THE FORD Focus has become such a staple of the British car landscape that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never owned, test-driven or got a lift in one of these enormously popular hatchbacks. In the UK we love it so much, in fact, that we’ve parked more than two million on our driveways since it was launched in 1998.
Tastes have changed significantly since then, of course. Not only have SUVs arrived on the scene, but even small family cars have become relatively plush. Just take a look at the latest Mercedes A-Class – once an ungainly mini-MPV, this entry-level offering now comes with slick styling and a high-tech cabin that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a sci-fi blockbuster.
The last thing Ford can afford to do with the new Focus, then, is rest on its laurels.
Thankfully, first impressions are good. The new car’s swoopy bodywork looks much sportier than the car it replaces and each version – from the off-road-y Active to the posh Vignale – gets unique bumpers to help it stand out.
The version we spent most time in was the ST-Line X – a sporty mid-range model that mimics the look of a full-blown high-performance ST version, but without the hefty price tag or teeth-rattling ride.
That doesn’t mean Ford’s scrimped on equipment, however – inside you get leather seats with flashy red stitching, lots of soft materials and a touchscreen infotainment system with sat nav and smartphone mirroring features.
There’s enough space in the boot for a baby buggy or a few suitcases, but the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra are roomier still
Thankfully, all the extra creature comforts don’t encroach into passenger space. The new Focus is roomier than ever and even tall adults have space to stretch out in the back.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of its boot. Sure, there’s enough space for a baby buggy or a few suitcases, but the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra are roomier still.
The Focus creeps ahead of these rivals as soon as you hit the road – especially in sporty ST-Line guise. It grips keenly and barely leans in tight corners so you have plenty of confidence when hurtling down a twisty country road.
This is partly thanks to our ST-Line car’s fancy independent rear suspension – something you don’t get on entry-level cars. Still, even with the standard set-up the Focus sneaks a grin onto your face much more readily than the Golf and Astra.
Go for a 180bhp ST-Line model and it feels much perkier than the figures suggest. Accelerating from 0-62mph in just under nine seconds might not set your world alight, but the buzzy three-cylinder growl this 1.5-litre petrol engine produces makes it feel a whole lot faster.
When you’ve finished having fun, Ford claims this engine returns 51mpg – not bad for a reasonably sporty hatchback – and it cruises along relatively quietly, too.
The manual gearbox is a little notchy but the automatic is smooth and finds the right gears at the right time, which helps take the sting out of seemingly endless inner-city jams.
Also helping to make rush hour a little less stressful is the Focus’ raft of driver-assistance systems. You can get it with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and even a feature that’ll stamp on the brakes and steer for you to try and avoid obstacles in the road ahead.
The Focus, then, has almost everything you could want from an affordable hatchback and makes a worthy successor to the outgoing family favourite.
Click to see how much you can save on a new car at carwow
Ford Focus rivals
Price £18,350 – £27,235 but save £5,454 on average at carwow
Price £21,810 – £35,770 but save £2,704 on average at carwow
Price £25,800 – £33,835 but save £3,418 on average at carwow