When the Ford Focus was launched in the UK in 1998, it replaced the long-running and much loved Ford Escort. At one stage it was the world’s bestselling car, and it’s never been far from the top spot in the UK.
The current third-generation model was facelifted at the end of 2015. However, an earlier Ford Focus Mk2 still makes a good buy – as, for that matter, does the Mk1 (sold until 2004) which can now be picked up for bargain basement prices.
There’s a wide range of engines for the current Focus, nearly all of which come in multiple forms. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine that kicks off the range is a multiple award winner. It provides sprightly performance, returning up to 61.4mpg. It sounds good too, with an offbeat three-cylinder thrum.
The 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines are the meat of the range, though. Both are competitive in class without being ground-breaking. They provide decent economy and acceptable refinement for long journeys, plus enough performance for most owners. The 1.5 TDCI emits a company-car-friendly 99 g/km of CO2, but the larger 2.0 TDCI offers a substantial step-up in performance.
For those who want to go quicker still, Ford offers ‘warm’ ST variants of the Focus in both petrol and diesel form. There’s also a fire-breathing four-wheel drive Focus RS, which offers sports-car-slaying performance in a family hatchback.
Most models are now available with an automatic of some form, but it’s a mixture of Ford’s excellent PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox and the older six-speed auto.
Ride and handling
The Focus has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best-handling family hatchbacks money can buy. Recent models are less accomplished than their earlier predecessors, but they still provide a good balance of ride comfort and handling.
The steering is sharp, if a little light in the standard models, with plenty of precision when it comes to threading the car down country lanes. Body roll is generally well contained, although the downside is a slightly firmer ride than some of its rivals. Nonetheless, it remains a civilised car for long distances.
The performance models are where the Focus really shines. The ST is a worthy competitor to the likes of the Golf GTI and you can get it in both diesel and estate forms. Beyond that, the Focus RS is arguably the best all-round hot hatch in the world currently.
Interior and space
The Focus has a functional and well-screwed-together interior. Its ergonomics are good and there’s plenty of room for passengers front and rear. Boot space is reasonable, but it lags behind some of its competitors at 316 litres in hatchback form with the seats up. Opt for the estate version and this increases considerably, although the likes of the Honda Civic and the Volkswagen Golf are still more capacious.
All bar the entry-level Style model now come with Ford’s 8-inch Sync2 touchscreen system. This provides Bluetooth, voice control and a system that’ll read out incoming text messages.
Satellite navigation is available as part of the Sync3 optional upgrade. This also connects with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to run a range of in-car apps from your smartphone.
The current Focus scored a top-rated five stars in the Euro NCAP safety test. It can also be specced with a number of electronic safety options, such as Active City Stop, which is designed to prevent low-speed collisions, and a Blind Spot Information System that detects vehicles hidden from the mirrors.
What to know before you buy
Think carefully before choosing the diesels if you’re a low mileage driver. There’s a known issue with the diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which can become clogged due to short-distance driving. To fix it could cost you up to £3,500.
However, if you do need a diesel Ford Focus, check if the DPF light is on in the dashboard. Also, it’s wise to check the mileage of a used Focus when viewing, because a DPF typically lasts 80,000 to 100,000 miles before it needs to be replaced.
Earlier Focuses suffer from a number of potential issues. Some 13 recall notices have been issued for the 2004-2011 Ford Focus for a range of mainly minor issues. One of the latest notices raised concerns over the nuts used for the rear wheels on cars built between February and April 2009.
What are the alternatives?
In many ways it’s hard to do better than the Focus if you want a used mid-sized family hatch. That said, the Mazda 3 is closely related to the Ford and offers comparable characteristics, but there aren’t as many around.
Other rivals include the Honda Civic, which is incredibly reliable, as well as the recently-revamped Vauxhall Astra. The terrific Volkswagen Golf, shouldn’t be discounted either. It's an exceptional car but, it’s far more expensive than the Focus.
The Focus isn’t perfect, but it’s still very good in almost every respect. Comfortable, refined and good to drive. For most people it’s all the car they’d ever need.
Choose carefully if you’re looking to buy secondhand, and consider getting a used car warranty if you’d like extra peace of mind. There are some fantastic bargains out there, making it one of the best-value used cars on the market.