Ford Focus front

Ford Focus review

Driving
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In this review

Driving

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Ford Focus hatchback performance

Let’s begin with a quick rundown of the engine options. For petrols, you can opt for 1.0-litre or 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged Ecoboost motors. That’s not an end to it, though, because the 1.0 is offered in three power outputs ranging from 84bhp to 123bhp, while the 1.5 comes with 148bhp or 180bhp.

While we haven’t yet driven the lower-powered versions in the current Focus, previous experience of these in other Fords tells us that for decent efficiency combined with reasonable performance, the 123bhp 1.0 is the best bet for private buyers.

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Okay, it revs out steadily rather than with enthused gusto, and flat out through the gears it isn’t frisky enough to wake up your adrenal glands, but officially it’ll still crack 0-62mph in 10.0sec – about what you can expect from a Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI. But what matters most is that it’s pretty flexible if you keep it revving past 2000rpm, pulling effectively from 30mph to motorway speeds in third gear.

If you regularly carry lots of people or simply need more oomph, the 1.5 petrols have a bit more guts. Thus far, we’ve tried only the 180bhp version. While it’s certainly more potent, it lacks the fizz of the less powerful Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 150 and its Octavia equivalent.

Diesels will still be popular with fleet buyers, and the Focus is available with four-cylinder units ranging from a 1.5 engine with 94bhp or 118bhp to a 2.0 version with 148bhp. The 118bhp unit hits the sweet spot, offering a good spread of shove once you get past its momentary low-end lag.

All Focuses come with a quick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, while an optional eight-speed auto ’box is available throughout most of the range. This can take a moment to react to kickdown requests but shifts promptly between gears.

Ford Focus hatchback ride

The suspension options for the Focus can get a little complicated, but basically, lower-powered versions have a simpler design, with a torsion beam at the rear, while pokier models get a more complex, fully independent arrangement that’s designed to enhance ride as well as handling. And you can take that complexity a stage further, should you wish, by adding adaptive dampers.

There are also sportier ST-Line and ST-Line X trims, which offer a lower, stiffer set-up no matter which engine – and, therefore, which suspension design – you choose. The only difference is that you have a more compliant ride on ST-Line cars, due to smaller 17in wheels, compared with the 18in alternatives on ST-Line X.

Are you still with us at the back? If not, don’t worry, because fundamentally the Focus is a great-riding car no matter which version you buy; it sits somewhere between the ultra-supple Golf and sometimes lumpy Octavia in the comfort stakes.

The simpler set-up offers a composed and fluid ride, whether you’re trundling around town or blasting through the countryside, while the fancier arrangement produces a little less high-speed fidget over corrugated surfaces, but the margins are small. Even the stiffer ST-Line trim is no boneshaker, although you do need to put up with its greater firmness over potholes.

We haven’t yet tried the adaptive dampers, which are only available on selected pricier trims, but our gut feeling is that the standard car is so good that this option would be a bonus rather than a necessity.

Ford Focus rear

Ford Focus hatchback handling

If you’ve read the ‘ride comfort’ section above, you’ll already be familiar with the numerous suspension options available.

But don’t panic, because buy any Focus and you’re guaranteed a car that handles deftly; the only difference is how deftly. Certainly, higher-powered cars with the more complex multi-link rear suspension design feel that bit more composed if you hit a bump mid-corner, while the stiffer ST-Line set-up has the least body lean in corners, making it feel the most agile.

Yet along roads strewn with all sorts of challenging cambers, contours and crests, every Focus – even those with the more basic design – simply flows with balletic balance. Add in steering that is light in town, yet precise and meaty enough for you to glide it accurately down meandering roads, and there’s little doubt that keen drivers should choose the Focus above all else in this class.

Ford Focus hatchback refinement

Think of refinement and you naturally think noise and vibration, right? In this respect, Ford has worked hard to make the Focus as isolated as possible. The three-cylinder petrol engines, especially the 1.5, are pretty smooth and produce only a background thrum under hard acceleration; the 1.5 diesel is grumblier at idle but no worse than its rivals, and quiet at higher speeds.

There’s a bit of wind flutter over the Focus’s door mirrors on the motorway, but the suspension works reasonably quietly and tyre noise is as well suppressed as it is in the Golf; overall, it’s a much more hushed companion than the Octavia.

But what’s really impressive is the refinement in less obvious areas. The manual gearchange, for example: it's the sweetest in the class and even a mechanical philistine would be turned by its effortless precision. That’s supplemented by the light clutch, so you can impress your passengers with how smoothly you drive around town.

 

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