Ford Fiesta vs Focus

These Ford hatchbacks both sell in huge number, but which makes more sense: the cheaper Fiesta or the bigger Focus?...

Ford Fiesta vs Ford Focus header

The contenders

Downsize: Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost 140 ST-Line 5dr

List price £20,440
Target Price £18,871

One of our favourite small cars, the Fiesta is fun to drive and, in this spec, more powerful than the Focus.


Upsize: Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost 125 ST-Line

List price £22,940
Target Price £21,120

Better to drive than any rival in the family car class and bigger than the Fiesta. Is it worth the extra cash?


We've all been there. You enter a car dealership knowing exactly which model you want to buy, and yet barely five minutes pass before your convictions are shaken by an overly enthusiastic car salesman trying to upsell you into a larger model. “Something with more space, more equipment and more panache, sir or madam?” So, what do you do?

Ford Fiesta 3dr rear action

Well, a couple of decades ago, if you were on the lookout for a hatchback, dealerships would have had a far easier time getting you to fork out the extra cash to step up a class, such was the vast difference between small ‘runabouts’ and full-sized family cars. But that gap is a lot smaller these days. Not only have small hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo grown in size in recent years, but they also feel more grown-up to drive and many are impressively refined. Factor in a significantly cheaper list price than their larger siblings and it really does make you wonder if you need anything more.

The Fiesta, Britain’s best-selling car in any normal month, is a perfect case in point. You can have a punchy 138bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, plus a few niceties from the options list (such as a heated steering wheel and metallic paint), for around £2000 less than our favourite 123bhp 1.0-litre Ford Focus – a package that certainly sounds alluring. And unlike the Focus, you can still get the Fiesta with three or five doors, depending on your preference; we’re basing this comparison on the more practical five-door version, even though the car in our photos has three doors.

Ford Focus rear action

On the other hand, the Focus, no matter how you cut it, offers more interior space, a supposedly plusher interior and is the best-handling family car currently on sale. So, is it worth the extra outlay?


Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Weighing almost 200kg less than the Focus (the equivalent of carrying around two burly passengers) and packing an extra 15bhp, it’s no surprise that the Fiesta is the nippier car, reaching 60mph from a standstill in just 9.0sec – a whole 1.2sec quicker than its bigger brother.

However, it’s the low-rev grunt of the Fiesta’s engine, rather than its peak performance, that nets it some serious points in the usability department. On a typical B-road, for example, the Focus will often require you to drop down a gear if you want to hang with the ebb and flow of traffic, while the Fiesta in the same situation is happy to pull a gear or two higher.

Ford Fiesta 3dr front action

Don’t go thinking that the Fiesta is simply going to run away with this section, though, because the Focus has a trick up its sleeve, and that’s its handling. That’s right: despite it being the heavier car, in many ways it’s more competent through the corners.

How so? Well, while the Fiesta’s steering feels a touch artificially weighted, the Focus has a setup that’s perfectly judged: light in town yet precise and progressive enough that you can place the front tyres with millimetric precision on faster roads. This, combined with the Focus’s almost balletic balance, makes it not only the more confidence-inspiring car to drive along a typical country road, but more fun, too.

Ford Focus front action

And while it must be emphasised that, in the wider car world, we are splitting hairs a bit – both the Fiesta and Focus are the best-handling cars in their respective classes – what really marks the Focus out as a truly great all-rounder is its ability to blend such impressive handling with a ride that won’t jar your spine. Even in sporty ST-Line trim, the Focus deals remarkably well with nasty, sharp-edged bumps and potholes, whereas the Fiesta isn’t quite as composed and fidgets more over smaller surface imperfections.

The same goes for quietness, the Focus again having the advantage. Granted, when merging with traffic or going for an overtake, you have to use more revs than in the Fiesta, so you hear the thrum of its three-cylinder engine more often. But once you’re up to speed, the Focus is the more peaceful cruiser, with less wind noise around the door mirrors and very little tyre roar. If you spend a fair amount of time schlepping up and down motorways, the Focus will certainly prove less grating.