What is it?
The Ford Focus might not enjoy the popularity it used to, but for the family car buyer it’s still one of the most important models around. While the Puma crossover and Kuga SUV might now be the big sellers from the Blue Oval, the simple practicality of a hatchback can’t be understated.
Traditionally, the Focus has been a fantastic all-rounder, and cemented its popularity by bringing a best-in-class driving experience to the package. The latest generation has been given a mid-life refresh, introducing a variety of upgrades to increase its appeal.
The design is recognisably Focus, but it’s been updated with some sleek new lighting up front and more definition between trim levels. The estate versions have also been reworked to provide more load space.
One of the key changes is the introduction of the latest infotainment software. It’s included in a large new central screen that elevates the cabin and brings a new level of modernity. This also features advanced speech recognition, wireless updates and connected navigation services.
What’s under the bonnet?
The key powertrain is the 1.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol, which has a 48-volt electric system with a small battery. You can’t drive on purely electric power, but this can provide a boost of acceleration or take the load off the engine to improve economy.
It’s available with 123bhp and 153bhp, with a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes. A non-hybrid 1.0-litre petrol is also offered, this time only with the manual and a choice of 99bhp and 123bhp.
Finally, those who do more motorway miles will likely be drawn to the 1.5-litre diesel, which comes with 94bhp and 118bhp options.
What’s it like to drive?
Traditionally, the Focus has stood out as one of the best in its class to drive, offering a great mix of comfort and fun handling. We tested the Active trim, which brings some extra rugged practicality with a little more comfort in everyday driving.
It’s still maybe not as comfortable as a Volkswagen Golf or Toyota Corolla, but even in this less road-focused version, the trade off is that there’s more fun to be had on a winding country road.
With the 153bhp mild hybrid under the bonnet, the Focus feels rather sprightly. It’s not the most refined engine around, but offers a good combination of performance and economy – we saw more than 50mpg in our time with the car. That being said, for most the extra power is likely unnecessary, making the 123bhp the more sensible choice.
How does it look?
When the Ford Focus first burst onto the scene in 1998, it had game-changing style for a family car. The latest generation might have lost some of that pizazz but it’s still a smart thing, with the new headlights bringing sophistication and the ST-Line in particular having a sportier edge.
In fact, Ford has worked to give each trim its own distinct look, with different grille designs and bodywork allowing buyers to choose their own style. Our Active car’s chunky cladding gives it some rugged, SUV-like appeal, while the Vignale upgrade available on all but the entry level trim elevates matters with larger alloy wheels.
What’s it like inside?
The changes to the interior aren’t extensive but they do make a big difference. Chief among them is the new infotainment display, which is a huge 13.2-inch tablet-like screen. It’s crystal clear and the new Sync 4 software is fast and responsive, though if we’re being picky it does feel a little too close for comfort.
The new software has big benefits though, such as wireless updates and access to more connected services on top of the more user-friendly experience.
Aside from the technology, our test car felt suitably upmarket and decently spacious, particularly for rear passengers. It has one of the bigger boots in the hatchback class, while the estate is now more practical, with a wet zone and easy-clean carpet.
What’s the spec like?
There are seven specification levels for the Focus, though it’s less complicated than it first appears. Prices start at £23,500 for Trend, with Titanium, Active and ST-Line sitting above that. Aside from Trend, the rest also get a Vignale option pack with more kit.
Our Active Vignale model weighed in at £27,780, a £2,200 premium over the regular Active. For this, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, full LED headlights and tail lights, the 13.2-inch infotainment display and a 10-speaker B&O sound system.
Other upgrades included in Vignale trim include premium seats, heated front seats and steering wheel, a digital instrument display and wireless charging.
While we talk about crossovers and SUVs taking over the family car market, the humble hatchback continues to be a huge seller. Among them, the Focus continues to be one of the best-in-class to drive, and the latest version packs more style and technology into the package.
It might not have the badge appeal of some rivals, but the upgrades that Ford has brought for this new version ensure the Focus should remain high on the shopping list of anyone looking for an affordable family car.
Model: Ford Focus
Starting price: £23,500
Model as tested: Ford Focus Active Vignale
Price as tested: £27,780
Engine: 1.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol
0-60mph: 8.8 seconds
Top speed: 131mph
Economy: 44.1 - 61.4mpg