Ford Focus 2019 review
Despite being the polar opposite to the burgeoning SUV market for size, the small car is celebrating huge success.
Sales in the passenger car market are completely propped up by the small car segment, with the Toyota Corolla relishing as the third best-selling model ahead of a not-far-off Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3. But nowhere in that top ten list can the Ford Focus be seen.
Marked with a solid reputation but rarely in the limelight, the Focus has finally come back from renewal but against a fleet of fresh rivals – nay the Mazda 3, which will have its own resurgence in the not distant future.
Despite a mob of safety-packed and stylish competitors in front, the Focus has a few extra cards up its sleeve.
What is it?
A small car to compete against the like of the Hyundai i30, Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus will be the freshest rival among this crowd until the new Mazda 3 arrives sometime next year.
But even when it does, the Focus has one of the most interesting lineups in the segment, with a hatchback, wagon and off-road inspired Active Tourer on offer. The addition of which adds more space and useability into a compact frame with a new, economical but punchy engine that might just tap into the downsizing SUV buyer.
Unlike previous Thai-sourced models, the new Focus is German made but that doesn’t make it impervious to skipping corners as some of the cabin plastics are thin and hard where there are no touch points and the seats feel a bit thin. While there was a run of problems with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic from 2010-2016 it has been replaced with a new eight-speed automatic that's managed by a rotary controller. Otherwise, all of the doors and panel gaps appear consistent and solid and the amount of Focus' still on roads are a bit of an indicator of longevity.
The ST-Line wagon adds some sauciness the usual competitors don’t have with sharp looks and expanded space that’s extra practical, including loading rails and boot switch flipping seats.
Beyond a touch-up in appearance, the ST-Line is also fun to drive, thanks to a bespoke suspension tune and an energetic engine.
How much does it cost?
The hatchback kicks off with the entry-grade Trend priced at $25,990 plus on-road costs and the sporty ST-Line at $28,990 - the latter more affordable than its longer counterpart the ST-Line wagon that comes in at $30,990 plus on-roads. The Active Tourer wagon is positioned as cheaper alternative at $29,990 but was not available to test on launch, along with the top-grade Titanium hatchback that’s priced from $34,490.
All models are powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and come with basic safety assist systems including AEB with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, 180-degree rear-view camera, post-impact braking system and parking sensors.
The Trend rides on simple 16-inch alloys and comes with fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, 8.0-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio, six-speaker sound system, LED headlights and automatic wipers.
The ST-Line adds visual enhancements to look a little sportier including a honeycomb mesh grille, lower side sills and rear spoiler, 17-inch alloys, 10mm lower ride height via model-specific tuned suspension, flat-bottom steering wheel and metal pedals. Other equipment over the Trend includes automatic cornering headlights, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and Qi wireless smartphone charging. The ST-Line wagon also gets a tonneau cover for the rear cargo area, roof rails and – importantly - a multi-link rear suspension setup.
The Titanium tops the range with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, speed sign recognition, lane-centering assist, evasive steering assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, all of which is also available on the Trend and ST-Line in the $1250 Driver Assist pack.
Other Titanium specialities include 18-inch alloys, heated front seats with leather trim, nicer console trims, LED ambient cabin lighting and a Bang and Olufsen sound system.
Exclusive options on the Titanium, which should perhaps be standard, include a plastic flip-up heads-up display ($300) and Park Assist 2 ($1000) that’s a slight enhancement on the previous park assist.
A panoramic sunroof is also available on ST-Line and Titanium models for $2000 and premium paint costs $550.
Service intervals are prescribed every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and are covered by Ford’s lifetime servicing scheme that caps the first four services at $299 each. All models are protected by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which includes one-year auto club membership.
What's the interior like?
Built all-over-again from the ground up and pushing out its dimensions slightly while also lowering weight, the result is a spacious and good to drive small car that has more room than ever before, with a 50mm longer wheelbase that increases leg, knee and shoulder room.
It’s also quieter, with Ford claiming it is less noisy than the average competitor, due to a stiffer chassis with higher use of ultra-high-strength steel and an isolated subframe.
And it's the simple things that make life easier with Qi wireless mobile charging and good connectivity through the infotainment system.
There’s no doubt it feels airier inside, with the dash pushed 100mm further forward and liberating the front occupants from feeling squashed in. The rear-seat also gets a decent amount of room and small kids won’t have an issue if this is the daily ride.
Some of the finishes in the Trend and ST-Line aren’t comfortable over longer trips though, with limited lumber support control and manual seat adjustment a touch clumsy to get feeling right.
The steering wheel is in a good spot though, and technology like Apple CarPlay and Sync3 on the bright 8.0-inch display are easy to navigate and use.
The ST-Line sits 10mm lower than the Trend and Titanium so it’s going to be a touch harder to drop into. But the Active Tourer sits 30mm higher, and that will be easier for tender bodies and parents moving kids in baby seats.
The wagon adds an extra trick in the boot too that allows flipping the seats down at the flick of a switch.
The cabin has a feeling of openness upfront but the roof’s taper in the rear means taller passengers on the flat pew don’t get much headspace to sit in. The boot on the hatch is about average for its size at 341-litres with a space saver wheel under the floor and the wagon grows to 575L large which is bigger than most mid-size SUVs.
What's it like to drive?
Under the bonnet is a new-generation 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 134kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm at 1600rpm, driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
It’s a compact engine, especially in the larger wagon, but it’s efficient and energetic with torque building early on and moving things along nicely. It needs to rev when working hard but the three-pot develops a pleasing off-beat resonance on throttle that suits the ST-Line’s modest sporty intentions.
It’s also a great match to urban environments, with quick pick-up off the line and no lag to get going, even at cruising speeds - and the little motor helps the Focus claim an official government combined fuel consumption figure of 6.4L/100km.
What contributes to the small car segment’s success is that beyond practicality and price a small frame and lightweight mass equate to some of the best ride and handling traits for value there is. It’s an area the Focus has excelled in, with solid entry-grade models not shy of some playfulness after mumbling around the city, and hotter models like the ST and RS injecting some stunning sizzle into the segment.
Splitting itself apart further in the fourth-generation, every Focus variant gets a unique suspension tune with further improvement to driver input such as steering feel and throttle response mapping. These are relayed to the computer by hitting a driving mode button next to the gear selector for either normal, eco or sport.
Assessing the Focus range as whole is further complicated by the ST-Line wagon that’s uniquely equipped with a multi-link rear-end compared to the rest of the lineup that gets a cheaper rear axle twist beam.
Quite simply, the multi-link rear-end is the darling for ride compliance, conveniently packaged so that it doesn’t intrude on the cargo space but adds sophisticated handling response and low speed comfort. It carries itself over poor surfaces gracefully and retains some resistance for carrying extra weight, all while holding up to a quick lick around twisting roads.
The twist beam axle in five-door models is a simpler arrangement though it gains tech from Ford's own hatchback kings, like force vectoring springs used in the Fiesta ST, and the extruded foam stiffened beam of the previous-gen Focus RS.
It leaves the new Focus with a squarer footprint when cornering and better grip, though it’s all noticeably better in the ST-Line that’s further complimented by a tuned and 10mm lowered suspension setup with more confident Continental ContiSport Contact rubber compared to the Trend’s cheaper tyres and simpler underpinnings.
On a wet slippery mountain pass, the ST-Line howled along with a simple but pleasing three-cylinder thrum, eager to push on though changing gears without input – even in manual mode - once high up the rev range. The steering is responsive and quick, communicating well and adjusting attitude only slightly (and not too artificially) in sport mode. And the brakes are strong but fell prey to fading on a long descent where the expected performance upgrades of the ST and RS will shine better.
However, nothing should be taken away from the fun the ST-Line gives, with a good ride and fun dynamics that are equally suitable for day-to-day commuting. But unlike the ST-Line wagon’s multi-link rear end, the torsion beam was prone to some light vibration and shake on poor patches of road and corrugation.
What's the first impression?
The fourth-gen Focus is a continuation on form but with essential upgrades. The added safety technology is a big positive, though completely expected in 2018, and it’s the fuel efficient but positive feeling engine and dynamics that give the Focus a chance to standout, albeit in a very competitive field.
2018 Ford Focus Price and Specifications
Price: from $25,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine: 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 134kW aat 6000rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1600rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, FWD
Fuel use: 6.4L/100km
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…