New Ford Focus 1.0 125PS EcoBoost Titanium X | full road-test review
2 February 2019
The Ford Focus has always been regarded as one of the best-handling hatchbacks out there, but its mainstream image and badge haven’t really helped it dent the Germans’ success amongst company car fleet drivers with aspirations, while personal car lease customers have more recently been presented with compelling Czech and Spanish offerings to play mental gymnastics with.
With the arrival of the latest Mk4/fourth generation model, though, the Focus could finally be nudging into the premium boys’ space and dumping its predecessor’s floppy-looking haunches for sharp, sporting allure, at least in Titanium X trim like the one we spent a week test-driving.
Without waffling on about how many millimetres Ford’s designers have tweaked things by and waxing lyrical on all the car’s new lines and whatnot, the end result is that the new Ford Focus Titanium X with its Fiesta-inspired grille amalgamates muscular sportiness and taut elegance very successfully indeed. In fact, its sculpted aesthetics, 17” ‘Luster Nickel’ alloys, pronounced bonnet, classy new taillights, and ‘FOCUS’ lettering unashamedly dominating the much smarter rear combine in such a way that Dagenham’s latest incarnation can stand proud alongside the 1 Series, A3, A-Class and Golf in the looks department, which is a bloomin’ big compliment. Okay, stare at the somewhat squashed side profile for too long and you may be less convinced, but we reckon it’s the best-looking Focus yet. Chrome Blue suits it particularly well and the mouthful that is ‘Adaptive Front lighting System with Dynamic LED headlights and glare-free high beam’ adds road presence, desirability and safety.
Inside the new Focus’ cabin, there’s more generous head, shoulder and legroom for those sat in the front and rear, and although its much-improved interior lacks the ultimate intangible aura of German and even Swedish cars, the gap has been significantly narrowed here, too. Okay, it’s pretty sombre inside, but so are many of its direct and indirect rivals. Ford has certainly introduced a much more premium feel, with plenty of high-quality finishes, tactile and reasonably expensive-feeling controls, and a strong perceived build quality. Weirdly, though, soft-touch materials feature predominantly in places that’ll seldom be felt, while frequently-used parts like the door bins are a little scratchy. And there’s no pretending - it’s still a Ford at the end of the day, a vibe that would be hard to shift without going one step farther than even Vignale by launching a posh division akin to Toyota’s Lexus.
Titanium X’s part-leather front seats are excellently supportive, the flat-bottom steering wheel conjures a feeling of sportiness, its plentiful buttons don’t feel daunting, and Ford is keen to emphasise this trim’s soft console knee pads. The headlights are operated by a rotary dial to the right of the steering wheel, like in VAG cars, while this trim of the new Focus also gets ambient lighting and an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat.
The test mule driven by Car Leasing People for a week came with Convenience Pack including door edge protectors perfect for today’s car park warzones, active park assist and a wide-view rear camera. It was also specified with the impressive B&O audio system plus a wireless smartphone charging pad, a heated steering wheel that came in handy in the January cold snap, and a (cheaper pop-up rather than plush in-windscreen) head-up display, which we can’t imagine many drivers bothering to use but it gives the new Focus an even more modern edge.
Infotainment is served up courtesy of an 8-inch colour touchscreen that fashionably juts up out of the dashboard, and Ford’s SYNC3 system is excellent to get familiar with quickly. Pairing a phone via Bluetooth, programming the sat nav using virtually any destination types, and operating Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are all intuitive, and the interface looks crisp and contemporary, unlike Honda’s for example. Text messages read out audibly on the move is really handy.
Practicality-wise, the new Ford Focus hatchback provides 273 litres of boot space up to the parcel shelf or 373 litres up to the roof, with the B&O subwoofer and mini-spare wheel stored under the floor, or just a full-size spare if the fancier sound system is dropped. Fold the back seats down 60:40 and the hatch’s total load area expands to 1,250 litres. Give or take a few litres, the Focus’ boot capacity matches the Vauxhall Astra, VW Golf and SEAT Leon but isn’t a patch on the much more accommodating Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia hatchbacks.
To drive, the new 2018/2019 model in 1.0 125PS EcoBoost guise and Titanium X trim upholds the Focus’ reputation for being a driver’s car. The 6-speed manual gearbox has a slick feel to it and the ratios themselves are nicely-judged in such a way that everything from tootling to hurtling is an engaging process. The 1-litre engine is impressively hushed around town before emitting the kind of thrum synonymous with three-cylinder petrol units when the ‘go’ pedal is mashed. It’s admittedly not exactly a dramatic experience but it’s far from a damp squib and it’s definitely possible to have a fair bit of fun in the 1.0 125PS Focus. After all, Britain’s roads are festooned with speed cameras and potholes, with cheeky fun-minded routes few and far between. Bear in mind that even this version of the 1-litre engine feels underpowered with more than a couple of people sat inside, though, so the lower-powered editions will struggle even more. Blame the government’s diesel-bashing stance, along with less-torquey petrol engines always requiring more revs.
We’re not particularly oily-fingered and mechanically-minded here at Car Leasing People, so we steer clear (pun intended) of talking intricate suspension details. Suffice to say, though, that the new Focus handles very nicely indeed and can be chucked around corners with confidence even in fairly pedestrian Titanium X guise, away from the more peppery ST brethren. In urban areas, the slightly-lowered suspension is firm but not overly so, and copes well with the usual plethora of lumps and bumps. Tyre and road noise are disappointingly intrusive on some surfaces and especially so when it’s wet, but the new Focus, which has a lot of Fiesta running through its veins, does a good job cruising on A-roads and motorways while offering reasonable amounts of fun on country lanes, the direct and fairly communicative steering living up to the moniker’s reputation. All this while averaging in the mid-40s in terms of MPG fuel economy, which was pretty good for a 1-litre three-pot driven quite enthusiastically in cold conditions. This is impressive against its on-paper WLTP figure of 49.6mpg, while CO2 emissions of 107g/km mean road tax stands at a palatable £165.
Safety is a huge part of the new Ford Focus’ mix, Euro NCAP awarding it 5 stars following testing under much stricter parameters. The car is stuffed full of active and passive safety systems, with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, emergency brake assist, pre-collision assist and even lane-keeping aid and pedestrian and cyclist detection coming as standard. Loads of other ‘ADAS’ safety systems can be added, too, from evasive steering assist and adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go, to wrong way alert and those fancy headlights that predictively curve based on sat nav and can interpret road signs.
Some may perceive the new Focus’ styling as somewhat disproportioned, but we love its newfound crispness and premium aura, particularly in Titanium X trim. Inside, it has a few quirks and the overall vibe is a slight mishmash of plush and mundane, but its gadget count and comfort are extremely strong. The 1.0 125PS petrol engine is a cracker unless three or more folks regularly make journeys together, and the Mk4’s handling once again underlines the Focus’ reputation as the driver’s car in the class – so until the new Mazda3 comes along, the Ford is the medium-sized hatchback to go for if driving pleasure matters. Heck, it does enough right to even potentially sway some lifelong German-buyers or leasers to think twice.