From £17,9309
Three-cylinder mild hybrid powertrain might sound feeble on paper, but it works really well in what remains a cheeringly fun family hatchback that has learned some more modern tricks

What is it?

In its pomp, the Ford Focus was a giant of our continent’s car market worth more than half-a-million annual European-market registrations; but to find a year in which it recorded even half of that tally now you have to look back more than a decade. Landmark car or not, this hatchback’s sales fortunes are dwindling, and that helps to explain quite a lot about Ford’s latest model line overhaul for it.

This brings a refreshed look, a new cabin layout and plenty of new infotainment and active safety features for the Focus, but it disguises plenty of cuts too. Where a couple of years ago there was a range of three- and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines in the car, now only the originally entry-level ‘EcoBlue’ options remain on the diesel side, while the upper-level 1.5-litre petrol options have been dropped also.

Ford is using its 48-volt mild hybrid technology to bring a little variety back into the Focus’s technical armoury. The firm’s multi-award-winning three-pot Ecoboost petrol motor can be had with or without this simplified hybrid arrangement; producing up to 153bhp and 177lb ft, if you have it; and now also in combination with a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox for the first time (although our test car had a six-speed manual).

The Focus’s showroom range is now made up of entry-level ‘Trend’, mid-range ‘Titanium’, sporty ‘ST-Line’ and crossover-inspired ‘Active’ trim levels, and of regular hatchback and five-door estate bodystyles. Ford’s rather ill-fated ‘Vignale’ luxury trim level, meanwhile, has been turned into a glorified options package available on all but the bottom-rung car. 

On an ST-Line car it gets you a ‘B&O’ premium audio system, an alloy wheel upgrade, ‘Sensico’ synthetic heated leather seats, digital instruments, a wireless charging pad, a ski hatch and some styling touches. It’ll cost you £2200, which could seem steep on a ‘regular’ Focus that might already cost more than £30,000 before you tick any options boxes - but that’s the territory in which this car now finds itself. 

The Focus’s volume-selling glory days are behind it; in order to make financial sense for Ford, it now has to turn a profit via the most direct route available - and that means offering more to the customer than it used to both inside and out.

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What's it like?

The Focus’s exterior refresh gets it off to a good start. The car has quite a bold and appealing front end with a slightly bluffer nose and grille, although the radiator grille- and bumper styling changes depending on model version. 

The car’s interior design has been tidied and rationalised effectively, but not driven upmarket much. All trim levels but the entry-level now get a dominating ‘SYNC 4’ 13.1in landscape-oriented touchscreen infotainment system which, for the first time, incorporates the car’s heating and ventilation controls. Partly thanks to the screen’s generous size, though, it’s easy enough to navigate and use, and it makes space just below on the fascia (where the old HVAC controls used to be) for a more prominent engine start button and a few other more conveniently placed minor controls. 

Elsewhere, the ‘ST-Line Vignale’-spec sports seats are a little hard and short in the base, but the car’s ergonomics are otherwise good, and the new digital instruments are bright and readable.

On the move is where the Focus’s really distinguishing qualities continue to be found, even in downsized mild-hybrid form. The car’s petrol-electric powertrain responds surprisingly strongly for something of just 999cc, and with great accessibility of performance. It feels torquey, keenly free-revving and characterful, which is a tribute to how well Ford has integrated the electric assistance, especially in tandem with a manual gearbox. It’s hard to average much better than 45mpg from it, but equally hard not to be impressed with its blend of qualities in any case.

Those qualities marry ideally with a chassis that loves to carry a bit of speed, and still handles with true tenacity, incisive balance and outstanding cornering poise. There is a little bit of bite to the Focus’s low-speed ride (in sport-suspended ST-Line trim, at least) but very little irritating jiggle or harshness, and just a gentle background rumble over coarser surfaces. 

It’s a small price to pay for such great handling, though. Quick steering makes this a car you can flick through bends and just lob at apices as instinctively as some lightweight two-seater sports car. Excellent lateral body control and plenty of grip through those corners gives you instant confidence, while high-speed damping good enough to shame plenty of full-fat hot hatchbacks lets you carry as much pace as you like from point to point; even if point a) is the supermarket and point b) the office car park.  

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Should I buy one?

The original Focus was the car that set fire to the rulebook on how a family hatchback could handle twenty-something years ago; and, somehow, the current one is still proof that its opponents and imitators have yet to figure out what makes it so good, despite having had several attempts in many cases.

It’s the context that has changed; as Europe becomes a less and less important market for Ford, more of the global Fords that we get here are developed and built elsewhere, and often come to us without having been touched by yhe dynamic brilliance that made Ford of Europe a powerhouse throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

More than twenty years after we first met it, however, the Focus keeps Cologne’s standards alive, and flying high. It still succeeds emphatically at making everyday trips feel special, and giving Ford the clear dynamic selling point that us Europeans have come to expect from it. Here’s hoping it can continue to do that for years to come.

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Comments
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abkq 2 April 2022

Looks cheap outside and inside and bears some unfortunate resemblance to that awful Maserati Grecale.

Maybe that reflects worse on the Maserati than the Ford. But both are tired looking things, not fit to be produced at all.

xxxx 1 April 2022

Getting out of it's depth and how can a 29k look so cheap inside. Below average performance and not that economical, 1 series is way better even allowing for bling.  Poor effort ford and you'll be finished sometime soon if it wasn't for your amercian business bailing you out.

Cobnapint 31 March 2022
What planet have Ford been on for the last 3 years or so.?It is now universally recognised that a touchscreen combined with PHYSICAL heater controls is the best combination to have for ergonomic and safety reasons - and they've just gone and incorporated them into the touchscreen.

I'm speechless. I suppose the upcoming Kuga facelift will suffer the same insanity.

Don't Ford want to sell cars anymore or what?

And what about the engines? They're hardly setting the world alight are they?

lallolu 1 April 2022
Cobnapint wrote:

What planet have Ford been on for the last 3 years or so.?It is now universally recognised that a touchscreen combined with PHYSICAL heater controls is the best combination to have for ergonomic and safety reasons - and they've just gone and incorporated them into the touchscreen.

I'm speechless. I suppose the upcoming Kuga facelift will suffer the same insanity.

Don't Ford want to sell cars anymore or what?

And what about the engines? They're hardly setting the world alight are they?

lallolu 1 April 2022
Blame car journalists that claim ford car interiors look old fashioned with the physical controls.