Ford Focus (2011-2018) Expert Review
As one of the UK’s best-selling cars, the Ford Focus is the default choice of family hatchback for many buyers. It’s a great car to drive, with a balance of ride and handling that makes it fun without being uncomfortable, and there are models to suit every need, from frugal estates to the high performance ST and RS.
- Five-door hatchback
- Five-door estate
2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
The third generation of Ford Focus, which was sold between 2011 and 2018 (it received a major update in 2014), can make for a great used buy. Prices are competitive, running costs are low, and there’s a broad range of models that spans a wide price range.
The line-up includes everything from the base Studio and Edge through to the lavishly equipped Titanium X. However, for many people it'll be the mid-range Zetec that represents the sweet spot, including as it does alloy wheels, a DAB radio, and a (very useful) heated windscreen among its list of standard features.
Those wanting a faster Focus are well catered for, too, with Ford producing both ST and RS versions of the Mk3. The former is available in hatchback or estate guise, with power coming from ether a petrol or a diesel engine. The RS meanwhile arrived on the scene in 2016 and is a hooligan of a car, complete with a 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine, four-wheel-drive, and even a ‘drift mode’ as part of its stability control system. It might not be particularly discreet, but the RS is certainly a lot of fun.
Not that opting for a more ordinary version of the Focus means settling for bland driving dynamics. Quite the opposite, in fact, because the Focus is an unusually satisfying car to drive. Its steering is sharp and precise, most of the engines are responsive, and the ride strikes a fantastic balance between being comfortable and controlled. With prices starting from less than £2,000, the Focus is also good value. In fact, all things considered, a third-generation Focus has to be one of the best used car buys on the market today.
Three Things To Know
- Ford embraced downsizing for this third generation of Focus by introducing its highly acclaimed 1.0-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol engine. Although it might sound weedy on paper, the Ecoboost has a turbocharger to help it deliver anywhere between 100 and 140 horsepower.
- After a fairly plain looking second-generation Focus, the Mk3 returned with a much more striking exterior design. Post-facelift cars, with their bold grille and more aggressively styled headlights, really do stand out from the crowd. However, while interior space for passengers is fine, the Focus doesn’t offer as much room in the boot as most of its rivals.
- The Focus has always been a standout driver’s car, and this model is no exception. Expect direct steering, well-weighted controls and a ride that combines comfort with good body control.
Which One to Buy
- If you're on a budget: The 1.6 Zetec uses a naturally aspirated petrol engine rather than the turbocharged Ecoboost unit. As such it lacks a little in the way of mid-range flexibility, but if you don’t mind that it’s one of the most affordable ways into Focus ownership.
- If you want a pre-facelift diesel: 2.0 TDCi Titanium. For strong performance and frugal running costs a diesel Focus can make a lot of sense. Ford’s 2.0 TDCi engine might not be as quiet as its petrol stablemates, but with an easy 45mpg or more it is a good option for covering big distances.
- If you can stretch to a post-facelift diesel: The 1.5 TDCi has the potential to do 55mpg or more, and is available with either 105 or 120 horsepower.
- If you want an automatic: 1.0 Ecoboost 125 Titanium Powershift. Those looking to buy a petrol Focus with an automatic gearbox should aim for a car from 2015 onwards, when reliability gremlins were addressed (see below for more details).
- For thrills: Even a Zetec S can make for a fun driver’s car, but for real thrill-seekers a Focus ST or RS is hard to beat. Expect the kind of storming performance that’ll help to make up for the somewhat higher running costs.
- For the best all-rounder: 1.0 Ecoboost 100 Zetec. Smooth, quick enough, frugal and affordable – this is, in so many ways, the perfect Ford Focus. Hard to beat for all-round appeal.
As tends to be the case with Fords, broadly speaking the Focus has very low running costs. Parts are plentiful and competitively priced, insurance is affordable, and you won’t necessarily need a Ford specialist to work on the car. That said, if you do want to keep your car maintained within the Ford dealer network it’s worth knowing that there are discounted rates for older models such as this. Ford’s recommended service interval for the Focus is annually or every 12,500 miles, whichever comes sooner. Expect to pay in the region of £149 from a Ford main dealer if the car is over three years old.
In terms of fuel economy, petrol models generally return in the region of 36-42mpg in normal driving, while for diesels you should expect to see around 45-55mpg. The faster ST and RS are specialist performance cars with fuel economy (and replacement tyre bills) to match.
As with any car, you should check the service history to ensure your potential purchase has been correctly maintained, as well as looking for evidence that the timing belt has been changed according to Ford’s schedule of 8 years or 100,000 miles. If not, factor in an additional £500 to your budget to pay for a replacement.
Early versions of Ford’s Powershift dual-clutch automatic gearbox have been known to wear, at which point the car can judder when pulling away or coming to a stop. Although not universal, it became enough of a problem for Ford to discontinue this particular gearbox for the Focus in 2015. It was replaced with a newer design. As such. if you’re after a Focus automatic it’s worth searching out a newer model.
As far as engines go, there was a known fault with one of the hoses used for the coolant system in 1.0-litre Ecoboost models built before 2013. In extreme cases these faulty ‘Degas’ hoses could lead to problems that ended up wrecking the engine, so it pays to be proactive and ask to see evidence that the remedial work has been done. An upgraded coolant hose was fitted from 2013 onwards.
As with many modern diesels, the Focus is equipped with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) that needs to be periodically cleared by means of a regeneration process. If this process is interrupted by switching off the engine it can lead to reliability issues in the longer term. It is for this reason that DPF-quipped diesel cars are not best suited to those who do lots of short journeys that don’t give the systems time to complete the regeneration process.
The CarGurus Verdict
With any car that sells in extremely high volumes, it is almost inevitable that some customers will experience problems somewhere down the line. So it has transpired to some extent with the third-generation Ford Focus, particularly in regard to earlier iterations of the Powershift gearbox.
However, allowing for this and the coolant hose issue on earlier 1.0-litre models, a properly maintained Focus should be a perfectly dependable car, not to mention one that’s well-liked by owners. Combined with there being a plentiful supply across a wide range of budgets, it’s easy to see why it is such a dominant force in the used car market.