2018 Ford Focus Hatch 2.0 Titanium (USA)

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On average, I get to drive around 50 different cars a year, and in the interests of trying as many different models as possible, my general rule is that where there is a choice (and sometimes there is not), then I will typically take something I’ve not tested before in preference to something I have, even if this looks like I am eschewing the “better” or “more interesting” car. And even with this approach, there are still models which come and go and I never manage to get to sample at all. So why, you may wonder, with all the cars available from a large rental company like Hertz, at one of their busiest airport locations, Phoenix, did I pick a third generation Ford Focus, a car which has featured several times before in my reviews. There are several reasons. Firstly, although this is a big location, there are times when the range of different models that are actually available when you turn up is very limited, and this was one of those evenings. Not wanting one of the line of white Nissan Sentra or the various different coloured bare bones spec Toyota Yaris (both of which I drove last year and neither of which were much fun), the options were quite restricted. Whilst I have driven plenty of this generation Focus before, with a variety of different engines, all bar one of them were early in the model’s life cycle, and as that more recent car, post mid-cycle facelift, was a diesel-powered Estate, in Italy, then an American spec Hatch was likely going to be quite different in many detailed ways. I had driven an US spec car before, and that one had the Saloon body that is much more common in the largely hatch-averse American market. The car I spotted parked up was in Titanium trim, which is the top of the line and so promised more features and luxury than the versions I had driven before. And finally, only a couple of days previously, I had driven a US spec Golf, and so wanted to be able to make as direct a comparison as I could between the two cars. So a 2018 model year Focus Titanium Hatch it was, for a 24 hour test period.

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Ford’s much praised 3 cylinder 1.0 Turbo Ecoboost engine has made it Stateside, appearing in selected versions of the US market Focus, but firing the engine of this Colorado plated test car and driving off, it was clear that this was not one of them. Instead, it had the familiar 2 litre 160 bhp unit under the bonnet, which was coupled to a 6 speed automatic gearbox. My previous experience of this combination was not entirely positive, but this time, I thought there were fewer issues. The engine is willing, but despite an above average potency for cars in this class, to get anything more than very modest acceleration out of it, you will need to rev it quite hard, and once you go over 3000 rpm, which you will need to for those bursts of speed such as when joining freeways, it gets rather noisy. Driven hard, though, performance is adequate, and the gearbox seemed to do a good job at figuring out when to change the ratio to make the most of the available power and torque, most of the time at least. It was certainly far better than my previous experiences of automatic transmission-ed Focus models where I felt the gearbox was a real let down. However, it certainly struck me that this engine is nothing like as good as the (less powerful) 1.4 Turbo unit in the Golf, in terms of noise, willingness or refinement. Both units delivered very similar economy. I covered 162 miles in the Focus, with a route up into the hills to some of my favourite photo locations off the 87 Beeline and at the end of the test needed to put 4.43 gallons in it to refill it, which computes to a very respectable 36.57 mpg US, or 43.69 mpg Imperial, Interestingly, I would achieve exactly the same figure in a Chevrolet Cruze, which I took on a more or less identical route.

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The Focus’ trump cars has always been its steering and handling, with this being the best in class, troubled only by the Mazda 3 as being a family hatch that is genuinely fun to drive on twisty roads. The third generation Focus lost a little bit of the edge that was evident in earlier models, but it still remains a strength of the model, and that was evident here. There is good feel to the steering and it is weighted just right, and the car really does tackle the twisty roads with the sort of aplomb more befitting of a sports model than a family hatch. And there is no penalty in the ride, which although a little firmer than on lesser trimmed cars, remains very good, with no particular penalty associated with the larger 215/50 R17 tyres that are included in the Titanium spec. You can stop readily, too, with a nice feel to the brakes, and there is still a conventional pull-up handbrake on this generation model, something which has largely disappeared in favour of electronic units in most of its rivals. Ford help out with any blind spot issues with the simple expedient of putting a separate piece of glass in the top corner of the door mirrors, with a different field of view, and that was the case here. It is effective and more useful than the warning beeps and seat vibrations that are appearing in increasing numbers of cars. There is a good glass area, and of course judging the back of hatch is easier than a saloon, even without the now required rear-view camera that was on the test car. The Focus proved very manoeuverable, easy to position on the road, to turn round, to park and generally to be just the “right size”, from the driver’s point of view.

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It is when you open the door and look inside that the Focus comes off in its worst light, and especially compared to a Golf. Although Ford tried to improve things with the mid-cycle facelift, removing some of the vast array of buttons that festooned the centre of the dash, nothing short of a redesign was really going to do the trick, and that did not happen in the update. The basic design itself is a mess, with angles, curves, surfaces and design “features” that present everything but a cohesive appearance, and then there are the materials themselves. Whilst better than they were, they seem to be of such cheap quality compared to those used by VW and indeed several other rivals. The Titanium trim does not help, and in fact it probably makes things worse in some ways. The upgraded audio unit is particularly crass looking and there is the most awful grey plastic that surrounds the centre console and part of the dash that is at least as ghastly as the truly nasty fake wood that Ford used to use to make their cars looks what they thought was “upscale” and which I always thought of as just tawdry. The steering wheel is leather wrapped, but it is the nastiest sort of leather and it feels no better than an average plastic moulded item. All that said, at least the controls are all quite easy to use. The instrument pack has not changed, and retains Ford family characteristics of turquoise pointers in the main dials and the ability to customise the view of the ancillary information which sits in the digital display area between the speedo and rev counter, something you do by using the buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. The left hand spoke has the cruise control and audio repeaters on it. There are twin column stalks for indicators and wipers, with lights selected from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash has an integrated display screen set at an angle, with air vents on either side. This uses Ford’s SYNC 3 interface and comes with an 8-inch touch-screen display, a 10-speaker Sony sound system, HD Radio, satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It is touch sensitive, as the way that Ford got rid of most of the buttons is by putting all their functions into the screen instead. Like all such systems, this is not always ideal, as it proved a bit fiddly to operate. It was also very hard to see in bright light, with the sun often catching it just when you wanted it, which you just might well do as there is a navigation system featured in this Titanium spec There is just a single volume knob and some very awkward slivers of buttons surrounding it for tuning the audio system in a very crude almost after-market look panel below the display screen and just below the CD slot that still features. Dual zone climate control is part of the spec and there are buttons for that, below this unit, where you will also spot a lone switch for the heated steering wheel. There is a keyless starting, and the button for this also looks rather like an after-thought.

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First thing to strike me when opening the door of this test car were the very pale coloured leather seats. Despite having seen rental car duty for not far short of a year, they did not appear to have acquired colours that the manufacturer would not have intended. They certainly lighten the interior of the car somewhat, and if you open the shade on the electric sunroof and let the light in from above as well, this was quite a contrast from the rather sombre interior of the Golf I had driven a couple of days previously. Titanium trim includes 8-way electric adjustment of the seat, but only for the driver. The front passenger seat retains its manual adjusters and there is not the ability to alter the height of that seat, which seemed a somewhat mean omission. Meanwhile the driver gets the benefit of lumbar support, as well as the ability to set the chair to exactly how they want it. There is a telescoping steering wheel, which goes in and out as well as up and down, so I was easily able to get the perfect driving position to suit my proportions. The sunroof did not seem to take anything noticeable off the available headroom, which is not always the case. The seat itself was comfortable enough, with support in all the right places.

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There is a decent amount of room in the back. Headroom should not be an issue for any but the very tallest, whilst legroom will depend to some extent on where the front seats are set. Even when they are well back, there was certainly ample space for me to sit without my knees being pressed into the seat backs. There is just about enough width for three adults to sit here, should the need arise. A central drop-down armrest features and this has cupholders in its upper surface. Oddment space is provided for with bins on the doors and map pockets in the back of the front seats.

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The boot of the hatch is not quite as generous as that of the saloon, but it would doubtless prove sufficient for most purposes. I was not that impressed by the sight of an additional speaker for the upgraded sound system which looked like the after-thought it probably is, tacked onto the side of the boot. To create more space, you need to lift the asymmetrically split rear seat cushions first and then drop the backrests down into the available space, having first removed the headrests. This gives a nice flat load bay, and has the added benefit of the tipped up cushions forming a barrier with the front seats, not something you get very often these days. Clearly you could get a lot of cargo in with the seats folded down. Inside the passenger compartment, there is a modest glove box, some rather small bins on the door and a small cubby under the central armrest, as well as various very small places to put things on the console and the twin cup holders.

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The test car bore stickers in the side windows reminding everyone that it had been “assembled with pride in Michigan”. Even without President Trump’s desire for cars that Americans buy to be built in America, it makes sense as there are differences between the European model ranges and the North American ones. Americans get the choice of two bodystyles for their Focus: sedan and hatchback. There are then choices of trim and engine, but not every combination is possible, so to narrow down the seven available trims, it may be easiest to start by selecting the powertrain you want. The standard 2 litre four-cylinder engine comes in the S, SE hatchback, SEL, and Titanium trims. The three-cylinder engine in the SE sedan offers the best fuel consumption in the lineup, or you can cut your annual fuel costs in half by picking the Focus Electric. Two high-performance hatchbacks with turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available: the 252 bhp ST and the 350 bhp RS that are familiar to Europeans. The entry-level edition in the Focus lineup is the S trim ($17,860). This is only available as a sedan, with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission, and front-wheel drive as the base setup. It comes with a 4.2-inch infotainment display, Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, two USB ports, Bluetooth, voice recognition, a four-speaker audio system, and a rearview camera. Power windows are only in the front of the car. I suspect few are sold, as this trim does lack a few features that you really take for granted in almost every car these days. Upgrades for the SE trim include satellite radio, cruise control, a six-speaker sound system, power windows throughout the car, a centre armrest with storage, and rear-seat heat vents. The $20,445 SE hatchback comes with the standard four-cylinder engine. Powering the $19,150 SE sedan is the 1.0 litre Ecoboost three-cylinder engine. Moving up another grade and you get to the SEL. This is the lowest trim in which you can get the upgraded SYNC 3 infotainment interface, which comes with an 8-inch touch screen, smartphone integration, HD Radio, and a 10-speaker Sony audio system. The Focus SEL (priced at $21,775 for the sedan and $21,975 for the hatchback) also includes dual-zone climate control, a moonroof, an automatic transmission, and rear parking sensors. And then you reach the Focus Titanium, like the test car. This features leather seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather trim on the shift knob and heated steering wheel, one-touch up/down power windows, and a rear-seat centre armrest. Also included is a proximity key and push-button start. Prices start at $24,175 for the sedan; hatchbacks cost $200 more. The Focus Electric replaces the petrol engine with a single electric motor and a lithium-ion battery, for a 115-mile range from its 143 bhp rating. Recharging the battery takes 30 hours with a 120-volt outlet or 5.5 hours with a 240-volt connection. It has cloth seats, a nine-speaker Sony sound system, navigation, and many of the same interior features as the Titanium trim. Pricing for the Focus Electric starts at $29,120, and some buyers may be able to save an extra $7,500 with the available federal tax credit. At the top of the range are the truly sporty versions, available only with the hatchback body. The 252 bhp ST lists at $25,075. there’s a big cost jump up to the ultimate Focus, the 350 bhp Focus RS hatchback, which adds more than $16,000 to the price tag. If you can afford the upcharge, you’ll be rewarded with a sport suspension system, a sport exhaust with dual bright tips, trim-specific drive modes, all-wheel drive, and Recaro leather trimmed seats. Interestingly, the American press have been far less enthusiastic about these cars than the British and European ones were and they are a rare sighting in America.

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Despite its age, this third generation Focus remains a good car. Only the really scrappy dash counts against it. Although it is not one of the worst in class, from a perceived quality point of view, this is something you could live with, even if you don’t particularly like it. In all other respects, though, even after 7 years since the model was released, this car comes near the top of the class. It goes well enough, does not drink too much fuel, is good to drive, with among the best steering and handling combination on offer for cars of its type, with no penalty in the ride which is also excellent, is comfortable and there is a decent amount of space in it. It scores an easy victory over most of its US market rivals, like the Toyota Corolla (the outgoing one, anyway), the Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze for sure, and probably also over the Korean duo of Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte. Against the Mazda 3, it is less clear cut, and I might just favour the Japanese product, as it has strengths in the same areas as the Ford and a nicer interior, and I prefer the looks even of the outgoing car. But the real problem rival for this car is the Golf. Time was when you selected a Focus for driving pleasure but a Golf for ownership pleasure. Volkswagen has worked hard at steadily improving the Golf, and the differences in driving fun between it and the Focus are now very small indeed. The VW has the better engine, whereas the Ford is still – just – the better steer. But there really is not much in it. But….. factor in the much nicer interior of the VW, even in entry level trim as was the one that I sampled, and it is a clear win for the Golf. It may cost more to buy, but I would say – as indeed vast numbers prove by doing so every year – that it is still the definitive family-sized hatch. Even – or may be especially – in America. And the Focus? A good car still, though not one you will see for much longer in the rental fleets, as the new fourth generation model will not be sold in Ford’s new Crossover-only American world.


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