Ford Focus: The Only Guide You’ll Need
Over two decades ago, Ford introduced the Focus — a compact family car that emphasized fuel economy, affordability, and practicality. It's arrived at a watershed moment for the company, as it tried to modernize its lineup in the face of the new millennium.
On a basic level, the Focus was conceived as a replacement for the rapidly ageing Ford Escort, which was perceived as outdated and uncompetitive, and suffered steadily diminishing sales in the years leading up to its discontinuation.
The switch to a new model allowed Ford to revisit the drawing board, much like it did in 1980 when the Escort replaced the Pinto in North America. The Dearborn manufacturer ended up with a vehicle that offered exceptional handling, solid on-road performance, and anesthetic fit for the 21st-century.
Sadly, Ford stopped selling the Focus in the North American market in 2018, as part of its planned withdrawal from the sedan market. The Focus was also a victim of the US-China trade war. As the sporty Focus Active model was assembled in China, imports into the US market would be subject to a 25 percent tax, rendering it uncompetitive.
The Focus’ cancellation was inevitable, although that doesn't mean it was universally welcomed. It's hard to overstate the level of affection for the Ford Focus among enthusiasts.
Part of that phenomenon is down to nostalgia. For many people, the Focus was the first car they ever owned. Its solid fuel efficiency and low upfront cost made it an attractive proposition for first-time buyers. Just like you never forget your first love, you never forget your first car.
Additionally, the Focus proved rather capable as a racing vehicle, and Ford catered to performance-sensitive customers with the premium RS trim, which packed an all-wheel drivetrain and a powerful turbocharged engine.
Ford continues to sell the Focus in Europe, where there is significant demand for compact sedans. US customers, however, are forced to head to the used market to get their fix. Here's what you need to know about finding your perfect model.
Two decades of the Focus
In 1999, Ford started selling the focus in the North American market, following its European debut the previous year. Initially, Ford was mostly concerned about replicating the Escort’s status as a practical family car. Three body types were offered: a three-door hatchback, a four-door sedan, and a five-door station wagon.
When it came to configuration options, Ford offered a variety of engine choices. On the cheaper side, the base configuration used the same 2L CVH engine found in the Escort, which was starting to show its age. Premium models borrowed Mazda’s L-series engine, which Ford licensed and rebranded as the Duratec and shipped with a 2.3L displacement.
Save for a few region specific works, the European and North American Ford Focus shared a common design.
That changed in 2008 with the release of the second-generation Focus. Ford has created a fundamentally different car for the North American market. And yet, the same focus on practicality and affordability remained.
First, a little bit of context. The second-generation Ford Focus arrived at a punishing time for the car industry. The great recession had decimated car sales. Additionally, fuel prices were at the highest they've ever been since the 1970s.
The Focus was surprisingly well positioned given these adverse conditions. The redesign saw Ford emphasize fuel efficiency. It removed the 2.3L Duratec engine, replacing it with a smaller 2.0L version. Heavy body materials were replaced with lighter alternatives, like aluminum. The end result was a car that delivered exceptional fuel economies.
Ford also simplified the number of options available to consumers, offering just two body styles: a two-door coupe and a four-door sedan.
The second generation Focus lasted just three years on the market before it was replaced with a new model.
Ford suffered during the great recession, and was forced to seek a bail out from the US government in order to stave off insolvency. Its CEO at the time, Alan Mullaly, began an aggressive restructuring program designed to restore the company to health. This strategy, dubbed “One Ford,” sought to identify efficiencies and foster a culture of collaboration. With that in mind, it didn't make sense for Ford to sell two different cars under the same name.
And so, the third-generation Focus shared the same underpinnings as those sold elsewhere. Nonetheless, Ford wanted to make a dent in the premium side of the market, and took great pains to modernize the interior. It offered two different dashboard designs: a low and variance that shipped with the cheaper sedans, and a high-tech configuration that came with the hatchback variant.
Just two body configurations were offered: a four-door sedan, and a five-door hatchback. Fourth initially only offered one engine option, a 2.0L four-cylinder Duratec. Towards the end of its life, a 1.0L three cylinder eco-boost engine was offered, as well as a more powerful 2.3L four-cylinder GDI, which came with the performance-oriented Focus RS trim.
If the Ford Focus had one Achilles heel, it was reliability. The third generation was particularly fault prone, and subject to multiple recalls.
The main problem was Ford’s new PowerShift transmission, which used a dual-clutch mechanism. Owners complained about excessive vibration, problems shifting into gear, and a stutter-prone driving experience. Ford tried to solve the problem with software updates and even complete replacements, but was unsuccessful. After a class action lawsuit, the company agreed to a buyback of affected vehicles, with owners receiving up to $22,000.
Ford was also forced to recall Focus models sold between 2012 and 2018 over concerns an exhaust valve may fail, causing the car to stall and potentially damaging the plastic gas tank.
As a result, it's hard to identify a particularly fine vintage. Most year models of the third-generation Focus had their flaws. That said, you can avoid many of them if you opt for a model with a manual transmission, such as the high-performance Focus ST.
Reliability issues aside, there is a lot to like about the Ford Focus. It is a solid people pleaser, available in performance trims, and configurations that are well suited to everyday driving. And then there’s the hallmark of the Focus — exceptional fuel efficiency.
Convinced? Shift makes finding your next Ford Focus easy. Browse through our inventory from the comfort of your home, and pay online without having to step foot in a dealership. All cars are inspected by one of our trained mechanics for potential problems, and come with a seven-day returns guarantee. We also include a free 30-day warranty on our Certified inventory, for extra peace of mind.
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July 12, 2021
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