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. The signs aren’t encouraging, though; even the 99bhp 1.0-litre (Ecoboost 100) is rather slow.
Instead, we recommend the 123bhp 1.0-litre (Ecoboost 125). Okay, it isn’t frisky enough to wake up your adrenal glands but, as long as you don’t let the revs fall much below 2000rpm, it responds eagerly enough whenever you put your foot down. If you regularly carry lots of people or simply want more oomph, the 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, offering a good spread of shove once you get past its 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 the performance by taking a moment to react to kickdown requests, but 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 – while 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.
Adaptive adaptive dampers are an option on top trim levels with more powerful petrol engines. We haven’t tried them, but our gut feeling is that the standard suspension is good enough to make them unnecessary.
Regardless of which suspension set-up 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 the more basic rear suspension design flow with balletic balance along roads strewn with challenging cambers, contours and crests. Add in the superb steering, which is light in town yet precise and meaty enough for you to guide the nose accurately, and there’s little doubt that keen drivers should choose the Focus above everything else in this class.
Higher-powered cars, with their more complex rear suspension design, have greater composure over mid-corner bumps. Stiffer ST-Line models display the least body lean in corners and feel the most agile of all; jacked-up Active models have 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, even at low revs, but never in an annoying fashion. The 1.5 Ecoblue 120 diesel is quite a bit grumblier at low revs, and booms when revved hard, but is still smoother than an Octavia 1.6 TDI and generates less vibrations. The 2.0 Ecoblue 150 is slightly quieter than the 1.5.
True, there’s some flutter from around the Focus's door mirrors on the motorway, but road noise is very well sudued, and aside from the Golf, travelling at speed remains a more civilised experience compared with its key rivals.
Every Focus comes with a sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, with an optional eight-speed automatic available throughout most of the range. The auto 'box, especially hooked up to the diesels, isn't very good. It's jerky when you're manoeuvring into parking spaces and thuds as you take up drive in traffic. We’d absolutely recommend the manual 'box unless you really need an auto.