Ford has significantly improved its fourth generation Focus, and it's available to order now through the Motability Scheme. With smarter looks and extra technology, it's still superb to drive and more than matches its rivals for interior quality, space and, thanks to its relatively low Motability Advance Payment prices, affordability. The engines are great, plus there's a big choice of well-specified trim levels and body styles, making this a car that we think should go straight on the shortlist of any Motability customer looking for a reasonably priced hatchback or estate.
The Ford Focus is still available, with over 50 hatchback and estate models to choose from. Prices now start at £0 (was £695) for the 'ST Line' hatch or estate (section updated October 2023).
It's very difficult to over-state the importance of the Focus to Ford's European business. To understand its significance, press the rewind button for a moment and shuttle back to 1997. Ford's family hatch contender during this period was the fifth generation Escort, a car so all-encompassingly woeful that the brand was almost embarrassed to sell it. When the time came for a replacement, we all expected something better. What we got in the Focus model first launched in 1998 was something much, much more than that, a car that, at a stroke, offered arguably the biggest step forward in family car design the market has ever seen. Here at last was technology directed firmly at the man in the street who, in this apparently humble family hatchback, could experience a car more entertaining and rewarding to drive than almost anything this side of a sizeable lottery win.
It was asking a lot for the MK2 model we saw in 2005 to repeat such a seismic step forward but that second generation Focus was still quite good enough to remain acclaimed as the driver's choice against rival Astras and Golfs that made up for their dynamic failings with a better ride and a more luxurious big car feel. These were attributes the Focus also needed and when it came to developing the MK3 version, launched early in 2011, Ford tried to provide them without compromising the car's class-leading handling. That's also been the goal with this more sophisticated MK4 model, announced in the Spring of 2018, then updated three years on to create the car we're going to look at here.
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 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.
The engine range was significantly updated as recently as 2020 with Ford's latest Mild Hybrid technology and of course that's carried forward, though the line-up kicks off with a conventional version of the brand's 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine in 125PS form with a manual gearbox. You can have the same engine in mHEV mild hybrid form, though only if you're prepared to specify Ford's 7-speed PowerShift auto gearbox. The 155PS version of this mHEV mild hybrid 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine can be had with either manual or PowerShift auto transmission. Higher mileage drivers will be pleased to see that the 1.5-litre 120PS EcoBlue diesel engine's been retained in the range - though only with 8-speed auto transmission.
One change we'd like to have seen relates to suspension. A little disappointingly, Ford continues to equip the lower-powered 1.0-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel Hatch variants that most customers choose with a cruder twist-beam damping set-up. If you want the more sophisticated independent rear double wishbone suspension system that improves ride comfort, you'll need an estate, the 'Active' crossover version or a more powerful hatch variant.
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', 'Active' and 'ST' 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.
There are there main trim options, value-orientated 'Titanium' being the most affordable. The other two main spec level choices are crossover-style 'Active' and sporty 'ST-Line'. You can also get plusher 'X' versions of all three trim options.
For sporty drivers, the popular '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.
Equipment levels are good. 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. In addition, there's an electronic parking brake, autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, Hill Start Assist and a Lane-Keeping Aid.
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.
Let's get to the figures, which we'll quote using the usual WLTP measurement for fuel and CO2.
The latest version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit that most choose gets increased injection pressure to facilitate efficiency. In mHEV mild hybrid form, this unit gets a lower compression ratio and a larger turbo. And the mHEV version has been embellished by a beefed-up starter/generator driven by a belt at the front of the engine that stores the energy harvested when you brake or decelerate in a tiny 48-volt lithium-ion battery secreted at the back of the car.
That 1.0 EcoBoost petrol unit comes in two forms with 125PS (in standard form with manual transmission or in mHEV mild hybrid guise with a PowerShift auto), both variants returning up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle, with a CO2 reading of 121g/km for the standard version and 122g//km for the mHEV. Move up to the 155PS version of the 1.0-litre engine and the mild hybrid system is mandatory and you get the choice of manual or automatic transmission. With a manual 155PS model, the combined fuel figure is up to 54.3mpg and up to 116g/km of CO2 (it's 53.3mpg and up to 119g/km of CO2 for the auto version).
Has any car had more of an impact on modern era motoring than the Ford Focus? Other manufacturers can better this car in some regards, but they still can't make their family hatchback contenders drive like a Focus. It's true that there are some caveats in that regard. The lower-powered models with their more basic torsion beam suspension set-up don't have quite as fluid a feel as those further up the range that feature the 'control blade' multi-link rear damping system. Even in its most basic form though, this Focus 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 and the much improved 'SYNC 4' infotainment system. In short, if you can afford the Advance Payment, you'll find that here's a family car that now has its priorities right, a car that's grown up, but one that still knows how to enjoy itself. Smarter and more sensible, it is, more than ever, number one for a reason.
People with a disability and carers who choose a new Ford Focus through Motability will receive a brand new car, delivered by a Motability Specialist at a local Ford dealership, complete with insurance, servicing and maintenance, full breakdown assistance, replacement tyre cover, windscreen repair or replacement cover plus a mileage allowance of 60,000 miles over three years.
This month, these Ford Focus New models can be ordered through the Motability Scheme: