The Ford Focus has been one of the best-selling cars in Europe for a long time (and indeed, was the best selling car in the world in 2012 and 2013), and with good reason. It is a good all-around package: stylish, reliable, well-built, and fun to drive. I have driven two variants of the Focus previously, one with a 1.6L diesel, and one with Ford’s sweet little 1.0L EcoBoost engine. Though I found the diesel sluggish, I liked the EcoBoost.

Ford has just given the Focus a facelift, and with some other minor tweaks, it was good to have the opportunity to drive it again. I think Ford did a good job with the refresh, incorporating the bolder and more open grille that is becoming characteristic of Fords, without altering its overall good looks too much. Inside, not much has changed either, with the exception of a big touchscreen infotainment unit taking the place of the small digital display that used to reside above a myriad of buttons. Thankfully, many of those buttons have gone as their functions now reside within the touchscreen unit. It looks much simpler overall, and is more intuitive, resulting in a better user experience. The cabin still feels a but busy, and the somewhat edgy design will go out of date very quickly, but it’s not a bad place to spend some time.

As you would expect, you are treated to Ford’s generally good build quality inside. The materials feel pretty nice all around, and even when riding over poorly surfaced Northumbrian B-roads, no squeaks and rattles are audible. The Focus has a comfortable driving position, with more than enough legroom for someone of my height. Indeed, it could accommodate someone much taller – use the lever to put the seat down, and you wonder if it’s going to stop before it hits the road surface. I needed to keep it up a bit to be able to see properly. Interior room is good, including in the rear seat, and there is a good-sized boot as well. Steering wheel, gear lever, pedals, are well-placed, as are the simple, legible gauges, and you quickly feel relaxed and in control behind the wheel. For whatever reason, I noticed that compared to the Golf, the Focus feels quite big when you’re behind the wheel, and while it didn’t bother me, other drivers may not like that as much.

From what I have read, different automotive journalists hold different opinions on whether the Focus or the Golf is the best driver’s car in this segment. I like the Golf a lot, but the Focus is certainly a pleasure to drive. It does so many things right: it’s balanced and composed on the road, it remains firm and poised though the corners, the steering is precise and well-weighted, the brakes good, the overall feel solid. This is one of those cars that can settle down and cruise comfortably on the motorway one minute, and happily dart around twisty B-roads the next, almost inviting you to throw it into corners. When it comes down to it, I think I would still give the edge to the Golf in terms of pure driving experience, but I would not at all be unhappy driving the Focus day to day.

Ford’s EcoBoost engines get great reviews all over the place, and for good reason. They are smooth and very fuel efficient, and for their size, quite powerful. The 1.0L EcoBoost engine in this Focus makes 125bhp and 148lb.-ft., and whilst I like the engine a lot, in this particular car, it feels like it could use some tweaks to make the driving experience a little better. Under normal driving, for instance, the engine feels a bit sluggish and underpowered. Perhaps it has to do with the ratios of the six-speed gearbox, or the final-drive ratio, but it’s only once you get up into the middle of the rev range that the engine starts to come alive. In fact, I gave it a full-throttle blast at one point just to see what it could do, and simply could not believe how quickly it hit 60mph. You would never guess that an engine that feels a bit lazy in normal conditions was capable of accelerating like that. Oddly, I don’t recall the last EcoBoost Focus I drove feeling like that; perhaps they’ve changed gearboxes with the refreshed model, or maybe different trim levels come with different final drive ratios.

The six-speed gearbox is an absolute delight to use, owing to a weighty, mechanical feel as you change gears, satisfyingly clicking into place with every shift. Lots of manufacturers could learn from Ford here. Having mentioned the ratios above, though, it is worth noting again that they could be better, particularly in the higher gears. Although the dashboard computer will tell you to shift into sixth around 50mph, you would only ever do that if you’re on a flat surface, and even then, you certainly won’t be passing anyone without a downshift or two. The clutch also takes some getting used to (I remember this from the last Focus I drove), as it engages very quickly. As you ease out the pedal to the biting point, you expect it to engage gradually like most other cars, but suddenly find yourself lurching forward. As a result, it’s a bit tricky to hold the car with the clutch, and by the time I returned the car, I still hadn’t managed a perfect 1-2 shift.

These are minor points, however, and overall, the Focus remains an excellent all-around package. Were I to buy one, I would opt for a more powerful engine, such as the 1.5L EcoBoost. But on the whole, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment recommending the car, and will look forward to the next opportunity I have to drive one.

Engine: 1.0L EcoBoost, 125bhp, 148lb.-ft.

Gearbox: 6-speed manual

MSRP: £20,095

Mileage at pickup: 5280

Distance driven: 120 miles

Photo location: 54°49’04.2"N 1°55’09.3"W

Official Ford Focus website

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