2018 Ford Focus Review – International First Drive
Paul Horrell’s international first drive 2018 Ford Focus Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Ford’s middleweight hatch has gone higher-tech in this all-new version. Still super-practical though, and still a joy to drive.
2018 Ford Focus hatch (European spec) Specifications
Price N/A Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 1.5-litre turbo petrol Power 110kW at 6000rpm Torque 240Nm at 1600rpm Transmission 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto Drive front-wheel-drive Body 4378mm (l); 1825mm (w exc mirrors); 1979mm (w inc mirrors); 1471mm (h inc antenna) Turning circle 11.0m Towing weight 1500kg (braked), 680kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1369kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 52 litres Spare Opt Thirst 5.4 l/100km combined cycle
ARRIVING IN Australia at the end of 2018, this is a full generational shift for the Focus. The bodyshell is entirely new, enabling better-looking proportions – a longer bonnet and wheelbase in the same overall length. It uses lots of special steel to boost crash safety, yet it’s also lighter, and the extra wheelbase means more back-seat space.
For Oz, Ford has confirmed two versions of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. The Ecoboost version I tested in Europe is basically a down-rated version of what’s in the hilariously fizzy new Fiesta ST.
The optional automatic transmission is a new full-auto job, not the dry-clutch DCT ‘Powershift’ that ended up with Ford losing a Federal Court battle with the ACCC and having to compensate unsatisfied customers.
Fuel consumption is aided by a cylinder shutoff system in light load, and by impressively low-drag aerodynamics: the Cd is just 0.27 for the five-door hatch, lower again for the four-door.
European buyers get, depending on spec, four kinds of suspension, divided into two sub-groups. One lot has a simple torsion-beam rear suspension. The other, more expensive one is a fully independent rear end, as other Focuses always had. It’s on a subframe for more refinement but still offers better steering precision. Both these are offered in a firmer tune for the ST-Line models.
Ford has already confirmed that much of the Focus’s huge palette of active safety and driver assist technology will be available in Oz – see the safety section below for more.
Related to this fresh Focus will be a new Escape, which we’ll see in a few months’ time.
What’s the interior like?
For a start, it feels bigger for everyone. Here’s why. In front, the dash is less bulky so there’s more impression of space. Also, driver’s visibility over the shoulder is good, thanks to the way the rear door windows cut into the pillars. That shape of the door glass also improves visibility for the people sitting in the back – their view was bisected by the door post on the old car.
There are gains in actual as well as perceived roominess. The longer wheelbase gives more legroom to the people in the outer two rear seats, and a flatter floor gives space for the one in between. It’s now a very spacious car for the class.
Front seats and driving position are comfy and widely adjustable, though they lack a lumbar support adjuster.
There’s a good set of pockets and bins around the cabin, and they’re all lined in flock or rubber so your stuff doesn’t rattle about. It helps make the car feel more upmarket for very little cost to the manufacturer. (Dunno why many of the Japanese find this so hard to do.)
The dash is built around an 8-inch tablet screen. But we’re fans of having some buttons too, and the Focus supplies them. Below the screen are shortcut buttons for the entertainment and menus. The climate controls are physical, too. They look good and are nicely tactile.
Many of the driver assist systems have quick-access hard keys, too. For instance the lane keeping assist is on a stalk, so if you turn off the highway onto a curving road and it starts to tug at the wheel when you don’t want it to, just tap the stalk and it’s off. No need to go menu-diving when the road is demanding your full attention.
The touchscreen’s operating system is Ford’s Sync 3, which we’ve grown to like as it’s improved rapidly over recent years. It’s snappy and easily understood. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in every Focus in Europe but the bog-base one, which is itself an unlikely version for Oz. An inductive charging pad is on the options.
The Focus can also be had with an onboard modem. That allows better search and traffic for the built-in navigation, plus it makes the car a wifi hotspot. And it lets you do stuff from your phone remotely – check fuel, lock the car, or even find it if you forgot where you parked it (big carpark, big night out, etc.)
You can spec a B&O audio system, and it’s pretty good. Like most from that brand, the sound has a wide stereo image and bass that’s well-defined and tight. But also characteristic of B&O, the treble is a bit metallic and tiring.
What’s it like on the road?
The 1.5 Ecoboost engine is pretty joyful. There’s a bit of the soft wobbly sound that’s characteristic of triples, but it’s not a disagreeable noise (I prefer it to the drone of most four-cylinders) and it’s very much kept to the background.
Performance is decent enough, as it’ll get to 100km/h from standstill in 8.8 seconds. Look at the rpm figures for max torque (1600) and max power (6000) and what you see is an engine that can operate over a very wide rev range. It’s not fussy what gear you’re in, and turbo lag is at a level where you can pretty much ignore it.
I never felt it switch between three cylinders and two, or the other way, and there’s no telltale ‘eco’ light on the dash. But I’m assured it was happening.
Yet this fine engine isn’t as good as the chassis it’s pulling along. I’m not saying that the Focus’s steering and handling is as much fun as a hot-hatch – though it’s close to some of them – but the combination of comfort and driver’s engagement is just superb.
The steering is sharp and clear in its actions. There’s barely any slack, and the car, probably aided by the lightness of its engine, is beautifully agile and fluid into bends. Lean harder on the thing and you can gently trim the front-rear grip balance with the throttle. It always reacts progressively and tells you what it’s up to.
And yet the ride is superb. It’s taut, yes, rather than pillowy, but it takes away rough edges and there’s very little audible thumping. On top of it all, the damping over bigger humps and troughs is beautifully controlled.
Now, this is the ST-Line chassis, using the independent rear suspension. I also tried a non-ST, with the torsion beam suspension. I suspect this will be the base setup for Oz. It’s pretty good too, certainly both more fun and more comfy than any compact crossover I can think of. But the steering feels a little rubbery and the tail end has lost interactivity – it just mutely follows the front. It’s like driving in black-and-white when the ST-Line is colour. Meanwhile the torsion suspension is a bit noisier too.
In Europe some versions have the torsion-beam axle in combination with the ST-Line tuning. We haven’t tried that, and we wait to see what Ford fits to the Oz models. Top-end European cars also have the option of adaptive damping, but again I haven’t tried that and I’m struggling to see why it would be needed as the passive damping is so good.
On the highway, all Focuses have a good self-centring in the steering so they keep their lane well. And wind noise isn’t an issue.
What about the safety features?
There’s no NCAP rating yet, but given the extra strength of the new platform, and the fact the safety assist is comprehensive, you’d expect a strong showing.
All versions have as standard a collision warning system that scans the view forward and initiates autonomous emergency braking if you don’t stomp the pedal. It can see not just vehicles but pedestrians and cyclists, and Ford says it works at night by the light of the headlamps.
Evasive steering assist, an option, will nudge the steering to aim the car away from an obstacle.
Also standard is lane-keeping – not just lane departure warning but a system that nudges you back if you wander across the lines. It’s not infallible but it’s good to have.
All Australian-spec cars get a reversing camera too.
Optional systems take the Focus to level 2 autonomous driving (ie in certain circumstances the car will operate itself but if you aren’t paying attention it’ll switch off the auto systems).
So there’s adaptive cruise control that follows your set speed and slows to match the car ahead whether in stop-go traffic or at 200kph. That speed is not a misprint – this car is built in Germany. You can set up the ACC system so that if the windscreen camera sees a speed limit sign the Focus’s speed will match it.
The adaptive cruise option also includes camera-based lane centring, which helps hold the car around the middle of the lane and not just activate when it gets to the line. But it switches off if you take your hands from the wheel, as it should because like all these things it makes mistakes. That doesn’t mean it’s pointless. It does cut fatigue on a long trip.
All the nudge-steering systems do no more than that. You can still grip the wheel and turn it how you decide. The car doesn’t over-ride you.
The other level 2 system is self-parking. It’ll automatically steer you into a space, taking account of kerbs. With the auto transmission it shuttles between first and reverse too. You have to keep pressing the button as an acknowledgement you’re still paying attention.
Also on the options, at least in Europe, are LED headlights that link to the camera that reads road signs, and turn the beam as you approach a bend or roundabout, and spread the beam wider in low speed limit zones.
Another of the options is blind-spot warning and reversing cross-traffic alert that will brake if you back out into the path of a moving vehicle.
Finally on the European options list is a head-up display, but we don’t have confirmation of availability here. Pity, as it’s very clear and carries a lot of handy info so you can keep your eyes on the road.
So, what do we think?
The Focus has always combined lots of practicality with a great drive. It still does. This all-new one adds rear-seat space and a fine new engine, very closely related to the ripper little job in the Fiesta ST. But technology features higher this time, with in-built connectivity and some very well-judged standard and optional driver assistance. And yes it’s still got the dynamics nailed – we’d far rather be steering a Focus ST-Line than the mid-spec Mercedes A-class we recently tested.