Are Ford Focus good cars? To answer this question, we’ll have to take a look at several aspects. We believe there are three important aspects: the driving experience, the safety, and the reliability. So, we’ll be taking a look at those. Of course, we’ll briefly touch on price and practicality as well.
We’ll take a look at all four generations of the Focus. And we’ll conclude whether or not they’re good cars, whether you should buy them or not, and if so, which generation you should go for.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars? 1st Generation Focus
Ford introduced the Focus in Europe in 1998, and then later in 1999 for the North American market. It was available as 3-door and 5-door hatchback, a 4-door sedan, and a 5-door wagon. There were four engine options, three of them were 2.0L four-cylinder engines and one 2.3L Duratec four-cylinder engine.
They’re all based on the same chassis, so regardless of which one you pick, they drive about the same way. The engine and transmission combo is what’s going to change the driving experience. Let’s take a closer look at how it drives:
Performance And Driving Experience
The first generation Focus is practical and fun to drive. As mentioned, the first-gen Focus came with four engine options. The standard 2.0L SPI (Split Port Injection) is the most common one, with the 2.0L Duratec standard in all Focus after 2005. However, you’ll want the Zetec engines as they’re the most fun to drive.
The standard Zetec-E makes 127 horsepower, and this engine is present on the ZX3, ZX5, ZTS, and SE sedans as well. Doesn’t sound like much, but the engine is still plenty of fun. But the darling of the car community is the ZX3 SVT. If you’re looking for the most fun version of the first-generation Focus, this is the one you need to look for.
The ZX3 SVT comes with a 2.0L Zetec-R engine making 167 horsepower. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s plenty for a car that weighs under 2,800lbs. The car has updated bushings, anti-roll bars, bigger brake rotors, and 17-inch wheels. Take a look:
Surprisingly, the SVT isn’t more expensive than the more mundane models of the first generation Focus. A quick look at the classifieds tells us that they cost around $3,000 – $7,000, with the SVT on the higher-end of the spectrum. But it’s not uncommon to see them under the $5,000-mark.
If you hate fun and don’t want the SVT model for whatever reason, older Focus models are good too. We recommend speaking the 4-speed automatic as old auto transmissions are not very good, and instead go for the manual versions.
How About Safety?
If safety is your top priority, you may want to look elsewhere. The first-generation Focus isn’t particularly terrible, but they’re hardly the safest car you can buy. The NHTSA gave the first generation Focus an overall 4 out of 5-star rating for their front-crash test. As for the side-crash test, the driver side only gets a 3 star while the rear passenger gets a 4-star.
This trend continues when you take a look at the IIHS’s tests. The front crash test gets a good mark overall. However, the Focus earns poor marks in the side crash test, and the head restraints get “Marginal” from the IIHS.
Part of the reason why it didn’t do well in side-impact tests is that side airbags were optional in the Focus. We believe models equipped with side airbags would be safer. You can learn how the first-generation Focus performs in more detail on the IIHS website.
Overall, it still has decent safety. But if you’re concerned, their somewhat unremarkable test results won’t give you peace of mind.
Are They Reliable?
The first generation Focus is probably the most reliable generation. Now, if you check the reliability ratings of any car, it will often change depending on who you ask. We often refer to RepairPal, which is a network of certified auto shops that also provides car reliability information for consumers.
RepairPal gave the 2000 Ford Focus a rating of 4 out of 5, which is above average. However, since the first-gen Focus is quite old, it’s bound to have problems. Here are some common problems in the first generation Focus you want to look out for:
- Ignition key problems. The ignition cylinder has tumblers inside it that move to fit the key. Over time, these tumblers can get jammed and won’t move when you insert the key. As a result, the key will get stuck in the ignition or you might not even be able to insert it in the first place. It’ll cost you around $200 to replace them including labor.
- Fuel pump issues. It’s quite common for the pump in the Focus to develop problems, which can result in engine misfires or even the engine cutting off completely. Learn more about fuel pump replacement here.
- Worn engine mounts. Engine mounts typically last around 5 – 10 years, so it’s not uncommon to see them fail in the first-generation Focus. You’ll notice more vibration, and often a thump from the engine bay when driving. Engine mounts for the Focus cost around $50, but with labor, it’ll add up to around $250.
You can learn more common problems in the first-generation Focus in the video above. Since the first-gen Focus is quite old, it’s normal for them to develop problems. But generally speaking, they’re very reliable with no major reliability issues.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars: Verdict On The 1st Generation Focus
Are the first-generation Focus good cars? Yes, they are. After all, they’re the generation that established the Focus name. Thanks to practicality, reliability, and fun driving dynamics, the Focus became a household name and a favorite for enthusiasts and family men alike.
We can recommend the first-gen Focus if you’re looking for a cheap used compact car. As mentioned, we recommend the SVT for the keen drivers among you. The other models are fine as well, but we recommend skipping the auto transmission as older automatics tend to be cumbersome.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars? 2nd Generation Focus
Ford updated the Focus in 2008. It was only available as either a 2-door coupe or a 4-door sedan, and the hatchbacks and wagon were discontinued for the North American market. Additionally, only one engine option was available: the 2.0L Duratec four-cylinder engine making 140 horsepower.
What didn’t change was the platform for the North American Focus. The second-generation American Focus still uses the C170 platform, the same as the first generation. Whereas the second-gen European Focus used the newer C1 platform, and we’re not going to lie, we like the European one better.
Why didn’t Ford use the new platform? It was simply cheaper and more cost-efficient for Ford. Here’s what the second-gen American Focus was like to drive:
Performance And Driving Experience
While it’s disappointing that they didn’t use the new chassis, it does mean the second-generation Focus still had all the driving dynamics of the first generation, which was quite good. It won’t be the most exciting car you’ll drive, but it was good enough. You’ll definitely want the 5-speed manual rather than the 4-speed auto if you’re a keen driver.
As mentioned, the second-gen Focus only came with a 2.0L Duratec engine. While the 140 horsepower is enough to get you going, the enthusiasts among you will be disappointed to know that there’s no performance version available for this generation of the Focus.
The ST-trim was still reserved for the European market, and there were no SVT versions available. Disappointing, but it seems that Ford’s focus – pun intended – with this Focus was to make it feel more refined and luxurious. If you’re a keen driver, you’ll want to look for one that has a 5-speed manual transmission.
If you get the sedan, it’s still going to be as practical as the first generation. As for fuel consumption, you’ll get about 24mpg city and 35mpg highway according to EPA estimates, and according to Car and Driver, this estimate is quite accurate.
How About Safety?
Despite sharing the same platform as the first-gen Focus, the second-gen Focus has better crash test ratings. It still gets an overall score of 4 out of 5 according to NHTSA, but it now gets a 5-star rating in the side crash test for the driver, and four for the rear passenger. Whereas the first-generation Focus only got 3 out of 5 in the side crash test.
Meanwhile, the second-gen Focus got a ‘Good’ rating for the front crash test and head restraints & seats test by the IIHS. This is much better than the first-gen Focus which only got a ‘Marginal’ rating for the head restraints & seats crash test. As for the side crash test, the IIHS gave it ‘Acceptable’, meaning it’s not exceptionally safe, but it’s good enough.
The side structure still seems to be the major weakness of the Focus, leading to poor side crash test results. However, if safety is your top priority, there’s no question that the second-generation Focus is much better than the first-generation.
Are They Reliable?
RepairPal gave the second-generation Focus a reliability rating of 4 out of 5, which puts it above average. At a glance, it seems quite okay, but this generation came out over a decade ago. So, it’s not surprising to see some problems appearing. Here are some common problems with the second generation Focus:
- Ignition key problems. Much like the first-gen Focus, the second-gen is still experiencing ignition key problems where it would get stuck in the cylinder. It’ll cost you about $90 to buy the ignition cylinder, but with labor, it’ll cost you somewhere around $200 to replace it.
- Excess and uneven tire wear. Many owners are reporting excessive and uneven tire wear in their Focus. One owner complained they’ve had to change their tires five times in just six years, and tires not lasting even 20,000 miles in some cases. While tires wear down at different rates, most tires should last about 45,000 miles.
- Door latch issues. The door in the Focus seems to have a mind of its own, and it either wants to stay open or refuses to open at all. There are multiple reports where the door refuses to open, and while rare, there are also reports of the door opening on its own while driving.
There are other problems as well including powertrain problems. However, these problems seem to be due to age rather than design flaws. The most widespread problem seems to be excessive tire wear, which as far as we can tell, is due to a bad suspension design.
Owners are saying that the suspension misaligns easily, and in some cases, they’ve had to replace components multiple times such as the shocks and wheel bearings. The worst part is that Ford isn’t acknowledging the issue and there seems to be no recall.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars: Verdict On The 2nd Generation Focus
Much like the first-gen Focus, there’s not much wrong with the second-gen car. It’s a decently equipped, practical, and quite fun compact car. When viewed purely from a driving dynamic perspective, there’s no denying that the second-generation Focus is a good car. If you’re interested, the second-generation Focus starts from around $3,000 in the secondhand market.
If you want a good specimen, you’re going to have to spend somewhere between $5,000 – $7,000. Both the coupe and sedan costs about the same and there’s no price disparity between the two models. But you may want to look for the top-of-the-line SES model. However, note that the excessive and uneven tire wear issue may become a nuisance and possibly wallet-draining if not downright dangerous.
This seems to be a widespread issue, and for us at least, is a deal-breaker since it’s not quite clear what exactly is the root cause of the problem. So, uh, when you consider the reliability issue, we guess it’s not a good car? Definitely not as good as the first-gen, that’s for sure.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars? 3rd Generation Focus
Ford decided to reunite the North American and European Focus in 2011, this is the first time since 2008 where they share the same platform and design, albeit with different engine options. Additionally, only the four-door sedan and hatchback were available in North America, with the wagon being reserved for the European market.
Regardless, we’re glad because we think the European version has always looked better. But we’re here to answer the question “are Ford Focus good cars?” So, is the third generation any good?
Performance And Driving Experience
Ford initially launched the third-gen Focus with just the 2.0L Duratec engine making 160 horsepower, paired with either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed auto transmission. If you like hot hatchbacks you’ll be glad to know that the Focus ST joined the lineup in 2012.
It comes equipped with a 2.0L EcoBoost engine making a healthy 252 horsepower and 270lb-ft of torque paired with a 6-speed manual transmission. There’s no auto option for the ST, and rightfully so, what even is the point of a hot hatch without a manual transmission?
There was also a 1.0L three-cylinder EcoBoost engine that joined the lineup in 2015. This makes less power at 123 horsepower, but slightly more economical than the Duratec engine especially for highway driving. On the other end of the scale, there’s the Focus RS which joined the lineup in 2016. This was the first time Ford brought the Focus RS stateside, but more on the RS later.
But are they any good to drive? The biggest noticeable upgrade is the interior. It’s no S-Class, but it feels far more refined and still feels relatively modern even today. Gone is the terrible Ford-Microsoft Sync voice command, and instead, there’s a 4-inch infotainment screen, although some models come with an 8-inch screen.
So, you’re going to enjoy being in it more than the previous generations. Both the 1.0L EcoBoost and 2.0L Duratec are decent, with plenty of power to get this compact car going. There really isn’t much wrong with the way the third-gen Focus drives.
However, some reviewers may criticize its steering feel. Nothing wrong with the handling, but the electronic power steering doesn’t give great feedback for drivers and will feel a bit numb for driving enthusiasts.
How About Safety?
The Focus continues its tradition of being a safe compact car. It’s not the safest car you’ll find on the market since it doesn’t have a perfect score on all the tests. But it still passes these tests with flying colors – well, most of it.
The third-generation Focus earns an overall rating of 4 out of 5 from the NHTSA. The Focus scores a perfect 5-star rating in the NHTSA’s side crash test, which historically has been the Focus’ weak point. While the other scores are a mixed bag, the Focus never scores lower than 4 out of 5.
Meanwhile, the Focus scores mostly ‘Good’ in tests by IIHS. With the only blemish being an ‘Acceptable’ score in what the IIHS calls “small overlap front: driver side crash test”. However, it scores ‘Good’ in other tests such as the moderate overlap front test, side test, and roof strength. You can learn more about the IIHS tests here.
The bottom line is that the third-generation Focus is excellent in terms of safety. It’s not perfect, but there are no worrying crash test results.
Are They Reliable?
Reliability is where it starts to fall apart for the third-generation Focus. While ratings seem solid, a deeper look at customer complaints – of which there are many – reveals that the third generation Focus has reliability problems:
- Transmission issues. Ford’s dual-clutch transmission (PowerShift) is jerky and often slips during shifts, making driving uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.
- Door latch failure. This is the same problem we’ve seen in the second-gen Focus, and it still appears in the third generation. There are cases of doors opening while driving.
- Infotainment system bugs. Ford’s MyFord Touch system often freezes and goes black entirely, amongst other bugs. This one is no surprise as we’ve seen this problem in Lincolns as well which shares the same system.
- Power steering problems. Ford’s electronically-assisted power steering (EPAS) is prone to failure, leaving owners without power steering.
Those are the most common reliability problems that plague the third-generation Focus. It’s probably one of the least reliable cars that you can buy in the secondhand market.
Ford cars have never had the best reliability, but the third-generation Focus’ reliability is awful even by Ford’s standards. If you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe the 3,409 complaints the Focus has received on NHTSA’s website.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars: Verdict On The 3rd Generation Focus
The third-generation Focus is a good car with a good interior, fun driving experience, and is still relatively practical. But the reliability problems mean that we can’t say that this is a good car – there are just too many problems and complaints that we can’t ignore.
If you’re still interested, consider looking for one with a manual transmission. This will at least save you the trouble that the PowerShift transmission will inevitably burden you. Oh, and despite the reliability issues, we can’t help but recommend the Ford Focus RS:
It’s fast, it’s handsome, and it’s an absolute peach to drive. The 2.3L EcoBoost engine makes a dizzying 350 horsepower and 350lb-ft of torque. You can learn more about the RS in our review article. Mind you, they cost up to $39,000, significantly more than the more mundane Focus that mostly costs under $10,000 in the secondhand market.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars? 4th Generation Focus
Unfortunately, 2018 marks the demise of the Focus in North America. The last unit rolled off the production line on May 4th, 2018, and Ford decided not to bring the fourth-generation Focus to the North American market. As you’d expect, this was mostly due to low demand.
Consumers are probably put off by the reliability problems in the last-gen Focus, lowering the demand for the Focus. Additionally, compact crossover SUVs have risen in popularity significantly, which eats the market of compact cars such as the Focus, especially the sedan version.
If you’re looking for a compact Ford, take a look at the EcoSport and Escape. Both are crossover SUVs, and that’s all Ford makes these days. If you’re looking for a compact hatchback, we recommend the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and the VW Golf.
Are Ford Focus Good Cars: Conclusion
So, are Ford Focus good cars? Again, this depends on what you consider a good car. We definitely like the first-generation Focus; it’s fun, practical, and reliable. It’s quite old and aging now, so it’s understandable if you don’t want one, but there’s no denying it’s a good car.
As for the second generation, we’re not big fans of it. It’s better in almost every aspect, but we’re not quite sure about the looks. And while it’s still relatively reliable, the tire wear issue is enough to put us off. It’s a good car, but there’s an asterisk.
Meanwhile, the third generation is technically a good car. Engine options are good, it’s decent to drive, and still quite practical. But the countless reliability problems mean that it’s not going to be a good car to own. We still think the Focus RS is a compelling package though. Hopefully, this has been a helpful guide to the Ford Focus.
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