Focus's entry-level 123bhp 1.0 Ecoboost 125 – in fact, it's our pick of the engine range. It's not all that frisky (0-62mph takes 10.2sec), but has decent shove once the revs build past 2000rpm. Even so, the VW Golf 1.5 TSI 130 is punchier still. You can have the same Focus engine with an automatic gearbox, and if you do, it's renamed the 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid 125 and gains mild-hybrid tech. The Hybrid doesn't feel much quicker, but it is more efficient.
If you often carry lots of people or simply want a bit more pace, there's the 153bhp 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid 155. Around town, the extra power doesn't make much difference, but out on a country road it's keen to rev, and the 62mph time drops to 9.0sec. For more performance, you'll need the hot-hatch version – see our Ford Focus ST review to read about that.
Long-distance drivers might be disappointed to find out that there are no diesel options available. If that’s your thing, take a look at the Vauxhall Astra or the Golf.
Suspension and ride comfort
Whichever version of the Focus you choose, you'll find it has a slightly firmer ride than the Skoda Scala, the Toyota Corolla and the Astra. Fundamentally, though, it's a comfortable car, with more give in its springs than the Kia Ceed and Mazda 3.
Even the lower and stiffer ST-Line versions aren't bone-shakers, although you have to put up with greater firmness over sharper bumps and potholes. That's especially true on the ST-Line X because of its bigger alloy wheels (18in).
The SUV-inspired Active models go the opposite way, riding 30mm higher than the standard versions. The extra height means they have a bit more side-to-side sway over uneven surfaces than other versions.
If you want the best-handling Focus – without going for the full-on ST hot hatch – choose the ST-Line or ST-Line X trim. The lower and stiffer suspension means its body leans the least in corners, and you can make the most of the playful cornering balance and agility. The Seat Leon is the only family car that can offer keen drivers such thrills for similar money.
While the less sporty trims lack some of the ST-Line’s cornering sparkle and lean a little more, even the entry-level Titanium is more agile than the Skoda Octavia. The jacked-up Active models are tidy to drive by family car standards, despite their extra height.
All Focus models have quick steering that feels light around town. At higher speeds, it weights up a bit to give you more information from the front wheels. We'd prefer it to become slightly heavier, though, and there's an unnatural self-centring action to it.
Noise and vibration
The Focus's 1.0 Ecoboost petrol engines thrum faintly in the background, but never become annoying, and are quieter than the Leon and the Golf's 1.0 TSI 110 and 1.5 TSI 130 engines. The sportier versions are very slightly throatier, but they don’t sound anything like a focused hot hatch.
At motorway speeds, there’s some flutter from around the door mirrors, but road noise is very well suppressed, making the Focus the most civilised cruiser in its class, even beating the Golf for peace and quiet.
The manual gearbox shifts sweetly, but the automatic boxes are not very good. They tend to be jerky when you're manoeuvring into parking spaces and thud before moving away in traffic. If you must have an auto, the gearbox shifts quickly enough on the move, but isn’t as good as the Octavia and Golf autos.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver's seat in the Ford Focus is excellent, with manual height and lumbar adjustment fitted as standard across the range. The three X trims get a four-way adjustable electric driver’s seat (with electric lumbar adjustment). All versions except the X trims are available with optional Comfort seats with 18-way manual adjustment, powered lumbar adjustment and an extendable seat squab. Note, though, that on the mild hybrids the passenger seat loses those features.
The steering wheel has loads of rake and reach adjustment, so it's easy to find a suitable posture. The alignment of the steering wheel, pedals and seat is nigh on perfect too. We also love the analogue driver display that you get on most trims because it's so clear and easy to read. The X trims come with a clear 12.3in digital cluster that makes the optional head-up display seem an unnecessary expense.
Unfortunately, no versions come with physical controls for the air-con system, so you have to adjust the temperature using the infotainment screen. The Seat Leon, the Skoda Octavia and the Vauxhall Astra have all gone in the same direction, but we prefer proper physical controls, which are less distracting.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The view out of the Focus is generally good, and its front pillars are no more obstructive to your visibility than in any other family car. Over-the-shoulder visibility is good too, thanks to the big rear windows. The Active models sit a little higher, but not enough to give a truly commanding, SUV-like driving position.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard on all trims. You don't get a rear-view camera as standard (unless you go for the Ford Focus ST hot hatch), but you can add one as part of the optional Parking pack, which also includes parking assist to help guide you into spaces.
All trim levels get bright full LED headlights as standard. The X trims give you the option of upgrading the headlights to matrix adaptive headlights that let you keep your main beam on without dazzling other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
Regardless of trim, the Focus comes with a new 13.2in touchscreen infotainment system with a sharp display and decent graphics. It easily matches the offerings you’ll find in premium rivals and is way better than the Kia Ceed set-up.
The system includes DAB radio, Bluetooth, built-in sat-nav, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. Wireless phone-charging comes as standard on X trims, as does an excellent B&O sound system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer. It’s a worthwhile upgrade for music lovers over the good, but not quite as rich-sounding, six-speaker set-up on other trims.
There are no physical controls for the infotainment system, which is a shame because relying solely on the touchscreen can be distracting when you try to operate it on the move. The system in the Mazda 3 is slightly more usable because of the rotary controller between the front seats.
Let's start with the good bits. The Focus’s interior feels reasonably sturdy and all its upper surfaces are pleasingly soft to the touch. Also, every model gets a leather-wrapped gearknob and steering wheel, and the door bins are carpeted on three sides to reduce the rattling if you put your keys in there.
It's not as impressive for fit or finish as the Mazda 3, Seat Leon or Skoda Octavia interiors, though. The Focus has more flimsy bits and there are shiny plastics in prominent places, including around the gear lever and on the door cards.
More effort has been put into the pricier versions, but no amount of faux-chrome, wood or carbon-fibre highlights can give the model the genuinely upmarket ambience of premium family cars.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even the tallest of drivers should be fine for space in the Ford Focus, and its leg, head and shoulder room are up there with the best family cars. The Skoda Octavia provides slightly more head room, though.
There are lots of storage spaces dotted around, including a couple of cupholders and trays for your phone in the centre console. The door pockets and glovebox are a good size for the class.
Another plus for the Focus is its almost flat rear floor, which makes life very agreeable for a middle-seat passenger. Most rivals – including the Vauxhall Astra and the VW Golf – have a big hump that a middle passenger has to straddle.
Where fitted, the panoramic sunroof eats into head room, so if you fancy one but regularly transport tall rear passengers, make sure you try before you buy.
Seat folding and flexibility
The driver and front-seat passenger get adjustable lumbar support and manual height and tilt adjustment. Unfortunately, if you opt for the mild-hybrid, the passenger loses lumbar and height adjustment, a disadvantage compared with the Octavia and Golf. An electrically adjustable passenger seat is only available if you spring for the hot-hatch version, the Ford Focus ST (reviewed separately).
The rear seats split and fold in a 60/40 arrangement, but there are no handy release levers by the boot entrance, as there are in some rivals. Instead, you have to open the rear doors to use the release levers on top of the seatbacks, which is a nuisance if you have your hands full.
Vignale trim cars get a useful ski hatch in the middle seat, so you can carry long thin items (the Leon and Golf get one too).
The Focus boot is usable and matches the Leon's for size, but at 358 litres it can’t match the Astra’s 422-litre boot and is no match for the vast load bay in the Octavia. Regardless, fitting in a large pushchair shouldn't pose a problem, and we managed to fit six carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf, which is one more than we could get in the Golf.
There’s a little lip at the boot entrance to heave items over and no option of a height-adjustable floor, but the space is a good square shape. If you opt for one of the X trims, you lose about one carry-on suitcase of capacity because of the upgraded sound system's subwoofer under the boot floor.
If load-carrying ability is a priority, you could also consider the Ford Focus Estate.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
As a cash purchase, the entry-level Ford Focus will cost you less than the Vauxhall Astra, about the same as the Skoda Octavia and more than the VW Golf. In fact, you’d need to upgrade to the Golf’s 1.5 TSI 130 engine to get the price tags to match. The bad news is that the Focus's higher depreciation than all three of those rivals could increase monthly payments if you buy on PCP finance, so make sure you get the best deal through our New Car Deals service.
The Focus's Ecoboost three-cylinder petrol engines have a system that shuts down one cylinder when you’re cruising to improve efficiency. That helps the popular 123bhp 1.0 Ecoboost 125 to return more than 50mpg in official WLTP tests.
The mild-hybrid engines – the best being the 1.0 Ecoboost 155 averaging 54.3mpg – are more efficient than a similarly powerful Golf, Seat Leon or Octavia. Emissions are very competitive for the class too, although for really low company car tax you're better off with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or electric car.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level Titanium comes very well equipped, with all the visibility and infotainment kit, 16in alloy wheels, a heated windscreen, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, LED tail lights and cruise control. It’s the trim level we’d go for.
That said, if you want to complement the Focus’s sportiness, you should go for the ST-Line trim, which adds 17in alloy wheels, sportier styling, and lowered and stiffened suspension.
All trim levels come with the option of an X upgrade, which adds premium leather seats, rear privacy glass, heated front seats and steering wheel, and wireless phone-charging. We don't think it's worth the extra costs. Active models will appeal to fans of SUV-inspired styling.
Ford finished a disappointing 27th place out of 32 car makers in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. That was below most other brands (only Peugeot, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Land Rover and Jeep did worse).
The Focus itself came near the bottom of the family car section of the survey, but it did beat the Golf.
Every Focus comes with a three-year warranty, which lasts for unlimited miles for the first two years but up to 60,000 miles (in total) in the third year. That’s pretty standard, but comes nowhere near the seven-year warranty Kia offers, or Toyota’s 10-year/100,000-mile policy (if you have it serviced annually at a Toyota dealer).
Safety and security
Euro NCAP gave the Focus a rating of five stars (out of five) when it was tested for safety in 2019. The model did well for protecting adults and reasonably well for protecting children in the rear, but it lost marks because automatic emergency braking (AEB) wasn’t offered at the time of testing.
Since then, AEB has become standard equipment with every Focus trim level. On top of that, you also get lane-keeping assistance as standard. It’s a shame that a driver alert monitor, traffic-sign recognition, automatic high beam and adaptive cruise control aren’t included as standard as they are on an entry-level Life trim Golf, but you can add them as part of the reasonably priced Driver Assist pack. Blind-spot monitoring is available as a standalone option.
All Focus models come with an alarm and immobiliser that’s rated in Category 1 by the security experts at Thatcham Research. That bodes well for it resisting being broken into and stolen.
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Our preferred version is the entry-level Titanium trim with the 1.0 Ecoboost 125 petrol engine. That combination keeps costs down while still giving you plenty of power and lots of standard kit.
In short, yes. Even if you go for the Titanium version rather than one of the sportier trim levels, it has great body control and steering that keeps you involved. If performance is a priority, have a look at the hot hatch version, the Ford Focus ST.
It depends what you're looking for in a car. The Ford Fiesta and the Focus are both good to drive and quite economical, but the Focus is bigger, so it gives you more space inside for front and rear passengers.
|RRP price range
|£28,490 - £40,650
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|35.3 - 61.4
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,525 / £2,927
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£3,049 / £5,854