Is there a more underrated car in Australia than the poor Ford Focus?
Sure, sedan sales of the trio are bundled in there, but that’s still an eye-opening discrepancy.
You can blame the concentrated (ha) two-model range, and you could probably blame a lack of marketing, but you can’t blame the quality of the product.
It’s not perfect, but the Ford Focus is a very good thing – even when it’s dressed up like a crossover, with tough bumpers and a taller ride, like the Active on test here.
Is there a more underrated car on sale in Australia than the poor Ford Focus? Probably not.
There’s only one price for the mainstream Focus in Australia, regardless of which model you choose.
Both the Focus ST-Line and Focus Active are priced at $30,990 before on-road costs.
That puts it in the same ballpark as the Hyundai i30 Elite ($30,200 before on-roads), or the Mazda 3 Evolve automatic with a 2.0-litre engine ($30,790 list). It also undercuts the entry-level Volkswagen Golf with an automatic ($31,950 list).
The performance Focus ST starts at $44,890 before on-roads, and the more generously-equipped Focus ST-3 starts at $47,990 before on-roads.
Regardless of where you look, the Focus represents killer value when you consider what you get.
The Focus comes generously equipped, regardless of whether you opt for the ST-Line or the Active.
Inside, it packs an 8.0-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation and smartphone mirroring, DAB+ digital radio, FordPass Connect app connectivity, and wireless phone charging.
It has a six-speaker sound system as standard, along with keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, and a reversing camera with parking sensors.
There’s an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated and power-folding exterior mirrors with puddle lighting, roof rails (on the Active, not ST-Line), and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The optional Driver Assistance Pack ($1250) adds adaptive cruise control with stop/go, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic assist.
The Panorama Pack ($2000) adds a panoramic sunroof, illuminated vanity mirrors and a sunglass holder. Prestige paint is a $650 option.
When the Ford Focus was tested by ANCAP in 2019, it received a rating of five stars.
That rating was based on an adult occupant protection score of 96 per cent, child occupant protection of 87 per cent, pedestrian protection of 72 per cent and safety assist of 72 per cent.
All 2021 Ford Focus models come standard with the following safety equipment:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Forward collision warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane departure warning
- Intelligent speed assistance with traffic sign recognition
- Anti-lock brakes
- Front, front-side and curtain airbags
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist are optional on the ST-Line and Active.
The Focus is very practical, but it’s not exactly going to set your pulse racing. It’s a Ford, then.
The fundamentals of the cabin are excellent. The driving position is lower than you might expect, given the Active’s raised ride height, and the chubby steering wheel extends out nicely to meet taller drivers.
Trimmed in cloth, the seats are every bit as supportive as you’d hope, and even have a stylised A (for Active) embossed below the headrests to remind you what you’re driving.
There’s acres of storage on the transmission tunnel, from the spacious underarm storage bin to a tray behind the cupholders, a space next to the wireless charging pad, and decent door pockets.
Special mention to the Ford engineer who insisted on having a Piccolo-sized mini cupholder between the main cupholders. It’s a super simple design that makes my morning coffee run far less likely to end in tears.
It’s all a bit austere, though, with a colour palette that’s more funeral dress code than exciting urban crossover. Flashes of silver trim are fleeting, and the strip in front of the passenger is dark, anodised blue.
The Focus isn’t alone – the Hyundai i30 is similarly demure inside – but it’s frustrating given all that’s required is a different-coloured piece of faux metal trim on the dash, and maybe the transmission tunnel.
Sitting atop the dashboard is an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s among the best in class. Sync 3 starts quickly and has a full feature set, including DAB+ radio and factory satellite navigation.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are wired, which is arguably better than the alternative given how buggy wireless systems can be, and owners have free access to the FordPass application which means they can remotely check fuel levels, lock the doors, and flash the lights.
The row of function buttons below the screen is welcome, as is the ease with which you can turn off the screen.
The driver is faced with simple analogue dials flanking a colour trip computer with data about your speed, fuel consumption, and gear position.
It’ll even show you a floating Eco Orb to try and smooth out your inputs, although it’s best avoided if you value your sanity.
It’s a mixed bag in the second row, which is similarly utilitarian to the first row.
Cupholders, a fold-down armrest, air vents, and USB ports are all notable omissions that undermine the Active’s credentials as transport for more than two.
It’s shame, because headroom is good even with the optional panoramic sunroof fitted, there’s more legroom than you might expect of a city-sized hatchback, and the rear bench is broader than what’s on offer in some rivals.
There are top tether points for all three rear seats, and the outboard pair have ISOFIX anchor points.
The rear seats fold, but there’s a pronounced hump when they do. Blame that on the fact the boot floor is low, freeing up an impressive 375L of space.
Folding them increases that to 1354L. Under the boot floor is a space saver spare tyre.
Standard in the Ford Focus Active is a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine producing 134kW of power and 240Nm.
It’s mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with no manual option.
Claimed fuel economy is 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle, and the Focus drinks 95 RON premium unleaded.
The first-generation Focus is widely credited with setting the blueprint for how Ford Europe vehicles handle, and its legacy lives on in the lively fourth-gen car.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect the Active to handle like the regular hatchback, given it’s dressed up like a heavier crossover and rides 38mm higher than the ST-Line.
A taller ride is better for tackling steep driveways and bluestone kerbs, but not for making a car handle.
The Active shrugs off those worries. It feels light on its feet, with quick responses from the steering and a keen throttle that responds sharply to light inputs.
The steering is classic Ford. It has a bit of weight to it, doesn’t need to be twirled far to get the nose into a corner, and has an aggressive, slightly rubbery quality to the way it self-centres.
You don’t need to be Popeye to park it though, and the raised ride combines with a clear reversing camera for good visibility in tight spaces. It’s a shame rear cross-traffic assist and blind-spot monitoring are optional, because the Focus Active is otherwise well equipped for life in the urban jungle.
There’s real sophistication to the way it rides. Both the Focus Active and ST-Line in Australia have a multi-link rear suspension which, on paper, should help them handle more sharply and ride with more refinement than hatches and crossovers with a torsion bar.
It’s not a magic carpet in the city, but it does an excellent job smoothing out most pimples and speed bumps at low speeds. It even does it quietly, with none of the crashing or thudding present in some rivals over sharper hits.
Up the speed and the Focus feels like a bigger car, with a quiet solidity at 100km/h befitting a more expensive car.
It’s great fun to punt along a twisty road, too, with a keen front end and balanced feeling through the middle of the corner that gives you confidence to lean hard on the thrummy little three-cylinder engine.
Ford’s three-pot engine punches harder than its diminutive cylinder count would suggest, with 24kW more power and just 10Nm less torque than an entry-level Volkswagen Golf from a very similar displacement.
The Focus pulls hard from just above idle, and responds with a good shove in the back if you lean hard on it once you’re up and running, aided by the eight-speed automatic’s tightly-packed ratios.
Like most three-cylinder engines, the motor in the Focus has a determined thrum when pushed hard that makes its presence felt, but doesn’t detract from the refinement. It’s smooth and characterful, which is something you can’t say of the naturally-aspirated engines in most low-end (and some high-end) hatches.
It is a bit touchy off the mark, though. The throttle is very sensitive, so even gentle inputs can make the Focus surge forward at low speeds in a way that takes some getting used to.
Flicking into Eco dials back the sensitivity, but you really shouldn’t need to change drive modes to make a car feel drivable.
Like the wider Ford range, the Focus is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Ford offers four years of capped-price servicing, with each of the first four services priced at $299.
It also includes access to the Ford Service Benefits program, which includes roadside assistance through complementary auto club membership, and yearly satellite navigation map updates.
The Focus Active is a very, very good hatchback.
It represents excellent value, drives with a grown-up European flair, and ticks the practicality box to boot.
There are flaws. The throttle is touchy, and its interior is unimaginative at best. The former can be dealt with, while the latter doesn’t sting so much given the cabin is still fully-featured.
It’s a crying shame Ford hasn’t made more of an effort marketing the Focus and Focus Active. The Puma and Escape get plenty of love, and the Ranger remains a darling, but the little hatchback seems destined to remain an also-ran.
It doesn’t deserve that fate.
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