Once the sport-tuned Focus ST and the performance-oriented Focus RS showed up, nobody wanted to review the standard Ford Focus anymore. Y’know. The version that everybody buys. The most common variants in hatchback and sedan body styles and equipped with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and the “automatic” transmission.
Instead, good times were to be had in the ST and RS, manually shifting gears, burning rubber, and ripping around corners. Indeed, both of these versions of the Focus are terrific fun. But they account for a sliver of total Focus sales.
And that’s how this Outrageous Green 2018 Ford Focus Titanium sedan wound up in my driveway, embarrassing my fourth-grader with each trip through the school drop-off line. (For the record, my first-grader loved this color.)
As luck would have it, Ford announced the death of most versions of the Focus during the same week I was driving the car. Evidently, starting with the 2020 model year, it shall survive only as a 5-door hatch dressed up like a crossover. Think Kia Niro or Toyota C-HR.
Nevertheless, this review of the dead-man-walking Focus plugs a gap in our archive. And if you’re shopping for a used Focus several years after this is published, you’re welcome.
Ford should have called this color Radioactive Green, because that will describe its resale value if you select it. With that said, the 2018 Focus is a handsome if somewhat dated little thing, especially in Titanium trim. The 17-inch multi-spoke aluminum wheels look good, too, though they aren’t much fun to clean.
My test car was fully loaded, sliding out of the factory wearing a sticker reading $27,525. That paint ran $395 extra (injury, here is some insult), and this Focus came with the Titanium Technology package ($795), a Sony premium sound system with navigation ($795), and, drum roll please, an Active Park Assist system ($395). Yeah, autonomous steering for parallel parking maneuvers. On a Focus.
Leather seats are standard with Titanium trim. They’re heated up front, just like the leather-wrapped steering wheel. They decorate a cabin composed of a mixture of high- and low-quality materials. Dating to 2012, the interior is visually interesting with an unusual approach to stereo controls, but it has held up well and remains modern in appearance.
The least appealing thing about the Focus’s interior is its inconsistency. For every example of quality or thoughtfulness there is another one underscoring cheap shortcuts and a lack of refinement. When your competitive segment includes the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, you need to do better.
Or, as Ford is choosing, just stop competing.
In spite of a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, I just couldn’t get comfortable in this car. More seat track travel or adjustable pedals would have helped. Improved armrest padding, and perhaps an adjustable center console, would’ve helped, too.
At least the front seats are more agreeable than the back seats. The Focus was undersized when the most recent redesign arrived for the 2012 model year, and now it just feels like a torture chamber. Even the green-loving 7-year-old complained.
With the front seat adjusted for, umm, driving, when I sat behind myself my knees and shins were in full contact with the front seatback. Graciously, Ford appears to anticipate this situation, and they are fully and densely padded to provide more comfort. It also helps that the tall bottom cushion provides decent thigh support.
Ford takes a different approach to the Focus’s control layout, and for the most part the stylish dashboard doesn’t sacrifice functionality.
In particular, I love Ford’s execution on stereo controls. They’re compact, simple, intuitive, and genuinely stylish, a design that other car companies ought to emulate.
The exceptions, in my opinion, relate to the instrumentation, which is compartmentalized in a busy manner, and some of the steering wheel control markings, which are too small.
Equipped with 13.2 cu.-ft. of cargo space, the Focus Sedan is average for its segment. If you plan to carry lots more stuff, consider the Focus Hatchback, which starts off with 23.3 cu.-ft. that can expand to 43.9 cu.-ft.
Either way, don’t plan on bringing a bunch of junk from your trunk into the passenger compartment. Storage space is stingy all around, and while you can stash your smartphone on a handy tray near the USB port, it will interfere with shifting into ‘Park’ if you do so.
As tested, my Focus included Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch capacitive-touch display providing operation similar to a smartphone.
It included Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, voice-assistant integration, two smart-charging USB ports, and a 5-year subscription to various connected services that are accessible through a MyFord mobile app with FordPass. Optional upgrades included a navigation system and a 10-speaker Sony premium sound system.
Believe it or not, this list of features is merely competitive for a mainstream, top-trim, compact car. They are this technologically sophisticated. And this is reflective of the fact that Ford has kept the Focus technically up to date even if the underlying design and mechanical engineering is going bald and gray.
Aside from the fact that the touchscreen is deeply recessed into the dashboard, which makes it harder to use, I had no complaints about my test vehicle’s Sync 3 system. Intuitive to use and quick to respond to input, and featuring both impressive graphics and a voice recognition system that actually works, Sync 3 banishes all misdeeds from Ford’s early forays into infotainment user experience.
Furthermore, the Sony audio system filled the Focus with surprising depth and richness of sound. Oh, and while I didn’t use the Active Park Assist (because I don’t find this system helpful), if you’re terrible at parallel parking and you’re forced to do it on a regular basis, that upgrade might really come in handy.
While the available Sync 3 infotainment system is competitive, the Focus’s driver assistance and collision avoidance technology offerings show weakness.
You cannot, at any price, obtain forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, or lane-keeping assist systems. And if you want blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a lane departure warning system, and automatic high-beam headlights, you need to get the Titanium trim, add the Titanium Technology option package, and pay almost as much for your Focus as my test car cost.
The lack of availability of safety technology is concerning because the Focus does not earn as favorable crash-test ratings from the federal government and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as its competition does. The feds assign the Focus 4-star rather than 5-star protection for the front-seat passenger, while the IIHS deems driver protection in the small overlap frontal-impact test to be “Acceptable” rather than “Good.”
Since the redesigned 2012 Focus debuted, its optional “PowerShift” 6-speed automated manual gearbox has caused problems. Take one look at its reliability ratings since that time, and you’ll see what I mean.
In any case, Ford has been honing PowerShift for years, and now it works…well, let’s just say it works.
Even in a brand-new test vehicle with fewer than 3,000 miles on it, the thing shuddered when selecting “Drive.” Underway, it regularly failed to respond and perform as expected. And when placed in “Sport” mode, it just wound up holding gears for too long, the engine droning in agony. It really could have used some paddle shifters or a manual shift gate in order to exploit the car’s potential, but instead Ford gives you a silly little rocker switch on the side of the transmission lever.
Making 159 horsepower, the standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is a decent little motor when you’re rowing your own gears and pushing a clutch, but when paired with PowerShift it sounds labored and feels underwhelming. There is nothing joyful in its responsiveness, its note, or its performance. Basically, any one of the other powertrains offered for the Focus, from the 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine to the electric drivetrain, is likely to be more satisfying.
My test car’s powertrain’s sole redeeming quality was that it exceeded the EPA’s 28 mpg rating in combined driving. On my test loop, it returned 28.7 mpg. While this reflects well terms of expectations set by the official rating, the Focus still isn’t among the more efficient vehicles in its segment.
Fortunately, people who enjoy driving will find solace in this car’s ride and handling. The Focus is nimble and enjoyable to drive, the only downsides were a firm and choppy ride quality with my Titanium test car’s 215/50R17 tires and some excess wind noise from around the side windows at highway speeds.
During a rapid descent on a mountain road, the brakes withstood significant abuse, hinting at fade yet still executing a panic stop with a minimum of drama. In other driving situations, pedal feel is excellent and the brakes respond with authority.
Electrically assisted steering doesn’t have the same level of weight and speed as what Ford installs in the sporty ST and racy RS, but from the size and shape of its steering wheel to its “pull-drift compensation” system that accounts for roads with steep crowns, it is among the best of its competitive set. It even communicates road texture (or is that powertrain vibration?).
Things sometimes get better with age. The Ford Focus is not one of them. Within its competitive set, there are alternatives with superior powertrains, more interior room, better crash-test ratings, added safety technology, and higher fuel efficiency.
Nevertheless, if you want to get a small car made by an American car company, your choices are limited to this and the Chevrolet Cruze. I’m no fan of the Cruze, either, but if I had to pick one and couldn’t find a Focus hatch with a stick sitting on a dealer lot somewhere, I’d get the Chevy.
As it turns out, there is a reason everyone has been reviewing the Focus ST and RS. They’re terrific. The version of the car most people buy, though, is not.
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