Ford Focus (14-): The Drivers' Choice

  • We take a look at the Focus’ driving characteristics
  • Not a hot hatch, but still a serious amount of fun
  • Engine continues to impress: versatile and economical

One thing every generation of Focus has been good at - right from its launch in 1998 - is being fun to drive.

In fact, many generations have been class-leading in this sense. But it’s not just the mildly exciting ST models or far more hardcore RS versions that impress; even a lowly 1.5-litre diesel can be engaging. That’s one of the main reasons I’m so pleasantly surprised by how much I like our one. It’s bags of fun in the twisties.

Sure, the suspension is definitely tuned more for comfort than outright handling, but the chassis itself is so proficient that it manages a supple ride while also offering the sort of entertainment you don’t expect from a grey hatchback.

At the front end there’s a fantastic steering system. As with all front-wheel drive cars there’s a slight feedback deficit through the steering wheel as to what the front wheels are doing. That’s normal, since those same wheels are also in charge of getting the power down onto the road - there are other forces at play.

But the steering system itself is beautifully judged in a few aspects. It’s very accurate, well-weighted and the ratios it uses to relate steering wheel to road wheel movements are nicely gauged. That means you have confidence in the front axle of the car, so you’re not worried about entering a corner a little too quickly.

At the rear end there’s suppleness but also adjustability engineered into the chassis. This means the rear feels lighter than the front, reacting accurately when you adjust your throttle input in the middle of a corner. Which can have the effect of bringing the rear of the car back into line, tightening the bend, and that’s the fun bit.

You’re not aware of this when driving at normal speed, though, which is what impresses the most. Actually, it’s a comfortable and easy-to-drive car with a brilliant driving position, one of the best gear-changes in the class and a cabin that’s experienced a real step forwards in terms of materials, technology and design. And it manages all this without the use of expensive, character-changing adaptive dynamics.

It’s refreshing these days to drive a car that doesn’t need ‘setting up’ for the roads you’re about to use. My previous long-term test car could learn a few lessons here.

In fact, I'm willing to hang my hat on the fact that overall, the Focus is the best car in its class to drive right now. When up against the likes of the VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane; as well as the SEAT Leon and Audi's A3 - that's quite some statement.

I’ve done over 4,000 miles in it now and as such have started to explore a little of the engine’s character too. The fuel economy on the trip computer – while stating around 10mpg better than I’m calculating – appears willing to venture above 60mpg if I drive it carefully. I’ve noticed this is very much dependant on speed, though. Head close to 70mph and you’ll see a drastic reduction in economy.

That’s down to the six-speed gearbox, which is geared better for lower-speed driving but holds the engine’s revs a little high when approaching motorway speeds. It could do with another gear to keep the engine down below 2,000rpm really, but that’s only an issue if you regularly travel at or around 70mph.

Still, another positive update from me. There hasn’t been anything to annoy me about the Focus yet other than SYNC2 not recognising my mobile for a few hundred miles and some fingerprints on the touchscreen. Impressive.

Mileage: 4,125

Fuel economy: 42.9mpg