- Best-in-class ride and handling for most models
- Muscular, but economical engines
- Impressive suite of driver aids
- Roomier and lighter than old model
- Smooth and very quiet
- Optional adaptive dampers spoil ride comfort
- Pedal arragement won't please enthusiastic drivers
- Not everyone wants an electric parking brake
- Will its styling put off loyal Focus customers?
Ford reckons its new Focus is the best car it has ever designed, developed and manufactured. And it arrives exactly 20 years after the first Ford Focus set new standards in its class for ride, handling and making its driver feel good about driving.
Obvious rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra have raised their games signifcantly, SEAT's Leon has joined the select group of class leaders, and huge sales and low-cost deals have caused even the Mercedes-Benz A-Class to share a shopping list with the Focus. With this new car, Ford has further broadened its family hatchback's appeal, with something of the premium-transcending classlessness of the Golf.
As both a design and a buying proposition, the new Focus is bang up to the minute. It has economical, downsized engines – the familiar 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost unit in the cheaper models, a new 1.5-litre version of that engine at the top of the range with 182hp of offer in its top spec, a heavily revised 1.5-litre turbodiesel and an all-new 2.0-litre diesel. Both EcoBlue diesels have four cylinders. A new eight-speed automatic gearbox is offered, and hybrids will follow.
There are a number of options available that'll appeal to company car drivers, with the 95hp 1.5-litre diesel engine boasting the lowest-possible CO2 output of 96g/km. However, with ever-tightening tax on diesels, it's the 1.0-litre EcoBoost that we'd go for - with emissions as low as 108g/km - and happily it drivers better too.
Then there's the way it looks. It has all the signifiers of a 2018 car: the fake brake-cooling grilles, the long bonnet, the curvy rear haunches, the trapezoidal horizontal tail-lights. Which all means that, Blue Oval grille badge apart, it could as easily be a Hyundai, a Mazda, a mini-Jaguar, an MG – anything but a Ford Focus. Ford reckons that's what buyers want, but they may well tire of this me-too look in a few years' time.
Under the new clothes lies a new platform, 53mm longer in the wheelbase which all goes into added (and now generous) rear legroom. It's stronger, thanks mainly to high-strength boron steel, and also lighter. The Focus's roadprint is much as before, apart from being slightly wider, but the cleverer packaging continues with a bigger boot.
What's the 2018 Ford Focus like inside?
Inside, we find a neater, simpler interior with a greatly improved central display screen and fewer buttons. Those that remain cover the air-conditioning and the driving modes (Normal, Sport, Eco, plus more when the CCD option – Continuously Controlled Damping – is added). There's an aura of well-fitting quality and an abundance of padded surfaces, not quite 'premium' but very habitable. And, for the first time in a Ford, there's a retractable head-up display.
Trim levels start at Style, continue through Zetec and Titanium, then fork into sporting ST-Line (a real, four-cylinder ST is also in the plan) and luxury-ambience Vignale, arguably Ford's take on what Ghia used to be, but more lush. Plusher X versions, with more kit, can be had with Titanium and ST-Line, yet despite this apparent complexity Ford has reduced the number of orderable configurations of the new Focus by an extraordinary 92% versus the outgoing model.
Additionally, there's a more capacious Focus Estate with a range structure that mirrors the hatchback's, while from early 2019 Focus Active models, riding 30mm higher on bigger wheels covered by black-edged arches, will grace Ford's showrooms.
How does the 2018 Ford Focus drive?
We've tried four new Focuses in this first encounter: an ST-Line with 182hp and a slickly-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, a Vignale with the eight-speed auto, CCD dampers and a 150hp version of the new three-cylinder turbocharged motor, a Titanium six-speed manual with the 125hp, 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and the Fiesta-like torsion beam rear axle now used in lower-powered Focuses, and a 1.5-litre diesel estate car again in manual form.
Driven: 2018 Ford Focus ST-Line
ST-Line first. Despite sitting on racy wheels and a ride height lowered by 10mm, it has an extraordinarily calm and controlled ride even on ripply, undulating roads. It also grips tenaciously, steers with the precise, consistent feel that's been a common thread through all Focus generations, and keeps tyre roar well at bay.
That engine pulls with a vigour once unimaginable from just 1.5 litres, and sounds pleasingly sports car-like as it does so. This is a delightful car to drive, spoilt only by the way the accelerator is positioned too far below the slightly over-sensitive brake pedal. Delicate footwork is needed to keep progress fluent.
Driven: 2018 Ford Focus Vignale
The Vignale, leather-clad, lavishly-stitched and garnished with a dark photographic facsimile of wood, should be a gentler, more cosseting interpretation of the same idea, but the optional adaptve dampers spoil it.
The Focus becomes annoyingly floaty and choppy regardless of driving mode; changing the mode merely alters the rate of heave. Avoid this option until Ford's engineers have tuned it better.
Still, its diesel is smooth, quiet and competent.
Driven: 2018 Ford Focus Estate Titanium
And then there's the relatively humble Titanium 1.0, likely to be a big seller, which is quick enough, refined enough and lavishly enough-equipped to make you question the need for anything grander.
That torsion-beam rear axle might be much simpler and cheaper than the control-blade multilink arrangement – a Focus feature from the start – that's fitted to the more powerful models and all Estates, but you need to be a very sensitive, press-on driver to feel any obvious difference. A poor relation it absolutely is not. For a Focus as regular family car, this one, or the slightly cheaper Zetec version, is the one to have.
There's little space here to describe all the safety features, connectivity capability and driver aids available across the Focus range, but highlights include an embedded modem for the FordPass Connect systen and Sync3, headlights able to aim their beams around bends by following the white lines and broaden those beams whn junction or roundabout signs are detected, and an Evasive Steering Assist which helps you steer around a suddenly-encountered obstacle.
The Parkers verdict
It might not look like a Focus any more, but this new one drives with even more panache than its predecessors while adding enough new electronic tech to outsmart its rivals – all at competitive prices.
Fleet drivers will mainly be interested in the lower-CO2 engines, but don't forget we're expecting Ford to launch hybrid versions of its EcoBoost petrol motors next year, and these should be far more interesting as low-BIK offerings go.