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Driven: Ford Focus 1.0 ST-Line. Image by Ford UK.

Driven: Ford Focus 1.0 ST-Line
Hard to believe we’re on the fourth-generation Focus, but here it is in excellent 1.0-litre ST-Line form.

   



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Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: smooth engine, sweet chassis, spacious interior

Not so good: so-so exterior styling, is the cabin finishing of a high enough standard with an all-new Golf on the way?

Key Facts

Model tested: Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line five-door
Price: Focus range from £18,545; 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line from £21,900, car as tested £24,175
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 107g/km (VED Band 101-110: £150 in year one, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 49.6mpg
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 10.0 seconds
Power: 125hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 1,400-4,600rpm
Boot space: 341-1,320 litres

Our view:

When the original Ford Focus landed in 1998, it really set the cat (car?) among the family hatchback pigeons. Sharply styled, possessed of a blinding chassis and yet easy to use on a daily basis, it eradicated the memory of rather mediocre late-series Escorts through the earlier 1990s and put the Focus firmly at the top of the pile. You wanted the best C-segment motor, you bought a Mk1; it was that simple.

Trying to be kind to it, since then the Focus has never really hit the same heights (unless it has been one of the hot versions, of course). The Mk2 was a fine enough machine, but the styling was utterly bland and safe compared to its New Edge predecessor, and its chassis magic seemed to have ebbed away somewhat. Ditto the Mk3, which was a most unusual-looking thing pre-facelift and which never quite managed to force its way to the top of the hatchback pile. Now, admittedly, both the Mk2 ST and Mk2 RS, a pair of five-cylinder wonders, and the recently departed AWD Mk3 RS were all brilliant, yet it's a shame that the regular Ford models seem to have lost their sparkle since that magnificent Mk1.

This generation, though, seems to have got its mojo back, if this 1.0-litre EcoBoost ST-Line is anything to go by. Sporty-looking on the outside, it's only blessed with a 125hp/200Nm turbocharged triple, but it has revived all that liquid chassis grace of the original Focus. Its supple damping, its taut but not unyielding body control, progressive and informative steering, and a willing forced induction motor all combine to make this a great car to drive quickly. Admittedly, 'quick' is a relative term on something which takes ten seconds to get to 62mph from a standstill, but there's a natural flow and genuine reward to making the Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost buzz along your favourite roads.

It's also excellently refined and more pleasurable to travel in when you're cruising along in a sedate fashion. Great ride quality, top-level noise suppression and that smooth, quiet and vibration-free engine all ensure that the Focus is cultured both in town driving and also when it's out on faster-moving A-roads. It even nigh-on matched its claimed economy figures exactly; over 195 miles at a reasonably brisk 38mph average, it managed 45.4mpg with a best of 49.4mpg (just 0.2mpg off the on-paper figure), proving that these 1.0-litre petrol threes can be coaxed into being properly frugal if you drive them nicely enough. All in all, then, dynamically this thing's a little peach, and as it seems to be reasonably priced as well, you're probably imagining it's a glowing report card for the Focus Mk4.

Except. . . it isn't. Quite. The Focus has the jump on its age-old rival and the sort of high-quality competitor it must beat, the Volkswagen Golf, as the eight-generation German doesn't arrive until 2020. The Ford's also newer than all of its key French rivals and most of the Japanese competition, and the rest of the VW Group products are in the process of cycling through into new iterations as well. Save for a familiar foe with a Griffin badge on its conk (see below), you'd think the sweet-driving Focus would be head and shoulders clear at the summit of the C-segment.

That it isn't comes down to the aesthetics and finishing. Starting with the cabin, it looks nice and is ergonomically superb, with a great driving position, hugely improved SYNC 3 infotainment on an eight-inch touchscreen and intelligent siting of all the major controls and buttons. Yet the look of it all is fairly plain and a bit dull, truth be told, while some of the details and materials used still don't look/feel as good as those on the Golf Mk7, never mind the impending Mk8. Outside, while it's not an ugly car, it lacks for a strong identity of its own - there are times and angles when you're appraising its bodywork where other manufacturers' designs come to mind - and, in dead-on profile, the wheelbase looks too long and ungainly. The Focus Mk4 is unquestionably a car which looks nicer as an Estate, preferably in rootin'-tootin' Active specification. But then, go for that and your problem will be spiralling expense. Hmm.

It's an impressive hatchback, the Focus Mk4, not least for the marvellous way it drives, but even now we can't conscionably say it's the absolute go-to C-segment machine while we all wait to see what Wolfsburg does with the next Golf. It is, however, a Ford and in the UK, we still love our Fords, so sales success will not be something that evades the Focus. Nor will driving enjoyment be out of reach for those who take a punt on the Ford, so it has - at least - returned to its rightful territory as one of the best hatchbacks for the person sitting behind the steering wheel. And that has to be a very good thing indeed.

Alternatives:

Honda Civic: unusual looks and some teeth-gnashing details - like two near-unreadable dials in the cluster and lacklustre infotainment - are the only drawbacks to what is a very, very talented C-segment hatchback.

Renault Megane: fine enough to look at and there's a good range of engines, but the regular Megane has a less involving chassis and inferior drivetrains to the Focus.

Vauxhall Astra: bad news for Ford; recent alterations to the Astra line-up have made this a very tough competitor to beat. Slightly drab interior aside, this is a difficult contender to eclipse.


Matt Robinson - 28 Mar 2019



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2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.

2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.2019 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost ST-Line UK test. Image by Ford UK.








 

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