The Ford Focus is an extroverted compact car that handles well and can go uptown. It comes as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, in a number of powertrains and trims that broaden the appeal, ranging from economy car to luxury car to muscle car. There’s even a Focus Electric model that gets 105 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).
The 2018 Focus is in its eighth year of this generation.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing, making 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Those stats don’t sound big but there’s plenty of pep. The transmission is either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic that has issues. It gets 31 miles per gallon combined.
There’s also a turbocharged three-cylinder with the tiny displacement of 1.0 liters, making 123 horsepower, a lot less than the 2.0 liter, but with the same torque. It’s less quick but gets 34 mpg with its 6-speed manual transmission (one more gear than the 2.0 liter because it needs it, to keep the revs up). With the available 6-speed automatic it gets 2 less mpg, which is only 1 mpg more than the 2.0-liter engine with the manual. Any advantage to the three-cylinder engine fades in the Focus, although that’s not so in the smaller and lighter Ford Fiesta.
As for high performance, the Focus ST hatchback is at the top of the heap of high-performance compacts, with its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 252 horsepower and 6-speed manual gearbox. It accelerates to 60 miles per hour in just 6.3 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 155 mph. It has been roundly and deservedly praised as a winner and great performance value.
Then there is the breathtaking Focus RS hatchback with its 2.3-liter turbo making 350 horsepower. To handle that power in the curves, it uses torque-vectoring all-wheel drive with driving modes including Track and Drift.
The NHTSA gives the Focus five stars in its crash tests. The IIHS gives it the top Good scores for most of its tests, but only Acceptable in the difficult small-overlap test.
The 2017 Ford Focus S ($17,860) is reasonably well equipped, with power windows/locks/mirrors, air conditioning, Bluetooth, AM/FM/CD, adjustable steering wheel with controls, and rearview camera. The torque-vectoring system also comes standard on the front-wheel drive. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
It’s a big jump up to the Focus SE hatchback ($20,445), which adds larger 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, fog lamps, and Ford’s MyKey system. Options include leather, a power driver seat, rear disc brakes, rear parking sensors, moonroof, navigation, heated seats, satellite radio, and Sony audio. There’s also an available Sport package with a touring suspension, 17-inch black gloss aluminum wheels, H-rated tires, and paddleshifters for twin-clutch transmission.
Focus SEL hatchback ($21,975) gets 17-inch wheels, rear disc brakes, a moonroof, ambient lighting, rear parking sensors, and the Sync 3 infotainment system.
The Focus Titanium ($24,175 sedan, 24,375 hatch) gets dual-zone climate control, leather, Sony audio, HD and satellite radio, sport suspension, sport seats, and summer performance tires on sport wheels. Options include automatic parking assistance (parks itself, using cameras).
The high-performance Focus ST ($25,075), in addition to its impressive speed upgrades, gets styling kits and 18- or 19-inch wheels. Options include navigation, Recaro seats, and a carbon-fiber accent package.
With the leap in power of the Focus RS, there is a leap in price ($41,120).
Available safety equipment on higher models includes blind-spot monitors and lane-keeping assists. There are no available forward-collision or automatic-braking systems.
The Focus looks way better as a five-door hatchback than as a sedan. Even after eight years (although it was restyled for 2015), it’s on the far edge of swoop. Its creases and curves complement the wide-mouth grille. The rising window line adds drama, and the huge taillamps nicely frame the corners.
Focus ST and Focus RS are restrained, even with a lower stance, bigger wheels and lower bodywork. However there’s nothing restrained about the basket of logos stuck to the sheetmetal.
The Focus cabin was overstyled when it was new, and now that it’s eight years old it feels dated (thanks to Honda Civic’s reinvention of compact car interiors). The standard info screen is just 4.2 inches. The vertical vents and pleasant sculpting are complex and original, but the design makes the front feel cramped. And there’s a lot of plastic, although the seats and door trim are nicely tailored, especially the satin chrome in the top model Titanium.
The front seats are fairly supportive, even in the S and SE models. The plusher Titanium seats offer good thigh and back support, and a bit more bolstering. The expensive optional Recaro seats in the ST and RS are very snug, and don’t work for tall people.
The back seat is skimpy, with slim headroom and legroom. And with small door openings, ingress and egress is awkward. The hatchback is better than the sedan. The release to fold the rear seat can’t be reached through the hatch, and the headrests have to be removed to get the seatbacks all the way down.
The optional Sync 3 infotainment system is slicker and much improved over the previous unpopular MyFord Touch system. Sync 3 has a fully capacitive screen with pinching and swiping capability, a streamlined menu structure, smart-charging USB ports, and AppLink capability for on-screen operation of various smartphone apps. But Sync 3 also has issues. Response to the buttons is slow, and we had trouble switching between day and night modes on the touchscreen.
Forward visibility is good for a compact car, but rearward visibility not so good. However a rearview camera is standard, so the problem is hugely alleviated.
The Focus isn’t notably silent in the cabin, but neither is it noisy. Typical for a compact, coarse road surfaces transmit some noise.
The Focus handling is up there with the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf; in fact they’re probably the three best handling compact cars. It’s agile, with electric steering that is crisp and nicely weighted, although it doesn’t offer much road feel.
The ride is impressive, with a sophisticated suspension that’s quite firm but not harsh over bumps and doesn’t gnash your teeth over big ones.
The base 2.0-liter engine with 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque has adequate acceleration, and the 6-speed dual clutch does a good job of keeping the revs up when you need them, but it doesn’t shift smoothly at low speeds. The shift quality of Ford’s PowerShift 6-speed dual-clutch automatic manual transmission is a letdown. So you’re left with a 5-speed manual.
We haven’t driven the 1.0-liter in the Focus, although we have in the lighter Fiesta. It makes 123 horsepower and an overachieving 148 pound-feet of torque at just 1400 rpm, to provide get-up-and-go from stoplights. It’s mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
The S and SE models use drum brakes in the rear, while most rivals have four-wheel discs.
The ST, with its 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed manual gearbox, is very well engineered and integrated, with sharp and smooth driving dynamics that rival the Mazdaspeed3 or Subaru WRX STI. It uses a quick, variable-ratio steering rack, a suspension lowered by four-tenths of an inch, and rear dampers with widened mounting points. On a fun-to-drive scale of 1 to 10, it’s a solid 9.
The Focus RS is highly focused, with its 350 horsepower, extreme for a car this size. It has all the right mechanical and electronic structure behind that engine, including full-time all-wheel drive with dynamic torque vectoring, a beefy 6-speed gearbox, big brakes, tuned exhaust and suspension modes including Track and Drift. As an everyday driver, the ride is stiff and unyielding, it turns radically quick, and the torque steer is a handful to manage when you get on the gas. As a track car, it’s a dream.
The Ford Focus hatchback still looks good after all these years, but the interior is dated. The Focus delivers agile handling and sharp steering, though the automatic transmission isn’t always smooth and the Sync 3 infotainment system isn’t always easy. The three-cylinder engine doesn’t quite carry the Focus’s weight, and isn’t so great with fuel mileage. The Focus ST is the champ in the competitive pocket-rocket field, enough to prove Ford’s engineering capability and carry the image of the whole line.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.