Twenty years on from the launch of the game-changing Ford Focus Mk1 comes the fourth-generation car.
And the good news is that Ford’s big-selling family hatchback has regained its mojo. Having owned a few Foci over the years, I should know.
Ford has clearly listened to feedback because the new model irons outs the few flaws that there were in the outgoing model and the Focus is back where it belongs – at the top of the class.
All that adds up to more style, space, comfort, technology, safety features and standard equipment. In fact, Ford says it’s the “most accomplished and technically advanced Focus ever”.
It’s got a bit of catching up to do too, because the Volkswagen Golf stole a march on it during 2018, firmly establishing itself as the No 2 bestselling car in the UK after the Ford Fiesta.
The Focus is hanging in there in fifth place, but now that the new model is feeding through to the forecourts, VW can expect some tough competition in the family hatchback sector.
With prices for the entry-level Focus Style starting at £18,300 (nearly £2,000 below the model it replaces), Ford clearly means business.
Available as a five-door hatchback or estate, the range specifications progress up to the most popular two choices (Zetec and ST-Line), followed by ST-Line X, Titanium, Titanium X and plush Vignale.
The Focus Style comes as standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, DAB digital radio with Bluetooth, autonomous emergency braking and a lane assist.
Zetec models add Ford’s SYNC3 DAB Radio with a 6.5in touchscreen (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility), cruise control with speed limiter, front fog lights and QuickClear heated windscreen.
Front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, a larger 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and sat-nav come with Titanium models, while Titanium X gets part leather trim, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys.
Extras for the sporty ST-Line include extra body trim, a rear spoiler and twin tailpipes. The ST-Line X adds 18-inch alloys and red brake callipers. At the top of the range sits the Vignale model which has a unique front grille, full LED lighting, leather upholstery, head-up display, rear view camera, heated steering wheel a 675-watt 10-speaker B&O Play audio system.
You can choose between 1.0-litre (84bhp, 99bhp or 123bhp) or 1.5-litre (148bhp or 180bhp) three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engines, or two four-cylinder EcoBlue diesel units – a 1.5 (94bhp and 118bhp) or a 2.0-litre (148bhp). Transmissions include a 6-speed manual and 8-speed automatic.
Fuel economy ranges from a petrol high of 60.1mpg in the 99bhp EcoBoost 1.0-litre to a superb 80.7mpg in the 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel (94bhp and 118bhp). CO2 emissions are as low as 107g/km and 91g/km respectively.
I tested two 118bhp 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesels – one in ST-Line trim with a 6-speed manual, the other in ST-Line X spec mated to an 8-speed automatic.
Smooth, refined, punchy and economical, the EcoBlue is a peach of an engine. Depending on the wheel size, its 0-62mph time is around the 10-second mark, but seems swifter, while economy figures nudging 80mpg are outstanding.
The quick-shifting manual box is a joy, while the automatic is controlled by a dinky rotary gear selector down in the centre console, which is simple to use and generally changes smoothly. There are also steering wheel-mounted paddles if you prefer to change gear manually.
The EcoBoost petrol engines are used across the Ford range and are equally impressive – and judging by the Fiestas I’ve driven recently, the 123bhp 1.0-litre might well be the one to go for because it offers the best performance/economy blend.
The Mk1 Focus set a new benchmark for handling in the medium hatch class, but arguably more recent models haven’t been quite as sharp.
Thankfully, the all-new Focus is a return to form and it’s especially noticeable on more challenging roads where it feels planted with plenty of grip, superb traction out of corners and negligible body roll, while the steering offers more feel.
Admittedly, the ST-Line and ST-Line X trims offer a lower, stiffer set-up than the other models in the range, but you really can have some fun in this Focus and I don’t think that’s just restricted to these sporty specs.
It’s a comfortable ride too, helped by the extra space inside because the new Focus is a big improvement on the outgoing model when it comes to packaging.
Up front you can sit nice and low, while rear seat passengers now have plenty of leg and headroom, but just beware of the panoramic sunroof option which can eat into the latter.
There’s a decent 375 litres of luggage room, or 1,354 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded, plus plenty of smaller storage spaces dotted around.
The dashboard layout is stylish and uncluttered, and it’s good to see that Ford hasn’t dispensed totally with buttons. One recommendation would be to upgrade to the 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, which is both clear and easy to use.
Build quality is high and there’s plenty of soft-touch plastic up high in the cabin where it matters.
It’s also packed with the latest driver assistance tech, which no doubt helped it along to a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP’s safety rating.
So, the all-new Ford Focus is hard to fault, but with the eight-generation Golf due in 2019, plus the recent launch of the much-improved Kia Ceed, it’s got to be at the top of its game.
Verdict: Stylish, comfortable, safe and practical, coupled with superb handling and a great range of efficient engines, the all-new Ford Focus is back where it belongs – at the top of the class.