The 2017 Ford Focus Trend could be the best small car on the market at this price point.
The five-door Ford Focus hatchback is well priced – from $23,390 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual or $24,390 for the six-speed auto tested here – well equipped, and it could be the most complete car in its class when it comes to driving manners.
Let’s look at what you get for your money before we go any further.
The Trend model is the entry point to the Ford small car range, and unlike many competitor cars – such as the Mazda 3 (from $19,490), Toyota Corolla (from $20,190) and Hyundai i30 (from $21,450) – it doesn’t kick off with a budget-friendly entry version.
Still, for your spend you get plenty of stuff.
First up, the 8.0-inch touchscreen media unit now has Sync 3, Ford’s latest media system, with built-in satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. If you prefer not to plug-and-play using one of the two USB inputs (one is just for charging), there’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and an auxiliary jack.
The Trend rides on 16-inch alloy wheels – no steelies with hubcaps, here – and it has front fog-lights, daytime running lights, halogen headlights, and the grille has active shutters for high-speed driving. There’s a rear spoiler for the hatchback as well.
Our Trend test car was fitted with the $2000 Technology Pack, a worthy spend for those who want the most safety kit possible in their new car. That pack adds lane-keeping assistance (which will steer the car gently for you), lane departure warning (which will beep and buzz the wheel), driver fatigue monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, low-speed autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, and automated high-beam headlights.
That’s additional to the standard rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, emergency assistance (which, using a paired phone, can call emergency services if it has been detected that the car has been involved in an accident), and six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain).
You can also get a Convenience Pack for an extra $300, which really should be standard (most cars arriving as yard stock probably have it anyway!) – it adds an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto on/off headlights, follow me home lighting and automatic front wipers.
Trend models optioned with the Technology pack also get a leather steering wheel as part of the deal. It’s a nice thing to hold, and the button placement is logical. The instrument cluster is clear, too, with a sharp digital speedometer readout.
In fact, the entire cabin design is ageing nicely: the big, bright dash-top screen looks the business, and the new media system is a cinch to get the hang of. Anyone who used the existing quadrant-styled Sync 2 system will know that system took a little bit of getting used to, and it also suffered from laggy load times. The new Sync 3 system has a different processor, meaning it’s quicker to load, and has new menu layouts that make it easier to see an array of different elements of the infotainment system all at once, so it’s less fiddly.
The mapping system is easy to learn – but just be aware that if you have your smartphone connected, it will default to your device’s maps.
Storage is quite good throughout the cabin, with decent bottle holders between seats, a smallish centre console bin (which hides the second USB point), and a tiny little slot in front of the shifter (which houses the primary USB jack). It is lacking for loose item storage compared to more thoughtful small cars.
The door pockets are huge up front, easily large enough to hold a big bottle and other odds and ends, while the rear door pockets are fine. There are lined seat pockets in the back, but there’s no flip down centre armrest, and nor are there any rear cup-holders.
The materials used throughout the cabin are of a good quality, with nice plastics and soft cloth wrapped around supportive front seats. The manual air-conditioning controls pull the ambience down a tad.
And as for space, the second row offers adequate knee, toe and head room – better than, say, a Mazda 3, and with better outward vision from the back seat, too. The rear seat is quite flat, though, and there are no rear air vents, no rear grab handles, and no ISOFIX child-seat anchor points (three top-tether points only). Thankfully, though, there are auto up/down windows for all four doors.
The boot of the hatch is on the small side, with just 316 litres of cargo capacity. For context, that’s short of the Toyota Corolla (360L) and Hyundai i30 (378L), but better than a Mazda 3 (308L). The space is a bit shallow, but there’s a space-saver spare wheel under the floor. And if the hatchback body style doesn’t do it for you, there’s a Focus Trend sedan (with a 421L boot) at the same price point, but it’s available with an automatic gearbox only.
As for the way it drives, there are more ticks than crosses handed out to the Focus.
Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine producing 132kW of power at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque from 1600-5000rpm. That’s plenty more than you get in a Golf at this price point (the 92TSI has 92kW and 200Nm for similar money).
As mentioned, we had the six-speed automatic model, which sadly misses out on paddle-shifters. If you want to choose gears yourself, you can do so with a little trigger switch on the shifter, but it’s just not the same. There’s a sport mode for the transmission that will make it hold gears longer, but we found the standard mode to be intelligent enough in most situations.
That’s because the engine is so good, and the transmission so intuitive, that it takes a lot of brain work out of the equation when you’re at the wheel. Whether you’re punting it hard up a mountain pass, calling on the gearbox to choose the right gear after you brake hard for a hairpin; or if you’re just tootling around town at low speeds, the drivetrain seems to know exactly what you want of it.
There is almost no lag from a standstill from the turbocharged engine, and the stop-start system is one of the most unobtrusive out there.
The engine is willing, eager, frothing to get the job done. It revs smoothly, building pace with surprising ease, and while it’s no hot hatch, it certainly has enough gusto to sit you back in your seat.
The result, though, is that you may see the Focus’s fuel use at a higher level than you’d hope for in a small car. The thing claims 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw 8.5L/100km over a mix of different driving situations.
We saw that fuel use partly because the Focus is so good to drive, it encourages you to go the long way – and there aren’t many small cars that can claim that.
The steering is very responsive, making the car feel agile and darty. There is quick steering response from the centre position, and while it is not as rapid to react as, say, a Honda Civic, the Focus offers better feel in the driver’s hands, and there's more feedback. That said there is also plenty of torque steer when you plant your foot upon exiting a corner.
Its balance is excellent, with a brilliant fluidity through corners that instills plenty of confidence. If you push hard, you can provoke it to be pretty fun, too – we had a couple of little lift-off oversteer moments – and as long as you account for a touch of understeer in the tighter bends, you’ll enjoy your time behind the wheel. The understeer comes down more to the tyres – Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max 205/60/16 rubber – than the chassis.
When you’re just doing the commute thing, the steering will be light enough to offer good ease of use when parking, and the ride comfort was found to be excellent on pretty much every surface we put the car on. And across coarse-chip roads, the Focus was quieter than we’d expected, and more hushed than plenty of other cars in this class.
On the ownership front Ford offers a pretty strong promise, too. The brand offers free loan cars if you drop your car off for a scheduled service, and those visits are due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. Over five years/75,000km, that works out to an average of $319 per visit (not including extras like brake fluid replacement). It can’t match the best in the business for warranty cover, though, with three years/100,000km of cover.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – more people should buy a Ford Focus. It is such a well rounded and lovely to drive small car, one that sincerely deserves to do better in terms of sales than it currently does.