Ford's Focus is best known as a family hatch, but if you need a little added practicality, look at the estate version before you get drawn into the SUV marketing spiel. Jonathan Crouch reports on the improved version.
Such is the pull of small SUVs that the estate car seems to have had its last rites read time and again, yet still they struggle on. The reason why they refuse to die? They're a good idea. What's more, if people were honest about why they really needed a vehicle, an estate car would make more practical sense. They carry just as much as many SUVs, yet they're better to drive, they're lighter and more aerodynamic which means better efficiency - and they're usually cheaper to buy too.
Ford's brought us some brilliant estates down the years but as much as customers have warmed to the Focus hatch, the five-door estate has never occupied a huge slice of the overall Focus sales pie chart. Perhaps this improved version of the MK4 design can formulate a more convincing argument.
This fourth generation Focus estate, like its predecessors, has a reputation as a family station wagon with the ability to entertain at the wheel - and if you enjoy your driving, that's something you'll appreciate pretty early on the first time you try one. Over twenty years ago, the original version of this model achieved much the same thing by standardising advanced multi-link rear suspension across its model line-up. Today, you get that too - in contrast to the hatch body shape which restricts this more advanced damping set-up to its most powerful variants.
The engine range was significantly updated as recently as 2020 with Ford's latest Mild Hybrid technology and of course that's carried forward, with electrified MHEV 125 and 155PS versions of Ford's 1.0-litre three cylinder EcoBoost petrol unit. You can now though, get this 48-volt powerplant with the option of a 7-speed Powershift auto gearbox. For entry-level customers, this three cylinder EcoBoost engine also continues to be offered in non-electrified 125PS form. Higher mileage drivers will be pleased to see that the 1.5-litre 120PS EcoBlue diesel engine's been retained in the range - though only with 8-speed auto transmission. At the top of the line-up, the ST performance model continues on with the 280PS 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol unit.
As before, the ride isn't overly firm, but body control through the bends is still exemplary, allowing you at the wheel to make the most of the stiff C2 platform, the feelsome power steering and the torque vectoring control system that helps you get the power down through the bends. It all combines to create a car that really can still reward at the wheel, even in its most affordable forms: there's still nothing else in this segment that feels quite the same. Yet it still does the sensible stuff well too, being decently refined, with confident braking and a lovely tactile gearshift.
Design and Build
The styling has usefully evolved but still looks a touch conservative in this station wagon guise. Versions of this improved Focus are marked out by smarter LED headlamps with built-in foglights. plus the brand badge has been moved from the bonnet to the front grille. And the darker rear tail lamps have a smarter 'loop light' illuminating signature.
Bigger changes are reserved for the cabin, which with most versions now features a larger 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' central touchscreen. In a controversial move, Ford has decided that this monitor should now incorporate the ventilation controls, giving the dashboard a cleaner, less cluttered look. We're not sure that this is actually a step forward but the infotainment system's ability to now accept over-the-air updates certainly is; as a result, you'll get into your Focus Estate one morning and find it able to do something it couldn't do the day before - which is rather cool. As before, rear seat space isn't exemplary, but there's decent room for a couple of adults.
Since this is an estate though, our emphasis needs to be on the luggage bay, which really is a lot bigger than it is in the hatch. A typically-specified estate model fitted with a mini-spare offers up to 575-litres of capacity - or as much as 728-litres if you load to the roof.
If you need more room and want to push forward the 60:40-split rear bench, then up to 1,653-litres of space is on offer, thanks to the 175mm of extra loading length and extra 43mm of roof height that was incorporated from the beginning into this fourth generation model, an increase apparently calculated so as to enable owners to comfortably accommodate a dog crate. Go for this station wagon variant and auto-folding 'Easy Fold' rear seat backs come as standard, plus you can have a gesture-controlled powered tailgate if you're prepared to pay extra for it. Ford has also enhanced the cargo area for greater practicality, responding to customer feedback. The luggage space is now trimmed with a high-quality cropped carpet which not only delivers a premium feel but uses short fibres that make it easier to clean. An additional side load net is ideal for storing smaller items that could otherwise move freely around the loadspace while travelling, and twin LED lights provide clearer illumination in low-light conditions.
The adjustable load-floor now has a central hinge, allowing it to be folded to create a vertical divider that locks into place at a 90-degree angle, creating two separate spaces to keep items more securely in place. The load area also now features a wet zone, with a load-floor liner inserted into the space to provide water resistance against items such as wet suits and umbrellas. The water-resistant lining can be removed from the space for easy draining or cleaning, and the area can be enclosed from the rest of the boot with floor folded down, or separated with the vertical divider to create wet and dry zones.
Market and Model
This estate body style attracts a premium of £1,200 over the equivalent hatch. The Focus Estate range kicks off with the base 'Trend' variant priced at around £23,500, before progressing through 'Titanium' and 'ST-Line' variants, both of which are also available in plusher 'Vignale' forms. An SUV-style 'Active' version (also with a 'Vignale' variant) and an 'ST' performance variant are also available. Equipment levels reflect the fact that most customers will be paying upwards of £25,000 for this once very affordable compact family estate. Even the base Focus 'Trend' comes as standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, full-LED headlamps, navigation, drive modes and air conditioning. Avoid base trim and you get Ford's latest 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' touchscreen incorporating navigation, 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, a DAB digital radio with Bluetooth and Emergency Assist. Plus there's an electronic parking brake, autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, Hill Start Assist and a Lane-Keeping Aid.
For sporty drivers, the 'ST-Line' variant offers unique body styling, including unique upper and lower grille, rear spoiler and polished twin tailpipes. Inside there's a flat-bottomed steering wheel, black headlining, an aluminium gear knob, alloy finish pedals and red stitching. If you prioritise luxury and you've a healthy budget, you'll want to consider the optional premium 'Vignale' pack, now available on more models and offering five new alloy wheel designs.
New safety systems added across the range include 'Blind Spot assist', 'Intersection assist' and 'Local Hazard Information' (which can warn drivers of hazardous situations on the road ahead). Plus there's 'Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go', 'Speed Sign Recognition' and 'Lane Centring' (which helps to ease the strain of driving in stop-start traffic). 'Pre-Collision Assist with Active Braking' helps drivers avoid or mitigate the effects of collisions with vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, while 'Active Park Assist' operates gear selection, acceleration and braking to enable fully automated parking manoeuvres simply by holding down a button.
Cost of Ownership
Let's get to the figures, which we'll quote using WLTP measurement for fuel and WLTP measurement for CO2. Bear in mind with all the engines that if you choose the optional 8-speed auto gearbox, you'll hit your efficiency readings by around 10% - which isn't the case if you go for a Volkswagen Group model with DSG auto transmission.
The latest version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit that most choose gets increased injection pressure to facilitate efficiency. In mHEV mild hybrid form, this unit gets a lower compression ratio and a larger turbo. And the mHEV version has been embellished by a beefed-up starter/generator driven by a belt at the front of the engine that stores the energy harvested when you brake or decelerate in a tiny 48-volt lithium-ion battery secreted at the back of the car.
That 1.0 EcoBoost petrol unit comes in two forms with 125PS (standard as a manual and mHEV as a PowerShift auto), both of which return up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle with a CO2 reading of 121g/km. For the 155PS manual version of this 1.0-litre mHEV engine, the figures are up to 54.3mpg and up to 116g/km of CO2 (it's 53.3mpg and up to 119g/km of CO2 for the auto version).
What about the diesel? Well, for the 1.5 EcoBlue unit with 120PS and auto transmission (the only spec on offer), you're looking at up to 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and up to 120g/km of CO2. For completion, we'll also give you the figures for the ST 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol variant - up to 35.3mpg and up to 183g/km (35.8mpg and 182g/km for the auto).
The Focus Estate has always seemed a bit of an afterthought from Ford. It was neither big enough or buoyed by serious promotion and that hasn't and won't change, for the short term at least. What does seem to be changing, slowly but surely, is customer perceptions of estate cars in general. Maybe it's a backlash against suburban SUVs that once smacked of active lifestyles but now just scream shopping and school run. The estate car is quietly staging a revival.
If you're looking for an estate car of this size, the fact remains that the Focus is now one of the very best. It's not the biggest and nor is it the cheapest, but as an all-rounder it takes some beating. The smaller petrol engines are well worth a trip and in the shape of the sporty ST-Line variant, Ford offers a real Q-car station wagon to family buyers. A Focused estate - you might say.