Introduced more than a decade ago, the Ford Focus was one of the first small cars from a domestic automaker that was truly competitive with traditionally more dominant models from Japan. An affordable price, sharp handling, expressive styling and availability in multiple body styles all contributed to making this one of Ford's most popular cars worldwide.
Since that time, Ford has gone on to introduce second and third generations of the Focus. Sadly, the second generation lost a lot of the mojo built up by the original, first-generation model and is hard to recommend as a used car. However, Ford has refocused its efforts for the latest Focus, and as such it stands as one of our top picks for a small hatchback or sedan.
Current Ford Focus
Available in sedan and four-door hatchback body styles, the Ford Focus boasts eye-catching styling and a sharply designed interior fitted with high-quality materials. There are three main trim levels: S, SE and Titanium, as well as an electric version. The high-performance Focus ST is reviewed separately.
The only engine available is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, the latter actually being a dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel economy is very good no matter what you pick, and with the available Super Fuel Economy package, the Focus earns a 33-mpg-combined estimate from the EPA.
If you don't want to use any gas at all, there's the Focus Electric, which is strictly battery-powered like Nissan's Leaf. Propelled by a 107-kilowatt (143-hp) electric drive motor and powered by a 23kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Focus Electric has an estimated range of about 76 miles between charges. It can be recharged in just 4 hours from a 240-volt power source. Owners can also keep tabs on their electric Focus' charging state via smartphone integration.
Even the base Focus S comes with air-conditioning, full power features, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. Moving up through the trims gets you luxuries such as Ford's Sync voice-activated phone/audio interface, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, keyless ignition and entry, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera. There's also MyFord Touch, which features a large center touchscreen that minimizes button clutter. Options include a navigation system and an automated parallel parking assist system.
In reviews, we've been impressed by the Focus' refined road manners. Handling is sharp, with little body lean in the corners, while the steering is communicative and fairly quick. The ride is firm but well controlled over bumps. The 2.0-liter engine deserves praise as well, as it provides above-average performance and fuel economy. Changing gears with the five-speed manual transmission adds to the fun, though a sixth gear would be appreciated on longer freeway jaunts. The automatic is the one fly in the Focus' driving ointment, as it upshifts too quickly and is reluctant to downshift unless the throttle pedal is mashed to the floor.
Inside, the Focus boasts excellent materials, supportive seats and a hushed environment. Relative to its competitors, though, the backseat is a little cramped and the electronics interface can be unintuitive. But all in all, the Focus is a well-rounded, well-built economy car that is easy to recommend.
Used Ford Focus Models
A complete redesign of the Focus took place for 2012, and this generation represents massive improvements in the areas of cabin quality, overall performance and high-end features availability. Apart from subsequent minor equipment and trim level shuffling, these Foci are similar to the current model. The Focus Electric debuted for 2012.
The second-generation Focus ran from 2008-'11. It was available in coupe and sedan body styles until the final year, when only the sedan was offered. More squared-off styling distinguished it from the first Focus. Motivation was provided by a 2.0-liter inline-4 making 140 hp (130 in California-emissions states) hooked up to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Originally, the trim levels included base S, midgrade SE and sporty SES for both body styles. Ford's Sync system, which allowed voice control over cell phones and the audio system, was available and unusual for the economy car segment.
The following year the coupe's front fenders lost their glitzy chrome trim, and the trim levels were shuffled. Coupes were available in SE and SES trims, while the sedan came in S, SE, SES and leather-lined SEL trims. Stability control became optional but then was made standard for 2010.
A used Focus from this generation makes for a value-packed choice, but most competitors were stronger vehicles overall. It offered solid and reliable transportation with a few notable perks like the available Sync system, but the cabin lacked the more upscale materials quality that segment front-runners had. And although it offered a reasonably pleasant driving experience along with excellent fuel economy, its handling wasn't as finely honed as that of some sportier rivals such as the Mazda 3.
When the Ford Focus debuted for 2000, it was available as a two-door hatchback (ZX3) or as a sedan (ZX4) or wagon (ZXW). The base engine was an anemic SOHC 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated for 110 hp, or a preferable DOHC 2.0-liter engine called the Zetec that was good for 130 hp. Transmission choices were a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. These earlier Focus models went through a variety of changes, many of which are important to pay attention to if you're looking for a used Focus. In particular, Ford continually tinkered with the car's trim levels and availability of standard and optional features. From 2000-'04, the trim levels were typically base LX, midgrade SE and high-line ZTS. Antilock brakes and front-seat side airbags were optional equipment, and stability control was offered for a few years starting in 2001.
For 2002, Ford added a four-door hatchback (the "ZX5"). Starting in '04, the Focus gained an available 2.3-liter inline-4 that offered 145 hp and cleaner emissions. A 170-hp four-cylinder engine and a six-speed transmission were featured in the short-lived and rare Focus SVT hatchback. Coveted by young enthusiasts, the SVT Focus was offered as a hatchback from 2002-'04. For 2005, the Focus got a more modest refresh that provided cosmetic changes on the outside, a revised control layout inside and an updated engine lineup that included either a 136-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 151 hp (sedan only). The trim levels were renamed S, SE and SES. The wagon and hatchback were dropped after the '07 model year.
Our editors were quite fond of the Ford Focus in its earlier years, and the car earned Editors' Most Wanted award designations from 2000-'03. Although we consider the first-generation model a good, inexpensive buy on the used market, the Focus' reliability record hasn't been ideal, particularly regarding the 2000 models.
Read the most recent 2014 Ford Focus review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Ford Focus page.