Is the Ford Focus the car of the decade?

Is the Ford Focus the car of the decade?

29 December 2019 Concept Car

2018 marked the end of an era. It was the year that Ford discontinued the production of the Focus in the USA. This may not seem like a big thing to you. After all, the car industry obviously goes through changes. Nothing lasts forever: Even some of the most iconic brands and models have long been swept under the rug of history.

The Ford Focus is different, however.

The Focus was a car that had global appeal. It was a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic. It was praised by the public and critics alike. And iIt had fans among young and experienced drivers, female and male car fans.

Many have even called it the car of the decade. In this article, we’ll take a look at the Ford Focus and its personal story. It may have just received a blow. But don’t count out the Focus yet.

Table of Contents

A short history of the Ford Focus

Ford introduced the Focus internationally between 1996-1998. It replaced another iconic model, the Escort. Just like its predecessor, the Focus was neither the most exciting and eye-pleasing, nor the most economic and functional car on the market. In fact, its very strength was its all round charm. It offered something for everyone and that a reasonable price.

Curiously, the Focus was not a passion project for its designers. It has often been suspected that it was mainly designed to improve Ford’s overall environmental record.

How so?

In the USA, a car manufacturer’s fleet needs to average certain fuel standards. If it can’t, it will have to cough up a penalty tax. With the Focus and its excellent fuel economy, Ford was able to keep producing its gas guzzling trucks and SUVs without having to pay.

For a car with a somewhat dubious background, however, the Focus would turn out to be remarkably successful.

Four generations

Since its introduction, there have been four generations of the Ford Focus. Each one has distinct pros and cons. Already by 2014, it had sold 4 million units and won 75 car awards.  Still, it would only be with the Mk II, launched in 2004, that the Focus truly hit its stride. This would be the model that would define the Focus legacy with its legendary combination of outstanding driving characteristics and family friendly design.

The Mk III, which would be sold between 2011 and 2018, almost squandered that legacy. But with the latest instalment of the Focus, widely heralded as a return to form and one of the cars of the year, its future in Europe looks brighter than ever.

Mk II vs Mk III

Let’s take a look at these the two middle model incarnations to see what all the fuss was about.

By the time the Mk II was introduced, the Focus already had an excellent reputation. It was voted car of the year in 1999. A year later, it was still considered good enough to make it a runner up. Sales had been strong almost anywhere. It even did quite well in the USA, where it sold in excess of 200,000 units.

And yet, the Mk II was more than that. It was a true gamechanger. In the UK, it was one of the best selling cars of the year for almost its entire run. It was so good, in fact, that it ended up winning the ‘car of the decade’ award in 2009.

When Fifth Gear tested the second Ford Focus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7etg0tqzz3E , it essentially described it as a better version of the already classic first one. That, by all means, was quite a remarkable achievement. Car review channel CarambleTV agreed, praising its ‘class leading dynamics’.


When the Mk III arrived, the same magazines that had applauded the second incarnation of the Focus were now a lot more reserved. For the first time, the Focus had received an incisive cosmetic makeover. It looked more sporty, a little edgier and more raw in a way. Unfortunately, underneath the hood, not everything matched the lofty aspirations of the new design.

It took some time for the disappointment to seep in. When the third Focus was launched in 2011, it received, as news.com correctly point out, ‘great acclaim’. Then, the trouble began. As an Australian news site reported:

“Its PowerShift dual clutch automatic — also found in the Fiesta and EcoSport — has given owners and Ford nightmares. Multiple problems, a class-action lawsuit, the consumer watchdog taking Federal Court action and ultimately a $10 million fine weren’t good PR for the maker or the model.”

Although Ford were able to take care of a few of the kinks, they never really made the Mk III work the way it should. Still in 2016, it ranked 102nd in carbuyer’s Driver Power satisfaction survey, indicating only just about average quality.

Mk IV: A return to form

In 2018, Ford decided to end the Mk III’s seven year run. Although it hadn’t been entirely unsuccessful, its problems did hurt the brand’s reputation. When the Telegraph reviewed it in 2016, it still scored a 7/10. But in many respects, this result was symptomatic for the entire generation: The Focus had become an established player, but it had lost its magic. The competition had closed the gap. At times, it had even overtaken the once proud market leader.

The current generation, however, seems like a true return to form. In many respects, the Mk IV feels like the Focus that should actually have followed the Mk II. Reporting for Autoblog, Greg Rasa wrote:

“Over the next few days I had more fun behind the wheel of that Focus than any of the past 10 crossovers I’ve driven.”

He expressed regret that the Focus would no longer be available on its home market and emphasised that it offered superior value for money compared to the currently popular SUVs.

This is Money commented:

“In recent months I’ve driven a variety of sports cars worth five times as much that haven’t come close to feeling as engaging as Ford’s do-it-all family favourite. Think of it as a vehicle for all endeavours: perfect for the school run, a shopping expedition, a family holiday or just having a bit of driving fun.”

Carwow even called it ‘possibly the most advanced mainstream car you can buy.’ It essentially claimed that the Focus was once the benchmark, then lost some ground, but now firmly set the benchmark again.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the current generation of the Ford Focus to see what once again sets it apart from the competition.

Ford Focus Pros #1: Driving

We all want our cars to be economical, ecological, practical and safe. But ask yourself, deep down inside, what you really need from a car.

Chances are, you’re like the rest of us: Most of all, we want a car to be fun to drive. To give you that special feeling every time you get behind the wheel. To send that short rush of adrenaline up your spine when you’re speeding up and a sense of freedom when you’re gliding over the highway.

If you care at all about the pleasure of driving, the Ford Focus will probably be your dream car. It may not look it from the outside. But underneath the hood, it mechanics are without equal. Car reviewers have praised its agility, power and handling for a reason. Like no other car, it combines characteristics of a sports car with those of a family vehicle to create a unique blend.

Ford Focus Pros #2: Price

The Focus is not the cheapest car of its class. But with entry level prices starting well below 20,000, it is considerably more affordable than many of its closest competitors.

This is quite remarkable, considering what you’re getting for your money. And it has certainly contributed to the Focus’s phenomenal success in the UK.

Of course, as soon as you’re opting for one of the costlier models, prices quickly escalate. The 2018 edition of the Ford Focus Style currently stands at a reasonable £17,930, the much applauded Zetec at a decent £19,300. But as soon as you’re going for sportier alternatives, you’re instantly in the range of about £25,000.

Regardless, the Zetec especially is a great choice. And even with a few extras, you’re still getting an incredible car at an incredible price.

Ford Focus Pros #3: Reliability

Curiously, Ford has never been a brand known particularly for the reliability of its cars. Even the Ford Fiesta, possibly the most successful car ever in this country, ranked slightly below average.

With this in mind, the first two generations of the Focus have done a lot to bolster Ford’s image. Generally speaking, these cars were almost indestructible.

Even the much maligned third generation wasn’t remotely as bad as some made it out to be. As Carbuyer reported:

“In 2018, the outgoing Focus took 33rd place out of the top 75 models on sale – not bad considering it was that version’s final year on sale. Just 5.7% of owners said they’d experienced an issue, with the electrics or gearbox the most common culprits.”

Ford Focus Cons

As with every car, there are a few downsides. The Ford Focus isn’t perfect. We mentioned some minor quality issues, especially in the Mk III. Overall, however, there is very little to get worked up about.

Safety-wise, it has big over the shoulder blind spots. This need not be an issue for you. But make sure that you can deal with them. Do note that forward visibility is just fine.

It has also sometimes been noted that the power trains of the Focus in some of its model variations aren’t perfect. Edmunds write:

“The underwhelming powertrains work against the Focus. The dual-clutch automatic transmission (it operates like a standard automatic for most intents and purposes) is mostly hit-or-miss due to its marginal slow-speed city performance. To get any meaningful response from the gas pedal, you really have to floor it.”

They also concede, however, that “the standard 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is adequate in daily driving.” You really have to take a lot of the criticism waged against the cheaper versions of the Focus with a grain of salt. Car journalists tend to have very different expectations and demands. Expect even entry level Focuses to do just fine.

Ford Focus against the competition

Of course, the Focus doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The competition in its class is fierce. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the Mk III Focus is how fiercely it has defended its position despite less than optimal performance and press.

Let’s take a look at the main rivals of the Focus and how it does in a head to head race:

Honda Civic vs Ford Focus: Close call

The Civic is a legend. It’s one of those cars that just keeps going from strength to strength. The latest Civic beat the Mk III Focus in many categories: it was more powerful, more economical and bigger on the inside than the Focus. Its driving characteristics match those of the Focus, according to many experts.

The latest Focus, however, has probably reversed that impression and taken the lead once again. The Focus is also more affordable than the Civic. Either way, these are two amazing cars that justifiably battle it out for supremacy in their class.

Mazda 3 vs Ford Focus: Rival siblings

The Mazda 3 is definitely under appreciated. That’s unfair, because, really, it is an impressive vehicle at a mouth watering entry price. The Mazda 3 makes for an interesting comparison with the Ford Focus, because they are so similar in many respects. When website US.News pitted the two against each other, they tied in so many categories that it was hard to separate the two at all.

Although they did see the Mazda as a winner, some will have it exactly the other way around. It’s a bit like sibling rivalry, therefore: Which of these is best for you may be a question of personal taste, not so much of hard facts.

Ford Focus vs VW Golf vs Vauxhall Astra

World wide, the Golf has been considered the best of its class for many, many years. The Astra, too, is an evergreen and, despite its rather bland image, as ‘icon’.

In direct comparisons, the Focus has consistently beaten the Astra. Top Gear, especially, considered the Focus clearly ahead of its rival mainstay.

In the end, the Golf did take the cherry, but only just:

“There’s no denying Ford’s taken a giant leap in rolling manners and tech, and stretched its lead over the VW in handling – it’s truly got the German on toast as a drive. On points, the Focus could sneak the win. Perhaps in its sportier trim, it will. But there’s no escaping the sense the VW’s quality runs deeper, against much newer machinery. On the test, everyone agreed it was the product they found most compelling for most occasions, not to mention less offensive looking than the guppy Ford.”

Used Ford Focus: Your best choice

As the Topgear test proved, a new Ford Focus can easily stand its ground against the best cars of its generation. In fact, as experience and expert verdict has shown time and again, it IS one of the best cars of its generation.

The Focus’s depreciation record isn’t as great, though. This is bad news if you’re planning to buy new and then sell. But it is excellent news if you’re interested in a second hand model. Especially the Mk III is a great choice. We’ve talked about the pros and cons of that particular model. Our conclusion is probably that it is still a pretty great choice despite its deficiencies. And since its reputation isn’t that hot, you should be able to get an excellent deal.

At Concept Car Credit, we have a wide selection of cars and typically have at least a few Focuses on offer. Visit our digital showroom or drop by our Manchester showroom to find out more and take a look for yourself.

29 December 2019 Concept Car