2019 Ford Focus ST-Line wagon review

First Australian drive

Rating: 8.4
$30,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    6.4L
  • Engine Power
    134kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    148g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

The new, fourth-generation Ford Focus brings a first for the nameplate in Australia: a wagon. And it deserves to be more than just the niche seller in the small-car range.

Since the Focus replaced the Laser in 2002 there’s been the option of a hatchback or sedan body style, but never a wagon.

That changes for 2019 with the introduction of Ford’s fourth-generation small car.

It’s not going to be the variant that revives the Focus’s sales fortunes in Australia, of course. That you can count the number of small wagons you can buy for about $30,000 on one hand is all you need to know about the level of their popularity here.

Yet Ford Australia believes the specific trim grade it has chosen from Europe – the sporty ST-Line – can add some incremental volume as well as help the Focus’s local image.

ST-Line (also new to Australia) is the mid-range grade in the Focus line-up, with the hatch and wagon pumping some iron, getting a body kit including side skirts, rear roof spoiler, honeycomb grille and a different rear bumper to those used on the base Trend and top-of-the-line Titanium.

With lowered, stiffened suspension, it’s a variant taking its inspiration from Ford’s ST performance brand.

The Ford Focus ST-Line wagon is priced from $30,990 before on-road costs, carrying a $2000 premium over the hatch.

That buys you a bigger car with bigger cargo space. Adding 29cm to the hatch’s length, the 4.67-metre wagon increases cargo capacity by 234 litres – from 341L to 575L.

The gain is 300 litres – 1320L to 1620L – when comparing load space with the rear seats folded. The load length also extends by more than 20cm.

It’s not just the extra vehicle length that liberates more space for your suitcases, prams and mountain bike, though.

Intriguingly, the wagon is the only Focus model locally to utilise a fully independent rear suspension like all Focus models previously. The hatchback models all employ a new torsion-beam arrangement.

While torsion beams are traditionally more compact than multi-link set-ups and therefore beneficial for interior space (and investment costs), Ford says the latter was easier for engineers to reposition the dampers for increased boot width.

And indeed the wagon’s boot provides an extra 134mm between the wheel arch housings (to 1150mm). Ford says the multi-link also has a weight-bearing advantage when the wagon is fully stocked with gear.

The Focus’s boot-capacity figure trails that of the Volkswagen Golf wagon (605L) and Renault Megane wagon (580L) but trumps the cargo sections of the Holden Astra Sportwagon (540L) and Skoda Octavia wagon (588L).

There’s a generous width and depth to the load area, while practical side-touches include Velcro securing straps on both sides, flip-out hooks, tie-down points, and a 12-volt socket (with another in the rear cabin).

Lift the boot floor and there’s underfloor storage with a moveable divider (with a temporary spare wheel beneath).

Lowering the 60-40 split-fold rear seats is easy courtesy of release levers.

There’s no ski-port, though, and on the other side the rear seat is missing a centre armrest, cupholders, USB ports or even vents. (Strangely, a ski port and armrest feature on European versions.)

NOTE: Due to a lack of supplied images for the Australian model, we've added a number of European-market photos to show the general space and dimensions of both seating rows and the rear cargo space. Note that the Australian model does not have a ski port in the middle of the second row.

Rear passengers benefit from some extra headroom – about 4cm – in the wagon over the hatch, and even those just breaching six foot will have room if the optional ($2000) sunroof is fitted.

The latest, German-built Focus also uses its 52mm-longer wheelbase to provide more knee space.

The rear doors shut with a similarly satisfying thunk to the fronts, though the door cards are hard plastic where they’re soft up front.

It contributes to a perception of quality that isn’t quite up to the Golf’s standards – but it’s close, and certainly the nearest a Focus generation has ever got to the Volkswagen’s benchmark presentation.

Besides a sense of being well screwed together, the interior design looks contemporary – if a bit dark in ST-Line spec – in a way the new Endura SUV’s cabin doesn’t. There’s a nice interplay of smooth plastics, expensive-looking inserts, and blue ambient lighting such as that used for the console cupholders and USB port (matched to the colour of the switchgear fonts).

The centre console looks stylish with its brushed-plastic finish and rotary transmission dial that feels more tactile and refined than the version created by Jaguar Land Rover.

And a ‘Sync’ logo is etched smartly into the upper console, reflecting Ford’s pride in an infotainment system that is among the best. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is responsive and provides well defined graphics and intuitive operation that includes pinch-and-zoom functionality for the nav map.

ST-Line also gains wireless phone charging over the Trend, adding to standard-on-all-models digital radio, voice control, Wi-Fi hotspot, and smartphone mirroring. All Focus models feature a 180-degree high-resolution rear-view camera with split-screen function.

A consistent characteristic of all Focus models over the years has been excellent dynamics, and we’re pleased to report this welcome trend continues with the 2019 Focus that shares a keen driver’s enthusiasm for the open road.

Central to the Focus’s involving handling, as ever, is the steering. If a little less communicative than previous set-ups and adding little extra weight in the selectable Sport mode, the steering is direct and ultra-precise.

The wagon’s chassis, with its multi-link rear suspension, seemed to offer a hint of extra involvement compared with the ST-Line hatch when pushing on in corners, its 41kg-higher kerb weight barely noticeable.

Front-end grip just wasn’t anything remarkable in wet conditions despite our test car wearing its optional 18-inch rubber (instead of standard 17s).

The torsion-beam ST-Line hatch mostly impressed with its ride and handling on a variety of country roads, though a back-to-back test of both ST-Line models, as well as the entry Trend hatch, on the same stretch of patchily surfaced road suggested the wagon’s biggest advantage is low-speed ride comfort.

Where the Trend tended to get bouncy and fidgety and the ST-Line hatch was slightly better, the ST-Line wagon was noticeably more compliant.

The regular Ford Focus range, as with the outgoing model, shares a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. This time, though, it comprises three rather than four cylinders.

No need for alarm. It’s related to the unit used in the new Fiesta ST hot-hatch, and power is actually up fractionally to 134kW and torque remains at 240Nm. Performance feels ample for a mainstream small car, and like many of these modern triples, the engine is smooth.

It also sounds good, especially in the ST-Line models where there’s the suspicion of some engine-noise-enhancement trickery going on as the Trend model has a more characteristic three-cylinder thrum.

It seems, though, that the burble stems more from the exhaust set-ups (twin pipes for ST-Line; single pipe for Trend), as Ford Australia believes there’s no sound symposer fitted to any Focus.

The best throttle response is found with the Sport mode, and you could simply leave it there if fuel-saving isn’t a priority. Unlike the Golf’s equivalent mode, for example, it doesn’t make the transmission overly lively at lower speeds.

Speaking of which, the Focus has adopted a new eight-speed torque converter auto in place of the problematic Powershift six-speed dual-clutch auto that was sold in the previous car over some of its life cycle.

It’s a smooth-shifting unit and comes with paddleshift levers on all models, and the extra higher gears see the engine sitting at just 1500rpm when the Focus is cruising at 100km/h.

That’s below the 1750rpm point where maximum torque kicks in, and the auto could be indecisive about whether to be in seventh or eighth gear when trying to maintain a steady cruise.

Adaptive cruise control forms part of a $1250 Driver Assistance Pack also including blind spot and rear cross traffic monitoring. Our test wagon also featured the $1800 Design Pack (18-inch alloys, adaptive LED headlights, auto high beam) and $2000 panoramic roof (which also adds sunglasses holder and illuminated vanity mirrors).

The ST-Line’s standard equipment is good, then, if not remarkable – comparable to a $30,490 Golf 110TSI Comfortline (albeit without body kit) though not quite as good value as a $33,990 Megane GT-Line that is $3000 more expensive but includes extra key features (if a weaker engine).

Most buyers at this price point will continue flocking to compact SUVs, of course, but those keeping faith in the most practical variety of the traditional small car have another tempting choice in the Ford Focus.

It’s competitive in terms of features, technology and space, the interior is the best we’ve seen from the Focus yet, while the ride and handling of the ST-Line wagon has the potential to be confirmed as the class benchmark.

And, based on initial impressions, it’s our pick of the new Focus range.

NOTE: Due to a lack of supplied images for the Australian model, we've added a number of European-market photos to show the general space and dimensions of both seating rows and the rear cargo space. Note that the Australian model does not have a ski port in the middle of the second row.