Ford Focus Review
Introduced near the start of the new millennium, 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, and as such the latest Focus 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 is a compact car that offers confident handling, a quiet and attractive interior, and lots of high-tech options. There are four main trim levels: S, SE, SEL and Titanium, as well as an electric version. The high-performance Focus ST and Focus RS are reviewed separately.
The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. It's respectably fuel-efficient, but a turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine making 123 hp is available as an option, and it ups the fuel economy to an EPA estimated 34 mpg combined. You can get this engine with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic.
If you don't want to use any gas at all, there's the Focus Electric, which is strictly battery-powered. Propelled by a 107-kilowatt (143-hp) electric drive motor and powered by a 23-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Focus Electric has an estimated range of about 76 miles between charges. It can be recharged in four hours from a 240-volt power source. Owners can also keep tabs on their electric Focus' charging state via smartphone integration.
The base Focus S comes decently equipped with features such as air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and a sound system with a CD player and two USB ports. Moving up through the trims gets you luxuries such as Ford's Sync voice-activated phone and audio interface, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone climate control, a sunroof, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera. There's also an 8-inch infotainment screen that uses Ford's Sync 3 system. Major options include a navigation system, blind-spot monitoring and other driver safety features, 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 when you're driving around turns, and the steering is communicative and fairly quick. The ride strikes a great balance between comfort and performance. On the downside, both of the Focus' available engines are disappointing. Acceleration is lackluster, and we've found it difficult to match the fuel economy estimates of the 1.0-liter in real-world driving. Rear-seat room for adults is tight.
Used Ford Focus Models
A complete redesign of the Focus took place for 2012. Compared to older Focus models, this generation is superior in cabin quality, overall performance and the availability of high-end features. This generation was refreshed in 2015 with an updated look, improved interior materials, new seats, and improvements to the automatic transmission to address reliability and drivability issues. The 1.0-liter engine was also added to the Focus, though it was only available with a six-speed manual transmission in its first year. Used Focus shoppers might also want to pay attention to the car's optional touchscreen interface known as MyFord Touch. We often found it glitchy and frustrating to use. The Sync 3 system that replaced it in 2016 is preferable.
The second-generation Focus was produced from 2008 to 2011. 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-four making 140 hp (130 hp in California-emissions states) hooked up to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. Originally, the trim levels included the base S, midgrade SE and sporty SES for both body styles. Ford's Sync system, which allowed voice control over cellphones and the audio system, was available and unusual for the economy car segment.
In 2009, 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. The Focus offered solid and reliable transportation with a few notable perks such as 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 at 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 to 2004, the trim levels were typically the 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-four 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. Coveted by young enthusiasts, the SVT Focus was offered as a hatchback from 2002 to 2004. 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 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 136 hp or a 2.3-liter four-cylinder 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.
Although increasingly rare on the used market, the first-generation Focus was generally well-regarded by our editors at the time.
Read the most recent 2018 Ford Focus review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Ford Focus page.
For more on past Ford Focus models, view our Ford Focus history page.