Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We’re still to try the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine, which produces 84bhp and is badged Ecoboost 85. That the 99bhp (Ecoboost 100) version of the the same engine is rather slow, isn't an encouraging sign, however.
Far better is the the 123bhp 1.0-litre (Ecoboost 125), which we recommend. Okay, it isn’t frisky enough to tease your adrenal glands but, as long as you don’t let the revs drop much below 2000rpm, responds eagerly enough whenever you put your foot down. If you regularly carry lots of people or simply want more oomph, the punchy 1.5 petrols are also worth considering.
Meanwhile, if you're a diesel fan, the 118bhp 1.5-litre (Ecoblue 120) represents the sweet spot of the diesel range, providing a good spread of shove once you get past some initial low-end turbo lag. The 148bhp 2.0-litre version (Ecoblue 150) doesn't feel that much faster, especially if you order it with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox. In fact, whichever engine you go for, the auto 'box takes the edge off performance by taking a moment to react to kickdown requests, but it otherwise shifts promptly.
Suspension and ride comfort
Fundamentally, the Focus is a fine-riding car. No matter which version you choose, it'll be slightly firmer than the Volkswagen Golf but, in the main, is more comfortable than the sometimes-lumpy Skoda Octavia.
The array of suspension options can seem a little bewildering. Lower-powered models have a fairly simple rear suspension design that mostly delivers a composed ride. Focuses with pokier engines (and every SUV-style Active) get a more sophisticated set-up that reduces fidget at high speeds, although the margins are small.
Even the lowered, stiffened ST-Line trims aren't boneshakers; you just have to put up with a greater firmness over potholes especially if you're looking at an ST-Line X with 18in wheels. Meanwhile, Active models ride 30mm higher than the standard Focuses and are at least as smooth over bumps, but can sway from side to side a touch more.
Adaptive suspension is an option on top trim levels with more powerful petrol engines. We haven’t tried it, but our suspicion is that the standard suspension is good enough to render the adaptive system unnecessary. It's also worth pointing out that 17in wheels and smaller give the most comfortable ride; 18in rims make the ride more fractious over craggy roads.
Regardless of which suspension setup you end up with, choose any Focus and you’re guaranteed a car that handles deftly. The only question is how deftly.
Even those with simpler rear suspension design flow with balletic balance along roads strewn with challenging cambers, contours and crests. Add in superb steering, which is light in town yet precise and meaty enough that you can guide the nose accurately, and there’s little doubt that keen drivers should choose a Focus above everything else in this class.
Higher-powered models, with their more complex rear suspension design, show greater composure over mid-corner bumps. Stiffer ST-Line models exhibit the least body lean in corners and feel the most agile of all; jacked-up Active models exhibit the most body lean, but are still tidy to drive by the standards of the class.
Noise and vibration
The Focus's three-cylinder petrol engines thrum away distinctively in the background, but never in an annoying fashion. The 1.5-litre Ecoblue 120 diesel is quite a bit grumblier at low revs, and booms when revved hard, but is still smoother and less prone to vibration than the equivalent Octavia's 1.6 TDI engines. The 2.0-litre Ecoblue 150, meanwhile, is slightly quieter than the 1.5.
True, there’s some flutter from around the door mirrors at motorway speeds, but road noise is very well suppressed. Travelling at speed in the Focus remains a more civilised experience than doing so in any of its key rivals aside from the Golf
Every Focus comes with a sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, with an optional eight-speed automatic available throughout most of the range. Unfortunately, the auto 'box isn't very good, especially when hooked up to a diesel engine. It's jerky when you're manoeuvring into parking spaces and thuds before moving away in traffic. Unless you really need an automatic, we absolutely recommend the manual instead.