2018 Ford Focus Review
Christian Wardlaw | May 21, 2018
IntroductionFord has announced that it is going to stop selling 4-door sedans in America. That means that the Fiesta, Fusion, and the Taurus will be dropped from the automaker’s lineup within a few years, if not sooner. The Focus will return for 2020, however, as a redesigned car in 5-door hatchback or wagon configuration. It will be wearing a crossover SUV costume.
Frankly, this is a wise move. The traditional car market is shrinking. People want more versatile and rugged vehicles that can handle whatever life happens to bring their way. Trunks represent a lifestyle limitation, and are increasingly shunned by Americans.
Today, the Focus lineup is diverse. You can get a sedan or a hatchback. The latter body style is further available with an electric drivetrain, in sport-tuned ST trim, and in performance-oriented RS trim equipped with 350 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
In advance of its upcoming redesign, we elected to take a closer look at the soon-to-be-retired version of the Focus, which was last redesigned for the 2012 model year. The sedan test car came in Titanium trim and was equipped with extra-cost paint, a Titanium Technology package, active park assist, navigation system, and a premium sound system. The price came to $27,525, including the $875 destination charge.
What Owners SayBefore we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2018 Ford Focus, it’s helpful to understand who buys this compact car, and what they like most and least about it. Keep in mind, however, that J.D. Power data for the Focus includes feedback from buyers of all versions of the car, including the sporty ST, performance-tuned RS, as well as the electric version.
With that caveat in mind, the data shows that 72% of Focus buyers are men, marking a big difference compared to the Compact Car segment overall, in which 57% are men. Focus buyers also enjoy a higher median annual household income than the segment average ($84,783 vs. $74,387). In terms of median age, Focus buyers are aligned with the segment (48 years of age vs. 49).
Compared with the Compact Car segment, Focus buyers more often identify themselves as performance buyers (21% vs. 11%), are more likely to agree that friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (69% vs. 56%), and are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (94% vs. 86%).
Focus buyers also demonstrate a stronger preference to buy a car from a domestic company (80% vs. 42%). They like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (77% vs. 67%), and are less inclined to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (38% vs. 49%).
Fuel economy, environmental friendliness, reliability, high maintenance costs, and safety, according to the J.D. Power data, are not of as significant a concern to Focus buyers as they are to Compact Car owners in general.
Buyers say their favorite things about the Focus are (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, interior design, driving dynamics, and visibility and safety. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Focus are (in descending order) the seats, infotainment system, climate system, storage and space, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2018 Ford Focus performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
ExteriorIn Titanium trim, the 2018 Focus looks upscale. Tasteful chrome trim, 17-in. multi-spoke aluminum wheels, and a variety of mostly appealing colors gives the car a grown-up look. The design, much the same as it was in 2012, has aged well.
InteriorLikewise, the interior has grown old with grace. The design and layout are unusual, the waterfall-style center control panel and deeply recessed infotainment system display reflecting the car’s advancing age.
Materials are a mixed bag, blending high-quality components and surfaces in some areas of the cabin with obviously inexpensive approaches in others. This, however, is not unusual in the compact car segment, especially when evaluating a top trim level.
SeatsWrapped in leather, heated, and offering 8-way power adjustment, the test car’s driver’s seat promised comfort. Despite this, and the tilt-and-telescoping heated steering wheel, I was unable to find a fully proper position for the task at hand.
Greater seat track travel likely would help, but then the cramped back seat would be absolutely inhospitable. I could fit, helped by softly padded front seatbacks that were friendly to knees and shins, but I wouldn’t want to ride back there for long.
Let me put it this way. Even my 7-year-old complained about rear-seat comfort. That’s not good.
Climate Control SystemDuring testing, springtime temperatures were unseasonably cool, the kind of weather that demands little from a climate control system. The dual-zone automatic setup is easy to adjust, though the markings on some secondary buttons are on the small side.
Infotainment SystemFord has kept this car’s infotainment system up-to-date. Equipped with the latest version of Sync 3, the test car supplied vibrant graphics, simple menu selections, reasonably quick response, swipe and scroll functionality, and a wide range of connected and remote features.
Among the numerous highlights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration were aboard, as well as FordPass services with a MyFord mobile app. Optional updates included a navigation system and a Sony premium audio system that produced rich, clear sound.
I particularly like the stereo controls located under the infotainment screen. A minimalist design consisting of a center volume knob surrounded by a dish-shaped 4-way tuning rocker switch, it looks great and works better.
Storage and SpaceExcept for fuel economy, Focus buyers rate storage and space as their least favorite thing about the Focus. There is good reason for this. Every storage spot is undersized, and while this is a small car, the lack of useful bins and trays becomes a regular source of irritation when living with the car on a daily basis.
The Focus sedan’s trunk measures 13.2 cu. ft., about average for the segment. Obviously, the 5-door hatchback supplies more utility.
Visibility and SafetyFalling mid-pack among Focus buyers in terms of favorable and unfavorable attributes, their attitude about the car’s visibility and safety is equivalent to a shoulder shrug. In other words, it’s OK.
With its reversing camera and blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, I didn’t find it hard to see out of the Focus. Also, the unusual active park-assist system, which autonomously steers the car into a parking space while the driver operates the transmission and pedals, almost makes outward visibility irrelevant in such situations.
But when it comes to safety, this car leaves something to be desired.
First, you cannot get forward-collision warning or automatic emergency braking systems for this car. It does offer lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam headlights, though.
Second, the Focus gets no better than an “Acceptable” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the difficult small overlap frontal-impact crash test. On the one hand, this is impressive considering that the car’s engineering is nearly a decade old. On the other hand, there are safer choices in the Compact Car segment.
Engine/TransmissionFocus S, SEL, and Titanium sedans have a standard 159-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine under the hood. (The popular Focus SE uses a turbocharged, 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine). A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard with S trim, while SEL and Titanium trims include a 6-speed automated manual transmission. (The Focus SE comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic.)
Confused? Well, don’t forget about the Focus hatchback lineup. It’s not offered with the turbocharged 3-cylinder, but the ST and RS introduce a pair of powerful, turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. Plus, there is a Focus Electric, an electric vehicle offering comparatively limited driving range.
In any case, collectively, this mess of powertrains ranks highly in the minds of Focus buyers.
Specifically, the popular 2.0-liter with its PowerShift transmission is unimpressive. The engine sounds like it would rather be doing anything but revving, and power is underwhelming. The transmission lacks refinement and frequently fails to respond or perform as expected.
Given that the J.D. Power buyer data appears to reflect a heavy concentration of ST and RS owners, the ranking of engine/transmission and their second favorite aspect of the car is understandable. Otherwise, I’d call it a mystery.
Fuel EconomyOn a positive note, the test car’s powertrain exceeded the official EPA fuel-economy estimate. This car is expected to return 28 mpg in combined driving. It averaged 28.7 mpg on the official test loop.
Driving DynamicsOriginally designed and engineered in Europe, the ride and handling characteristics common to vehicles from that continent are clearly evident in the Ford Focus. As such, some people might deem the ride quality to be unacceptably firm. If you live where roads are regularly ravaged by foul weather, keep this in mind.
However, there is no denying that a Focus Titanium sedan is an enjoyable car to drive. Accurate, properly weighted, and even a touch communicative, the steering is excellent, giving a driver confidence. The brakes are terrific, too, easy to modulate and resistant of fade under hard use.
This car needs nothing more than, say, the turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine from the larger Fusion, coupled with a decent transmission, in order to put a big smile on a driver’s face.
Final ImpressionsThe time has come for a complete redesign of the Ford Focus. And that’s happening, starting for the 2019 model year in Europe and China, and then for 2020 in the U.S. market.
If Ford can successfully pass the next-generation Focus off as a crossover, retain its promising driving dynamics while solving for the uninspiring drivetrain, and increase interior storage and space while improving comfort, it should be a hit.
But something tells me that Focus ST and Focus RS fans are going to be mighty disappointed if those models aren’t replaced, too.
Ford Motor Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Ford Focus review.
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