Much is expected from this fourth generation Ford Focus. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, it looks set to give its rivals plenty to think about. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the base 125PS manual version.
Ten Second Review
The improved version of the fourth generation Ford Focus has put its maker right back into contention in the family hatchback segment, with smarter looks, much improved interior quality and extra technology. Under the bonnet, much emphasis with the base 1.0-litre petrol engine is put on the mild hybrid version of the 125PS unit, but you have to have that with pricier auto transmission, so there's still a strong reason to consider the more conventional version of that EcoBoost powerplant - which is what we look at here.
It's very difficult to over-state the importance of the Focus family hatch to Ford's European business. And with today's fourth generation model, here usefully improved, it's very difficult to over-state the importance of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine. Almost all Focus customers choose this three cylinder unit - and many of them continue to want it in the conventional form we look at here, available as usual in hatch and estate body styles. The alternative mild hybrid version of this powertrain has to be had in 125PS form with auto transmission.
But rivals are getting better and better. Have the changes Ford's made here to this car's looks, cabin and technology been enough. It'll be interesting to see.
Almost all Focus customers want a 1.0-litre EcoBoost 125PS engine. It's offered with this revised model in two forms. First is the conventional engine / manual gearbox package - which is what we look at here. The alternative is to get the mild hybrid mHEV version of that 125PS unit, but that costs quite a lot more because you can only have it with 7-speed Powershift automatic transmission. We'd be tempted to stick with the conventional engine / manual gearbox combo. It returns the same 10.2s 0-62mph sprint time as the mild hybrid model and a slightly higher top speed. And the stick shift is acceptably slick.
There's one thing you always know about a Focus: which is that'll usually be a great steer. And of course nothing's changed in that regard with this updated model. As before, the ride isn't overly firm, but body control through the bends is still exemplary, allowing you at the wheel to make the most of the stiff C2 platform, the feelsome power steering and the torque vectoring control system that helps you get the power down through the bends. It all combines to create a car that really can still reward at the wheel, even in its most affordable forms: there's still nothing else in this segment that feels quite the same. Yet it still does the sensible stuff well too, being decently refined, with confident braking and a lovely tactile gearshift.
One change we'd like to have seen relates to suspension. A little disappointingly, Ford continues to equip these lower-powered 1.0-litre petrol Hatch variants with a cruder twist-beam damping set-up. If you want the more sophisticated independent rear double wishbone suspension system that improves ride comfort with this 1.0-litre engine, you'll need an estate or the 'Active' crossover version.
Design and Build
Both hatch and estate versions of this improved Focus are marked out by smarter LED headlamps with built-in foglights. plus the brand badge has been moved from the bonnet to the front grille. And the darker rear tail lamps have a smarter 'loop light' illuminating signature. As before, there are separate styling details to mark out the different trim levels, with varying front grille designs for 'Titanium', 'ST-Line' and 'Active' versions. The 'Active' model, as before, gets SUV-style visual changes, including extra lower body cladding, larger side vents and a higher ride height.
Bigger changes are reserved for the cabin, which now in most models features a larger 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' central touchscreen. In a controversial move, Ford has decided that this monitor should now incorporate the ventilation controls, giving the dashboard a cleaner, less cluttered look. We're not sure that this is actually a step forward but the infotainment system's ability to now accept over-the-air updates certainly is; as a result, you'll get into your Focus one morning and find it able to do something it couldn't do the day before - which is rather cool. As before, rear seat space isn't exemplary, but there's decent room for a couple of adults.
Luggage space still isn't particularly noteworthy either; there's 341-litres of capacity if you load to window level - or 375-litres with a tyre repair kit fitted. A typically-specified Estate model fitted with a mini-spare offers up to 575-litres. Fold down the 60:40-split rear backrest and between 1,250 and 1,320-litres of space can be freed up in the hatch model, depending on the size of spare wheel you decide upon. An Estate version will give you up to 1,653-litres. The Estate's load area also now features a wet zone, with a load-floor liner inserted into the space to provide water resistance against items such as wet suits and umbrellas.
Market and Model
Pricing for the manual gearbox 1.0-litre EcoBoost Focus starts from around £26,500 and runs up to just under £30,000 for the top-spec model. The estate body style attracts a premium of £1,160 over the equivalent hatch. There's a saving of around £1,800 over the alternative mild hybrid automatic gearbox 1.0-litre EcoBoost 125PS powertrain package.
The trim range kicks off with the base 'Titanium' variant, before progressing through 'Active' and 'ST-Line' variants, both of which (as with 'Titanium' trim) are also available in plusher 'X' forms. Equipment levels reflect the fact that many customers will be paying upwards of £27,000 for this once very affordable compact family hatch. Even the base Focus 'Titanium' comes as standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, full-LED headlamps, navigation, drive modes and air conditioning. Plus you get Ford's latest 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' touchscreen incorporating navigation, 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, a DAB digital radio with Bluetooth and Emergency Assist. Plus there's an electronic parking brake, autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, Hill Start Assist and a Lane-Keeping Aid.
For sporty drivers, the 'ST-Line' variant offers unique body styling, including unique upper and lower grille, rear spoiler and polished twin tailpipes. Inside there's a flat-bottomed steering wheel, black headlining, an aluminium gear knob, alloy finish pedals and red stitching.
New safety systems added across the range include 'Blind Spot assist', 'Intersection assist' and 'Local Hazard Information' (which can warn drivers of hazardous situations on the road ahead). Plus there's 'Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go', 'Speed Sign Recognition' and 'Lane Centring' (which helps to ease the strain of driving in stop-start traffic). 'Pre-Collision Assist with Active Braking' helps drivers avoid or mitigate the effects of collisions with vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, while 'Active Park Assist' operates gear selection, acceleration and braking to enable fully automated parking manoeuvres simply by holding down a button.
Cost of Ownership
You don't lose out in efficiency terms by not choosing the mild hybrid version of this 1.0-litre engine in a Focus. With this manual gearbox conventional 1.0-litre EcoBoost Focus, the combined cycle fuel return is 52.3mpg (exactly the same as the 125PS mHEV auto version) and the reading of 121g/km for the manual variant is actually one gramme better than the mild hybrid 125PS auto model's showing.
Cylinder deactivation technology features whichever of the two engines you choose. You might be familiar with this sort of thing from larger engines but if you're not, we'll tell you that at less than 50% throttle and between 1,500 and 4,500rpm, one cylinder is shut off, improving fuel consumption (so Ford says) by as much as 6%.
You've never needed to stretch to a really powerful or sophisticated engine to enjoy what a Focus can do - and you still don't. Even in this, its most basic form, this Ford remains an entertainer at heart, a car you'll feel at one with thanks to its progressive body control and steering precision. As a result, it's still a default pick amongst family hatchbacks if you like your driving. But not everyone does. Many family hatchback folk are buying a car of this kind simply because it ticks the right boxes for safety, practicality and running costs and I've a suspicion that it's these people who'll have their perceptions most changed by this much improved version of the MK4 model.
They may, like us, wonder why it couldn't have been just a touch more visually interesting. And wish for a slightly more classy cabin. But they'll certainly like the responsively frugal new-generation engines, the higher safety standards, the improved quality and the fact that at long last, there's decent rear passenger and luggage space. In short, if you can afford the asking prices, you'll find that here's a family hatchback that now has its priorities right, a car that's grown up, but one that still knows how to enjoy itself. I wonder just how many owners will ever discover that?