► New 2018 Ford Focus review
► Is the Mk4 Focus any good?
► Our first drive has the answer
This new Ford Focus, the fourth generation of Ford's middle-sized hatchback, is nothing less than 'the best car we have ever designed, developed and manufactured.' So says Steven Armstrong, CEO not only of Ford of Europe but also of the Middle East and Africa.
Meanwhile, product development chief Joe Bakaj wanted the new Focus to recreate the driving dynamics of the first-generation car, which shot straight to the top of its class in that regard on its launch 20 years ago. And, piling on yet more pressure of expectation, Helmut Reder, FoE's vehicle line director, intends that this entirely new Focus ('apart from a couple of nuts and bolts') resolves every conflict. It's the 'And' car, he says.
Browse Ford Focus for sale
So its structure is lighter and stiffer, by 20% in torsion. It's roomier inside and the same size outside (OK, a touch wider). It has the best aerodynamics (Cd 0.27) and the best looks. It is the most engaging to drive and has the highest level of driver assistance of any Ford.
Sounds good. Now the reality check...
First, those looks. You can't fail to notice that this Focus has lost the visual cues that made the previous Focus models look, well, like a Focus. No more short bonnet, no more 'sixth light' (the extra rear side window). And definitely no return to vertical taillights; the lenses on the new Focus are as horizontal and lozenge-shaped as those of nearly every other new car nowadays. Along with the fake brake-cooling ducts, the puffed-out rear haunches, the reverse-slope rear edge to the side windows and the indentations along the flanks, the new Focus looks disturbingly like too many other cars.
Eye of the beholder and all that, but it will surely date quickly. There's a lot of fresh technology in this new C2 platform, though, such as the 1.5-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engines in 148 and 180bhp guise (we've already seen a more powerful version in the Fiesta ST), plus a new 2.0-litre EcoBlue turbodiesel with, intriguingly, steel pistons.
Read more news and details about the Mk4 Ford Focus hatchback range
Lower-power Focuses, broadly those with 1.0-litre petrol or 1.5-litre diesel engines, now have a torsion-beam rear axle, while grander versions have a development of the 'control blade' multilink rear suspension that has long been central to a Focus's dynamic prowess.
Then there's the more obviously customer-facing tech, not necessarily fitted as standard. It includes Ford's first head-up display, elements of autonomous driving including Stop & Go for heavy traffic as part of the automatic cruise control system which is itself able to use speed-limit signs and sat-nav information, Lane Centring Technology (a sort of tidier lane-keeping system), and automatic headlights able to follow road markings round bends and aim accordingly.
They can also identify junctions and roundabouts and broaden their beams to light them. The self-parking is cleverer, too, provided you have the new eight-speed double-clutch gearbox option. And Evasive Steering Assist applies helpful efforts to the steering wheel as you attempt to avoid something that's suddenly blocking your way.
The Focus is also the first Ford with a FordPass Connect 'embedded' modem, which lets you remotely start the engine and check fluid levels via a phone app as well as handling all the usual connectivity functions.
CAR lives with a Ford Focus RS: don't miss our long-term test review
New Ford Focus: interior and cabin quality
Inside, it has more rear legroom (by 5cm; it feels more), a deeper boot and a cleaner, crisper dashboard with clearer displays and a bigger touchscreen in two sizes according to grandness. Crucially, the air-con controls are still real knobs and buttons and don't require digging through a screen menu.
The centre console, now lower and less looming, has lost its manual handbrake, a move which will be welcomed by some and regretted by others.
There's a credible air of quality, with tight gaps and yielding surfaces, but the top of the dashboard feels disappointingly sticky unless you have the stitched-and-clad Vignale version, of which more later. Top Focuses get a B&O Play stereo system, a wireless phone-charging pad and Ford's latest SYNC 3 multimedia interface.
Driven: the new Ford Fiesta ST hot hatch
Now for our Ford Focus review: how does it drive?
For this first Focus encounter we began with the raciest version, an ST-Line in metallic Desert Island Blue with the 180bhp three-pot and a six-speed manual gearbox. It has bigger air intakes, more obvious aero addenda and a ride height 10mm lower than a regular Style, Zetec, Titanium or, indeed, a sybaritic Vignale.
If there's a Focus dynamic signature, it's one of precise, linear steering, a cornering attitude easily tweaked with the throttle without ever getting wayward in the tail, all joined up by a feeling of fluent control however tricky a road's topography. The new one has all of this, and more because it has huge grip and an impressive ability to get all its torque down almost as soon as you dive into a bend and aim for the exit. It's both interactive and unflappable.
Yet better, it does all this with a ride quality that you don't notice at first, so good is it at smothering disturbances and keeping the Focus's lighter, but still considerable, mass under control. Road roar is unusually well isolated, too.
Does it feel like a Mk1 Ford Focus? It's not as light on its feet, and not as playful, but the transparency and fluidity are there. And then there's the torquey (177lb ft) engine, too, with not much lag at low revs and a progressive build-up of muscle thereafter. When revved it sounds uncannily Porsche 911-like, an unexpected soundtrack to a Focus drive.
Also unexpected, given how Ford usually gets these things right, is the pedal layout which places the accelerator well below the brake – so far below that heel-and-toe gearshifts are practically impossible. This slightly spoilt our enjoyment of the test route's mountainous dips and dives, so we hope that right-hand-drive versions will have this fixed.
The smoothness, quietness and solid feel of the ST-Line spec boded well for the luxury travel promised by the leather-trimmed, dark wood-alike embellished Vignale, powered by the 148bhp three-pot and featuring not only the new eight-speed auto but also the optional CCD, or continuously-controlled damping.
All Focuses have several driving modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco etc – which alter steering weight, throttle response and, in an auto, gearshift points, but CCD brings damper stiffness into the mix too.
It's sad to report, then, that the calm, supple, brilliantly-judged damping we encountered in the ST-Line has gone AWOL when CCD is involved. Whatever the setting, the body is forever gently heaving and abruptly chopping, only the frequency of heave altering with changed damper settings. It never quite settles. More work needed here…
New Ford Focus prices, trims and specs
UK prices for the new Ford Focus hatchback family range from £17,930 to £25,450:
- Focus Style From £17,930
- Focus Zetec From £19,300
- Focus ST Line From £21,570
- Focus ST Line X From £24,050
- Focus Titanium From £21,550
- Focus Titanium X From £22,820
Sales at British dealerships are underway now. We will have a full review on the tougher Ford Focus Active, roomier Estate and posher Vignale versions in due course.
There's a Ford Focus Estate body option, and there will be the high-riding, black-arched Focus Active models too, but for now we can only judge the five-door hatchback Focus in its two highest specifications.
Under the disappointingly derivative looks is a very capable car, dynamically up with the best (CCD apart) and very well laden with helpful technology. The Focus breed has long aspired to the kind of classless quality that a VW Golf has always done so well. With this new one, it has arrived.
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