The Ford Focus has been on sale since 1998, and its introduction changed the game for family car buyers. No longer was this a segment for dull hatchbacks, instead those with kids could buy a good looking car that was also fun to drive.
Modern buyers might have flocked to the SUV segment, drawn by the higher driving position and perceived safety that comes from their sheer size, but the Focus is still a mighty appealing family car, especially on the used market.
Used Ford Focus: Pros and cons
Fun to drive
Range of economical engines
Great value for money
What’s not so good
Interior is a bit cheap in places
Poor infotainment system
Boot could be bigger
Is a used Ford Focus a good car?
The Ford Focus is a bit like buying a comfortable pair of trainers. Sure, you could splash out on some funky Yeezys and turn heads wherever you go, but when it comes to doing the job it was designed for, there are few better.
If you’re tempted by a glitzy SUV for your family car needs, the Focus might prove to be a better all-rounder. Your high-riding alternative is likely to be a bit more practical, but this hatchback should still have enough space for most families while also boasting excellent safety kit and lower running costs.
What’s more, just because it’s great value for money doesn’t mean it’s dull. The fourth generation was introduced in 2018, and while its appearance wasn’t a big evolution on its predecessor, it’s undoubtedly more sophisticated and upmarket. An update in 2021 brought various changes, the most impressive being improved tech.
If you’re concerned all this means the Focus is style over substance, worry not, because it’s also great to drive. One of the model’s unique selling points has always been that it’s more fun behind the wheel than alternatives from other brands, and the latest model is no different.
What body styles are available?
Perhaps in an attempt to charm as many SUV buyers as possible over to the Focus, Ford offered a wide variety of body styles to broaden its appeal.
There’s the typical five-door hatchback we know and love, with an estate offering a more practical alternative.
Complicating matters slightly is the fact that there are different styles. The only one worth pointing out here is the Active, which gets a raised ride height and some off-road friendly body cladding, which might be a good compromise for those tempted by an SUV but drawn to the Focus.
What are the engine options?
With both petrol and diesel engines, the Focus has wide-ranging appeal, but the lack of full hybrid or electric versions might put some buyers off. On the plus side, all of the engines are Euro 6-compliant, so currently won’t face any charges in low emissions zones.
There’s a 1.0-litre petrol engine that has power outputs of 85hp, 100hp and 125hp, with a manual transmission available on all three and an automatic also offered on the most powerful version. The 100hp version gets slightly better fuel economy than the other two.
The 2021 update dropped the lowest-powered model and introduced ‘mild hybrid’ technology on the 125hp and a new 155hp petrol, giving a small boost in fuel economy to over 50mpg, and should appeal to those travelling shorter distances.
A 1.5-litre petrol is available with outputs of 150hp (with manual or automatic gearboxes) and 182hp (manual only), though this was dropped for the introduction of the 2021 models. You’re looking at official fuel economy figures from 47mpg and 44mpg respectively.
Those who do a lot of motorway miles should take a look at the diesels. Earlier models have a 1.5-litre making 95hp and 120hp, and a 2.0-litre making 150hp, while 2021-plus cars ditch the larger capacity engine. The 120hp engine gets 57mpg-plus, so is the best option for budget-conscious long distance drivers.
If you’re looking for extra performance, you’ll want the ST hot hatch. This is available with a 280hp 2.3-litre petrol engine and a 190hp 2.0-litre diesel engine. Fuel economy naturally takes a hit in the petrol, quoted at 34mpg, while the diesel’s 53mpg makes the ST a good choice for both head and heart. It’s also available as a five-door and an estate, unlike most of its competitors.
What trim levels are available?
The fourth generation Ford Focus was launched with seven trim levels, starting with Style. Standard equipment on these models included 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and DAB digital radio with Bluetooth connectivity. Some decent driver assistance tech can also be found, such as autonomous emergency braking and a lane-keeping aid.
Next up is Zetec, which adds the Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, controlled through a 6.5-inch touchscreen, as well as cruise control and a QuickClear heated windscreen.
Titanium models add a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, front and rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control. Titanium X upgrades to partial leather trim, privacy glass and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Drivers looking for a sporty edge can get an ST-Line model, which has styling inspired by the ST hot hatch on the outside, while inside you’ll find a flat-bottomed steering wheel and aluminium gear knob. Opt for the ST-Line X to add 18-inch alloy wheels and red brake callipers.
The Vignale sits at the top of the range and gets a huge specification, including leather upholstery, full LED lighting, rear-view camera, heated steering wheel, and a 10-speaker B&O Play sound system.
A new set of trims were added for the 2020 update, with ‘Edition’ versions of all but the Style trim adding a wireless charging pad, front and rear parking sensors and Power-fold mirrors. The standalone Vignale trim was also dropped, with this name now used for extra-high-specification versions of some trims. Late 2021-onwards cars get the excellent new Sync 4 infotainment display, which is a 13.2-inch widescreen unit.
How practical is it?
While the Focus looks great and is fantastic fun to drive, one area where it’s a slight disappointment is practicality. It’s not terrible by any stretch, but it’s pretty average for the segment. With a boot of 375 litres it’s a bit bigger than Audi’s A3 and Mercedes’ A-Class, but it’s dwarfed by the Skoda Octavia’s, although just about everything is.
You can fit two tall adults in the rear seats easily, so if you’re buying the Focus as a family car the kids will be very comfortable back there. Up front it’s reasonably practical, with large door bins and some smaller storage areas dotted about.
Of course, if it’s practicality you want you could go for the estate. Here, it’s much more impressive, with a capacity of 575 litres with the rear seats in place or 1,650 litres with them folded down, making it much more competitive against rival wagons.
The interior looks great and is a massive leap over the previous generation, so if you’re looking at early fourth generation cars versus late third generation cars, this could be reason alone to get the newer model, introduced in late 2021.
However, build quality lags somewhat behind something like a Volkswagen Golf, so give the interior panels, particularly those around the centre console a prod to see how they’re holding up.
What’s it like to drive?
If you’re shopping for an affordable family hatchback or estate and you’re a keen driver, the Ford Focus should be right at the top of your shopping list. Ever since the first Focus arrived on UK roads in 1998, it has been one of the best in its class to drive.
In fact, we’d argue this model is the best family car to drive full stop. The steering feels natural while the fantastic body control gives you confidence in corners, whether you’re pushing on or taking it easy.
Impressively, if you opt for the ST-Line with its sporty suspension, you’ll find even better handling with little effect on comfort. Typically the trade off for a stiffer, lower suspension is a jiggly ride at lower speeds, but that’s less noticeable in the Focus.
Over longer distances the Focus is comfortable sitting at motorway speeds without too much tyre and road noise, while the highly adjustable driving position means it’s easy to get comfortable.
What to look out for
Ford has a relatively good reputation for reliability, being far from the best in class but rarely giving customers too much cause for concern.
Focus models built between 2018 and 2021 faced some teething troubles, but these should have been addressed when new. There aren’t any major ongoing concerns to watch out for outside of the recalls listed below, but there are a lot of recalls, so make sure you check any that relate to your car have been completed. Other than that, stick to watching out for the usual urban family car issues when viewing, such as damaged interiors and scrapes on the alloy wheels and bodywork.
The facelifted model has only been on sale for about a year, so it’s difficult to say whether these versions offer an improved reliability record. Either way, Ford repairs tend to be more affordable than many other brands, which will help offer peace of mind.
You should ask about the warranty, too. These models came with a three-year/60,000-mile cover with the option to extend to four or five years with extra miles, which would be an appealing extra.
Recalls happen regularly in the car industry as the result of a manufacturer or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) finding an issue with a vehicle.
These are mostly preventative, and can be related to issues as wide-ranging as intermittent electrical faults to potential failures in major components. To check whether your vehicle is included in a recall you can type your VIN into the Ford website or contact your local Ford dealer.
You can read more about what recalls are in this handy guide, or continue below to see what recalls have been issued for the 2018-present Ford Focus…
An issue with the brake pedal hinge bolt could require the brake pedal box to be replaced in 5,336 cars built between October 19th and December 8th 2018.
Over 1,700 cars built between March 12 2018 and January 21st 2019 could see the rear door open while the rear windows are lowered.
An issue with the power distribution box needs rectifying in 4,538 cars built between October 14th and 16th 2019.
Almost 10,000 cars built between February 4th 2020 and March 18th 2021 could have an engine oil separator that was damaged before the engine was assembled.
Various other recalls have been issued for the Focus, though these relate to a very small number of cars.
Safety and security
Ford included a decent amount of safety kit and driver assistance technology on the Focus, making it one of the most technologically advanced family cars of its time.
There’s pre-collision assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection, which can automatically apply the brakes to avoid a crash. An evasive steering assistant can apply steering to avoid stationary objects, too.
Out on the road, the adaptive cruise control has a stop-and-go function as well as speed sign recognition and lane centring. Adaptive front headlights can angle towards a curve to improve visibility too.
With all this kit, the Focus was awarded the full five stars in Euro NCAP’s safety testing, being one of the first to get full marks in the more stringent tests. It scored 85% and 87% for adult and child occupant protection respectively, achieving over 70% for vulnerable road users and safety assist systems, which is impressive for this size of car.
If safety equipment is important, check the car’s specification before signing on the dotted line, because not everything came as standard, with higher trims getting more kit.
What else should I consider?
The most obvious competitor to the Focus is the Volkswagen Golf. It has become the go-to name for dependable family hatchbacks thanks to solid build quality, nicer materials inside and more refinement out on the road.
The Skoda Octavia is the more practical choice, boasting more space for passengers and a massive boot. Meanwhile, the Vauxhall Astra doesn’t quite have the build quality or premium appeal of others, but it’s quiet at speed and fun to drive.
Keen drivers could also look to the Mazda 3, which is fun on a country road without sacrificing comfort on long drives. The interior feels pretty upmarket, too.
If you’re interested in buying a used Ford Focus, you can find the latest stock from a network of trusted dealers. You can also sell your old car though carwow, and it’s quick and easy. Tap the button below to find out more.