The 2018 Ford Focus is one of the great compact cars. Or, at least, has been. The range spans from zero emissions (the 2018 Focus Electric is reviewed separately) to high performance. Each model comes with decent equipment for the price, along with a driving experience that’s rare in any class. There aren’t many cars that are comfortable city runabouts, yet also reward the driver who approaches a curvy country road with gusto.
Some variants come as a hatchback only, others are also available as a sedan. In each cabin is a pleasing design with quality materials. Some active safety features that were once exclusive to premium cars are coming into mainstream vehicles, and the Focus is a fine example.
The current generation is now in its ninth year, with an all-new version expected to launch for the 2019 model year. It’s still one of the better choices in this class, illustrating just how good the Focus is.
What’s New for 2018?
The RS, the hottest Focus, is being discontinued. A limited run with more standard equipment is its parting shot. Only 1,000 units are earmarked for the United States. The rest of the range carries on unchanged.
What We Like
Great styling; confident handling; extensive features; impressive fuel economy
What We Don’t
Automatic transmission should be smoother; less-than-spacious back seat
The standard engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, making 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard; a 6-speed automatic transmission (technically, a dual-clutch automated manual) is optional. The latter operates like a regular automatic and a manual mode is included on the high-end Titanium trim. Fuel economy is 26 miles per gallon city, 38 mpg highway and 31 combined mpg with the automatic. The stick shift is a tad thirstier: 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined.
A 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine, rated at 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque, is an option solely for SE trim. It has a stop/start feature and connects to a 6-speed manual transmission or the aforementioned 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/34 mpg combined for the manual, dipping to 27 mpg city/38 mpg hwy/31 mpg combined with the automatic.
The Focus ST has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder developing 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, and it only comes with a 6-speed manual. Considering the power output, fuel economy is impressive at 22 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined.
A turbocharger is also employed in the Focus RS, but here it’s bolted to a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine to endow the car with a breathtaking 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. That muscle hits all four wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission. Fuel consumption is 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Ford Focus comes in S, SE, SEL, Titanium, ST and RS trim levels.
The sedan-only Focus S ($18,735) has basic features like 15-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, power accessories, manual height adjustment for the driver’s seat, air conditioning, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, hill-start assist, Bluetooth with voice controls and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack and two USB ports. It also includes a rearview camera, a 4.2-in display and Ford’s MyKey — which allows owners to preset several limits when other users are at the wheel.
The SE ($20,025) comes as a sedan or hatchback and adds 16-in alloy wheels, a trip computer, a front-center armrest, rear air conditioning vents, cruise control, a 6-speaker audio system and satellite radio. The hatchback SE sports a rear spoiler.
The SEL ($22,650) sedan/hatchback adds dual-zone automatic climate control, ambient cabin lighting, a configurable gauge cluster, a power moonroof, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, rear parking sensors, rear disc brakes, 10-speaker Sony audio, Sync 3 with an 8-in touchscreen and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The well-stocked Titanium ($25,050) sedan or hatchback brings upgrades such as 17-in aluminum wheels, LED running lights, keyless entry/start, remote start, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and heated mirrors with puddle lamps.
The hatchback-only ST ($25,950) has 18-in alloy wheels, LED signature lighting, an aerodynamic body kit, performance-tuned suspension, various sporty styling cues, sport gauges, Sony audio, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and the option of figure-hugging Recaro sport seats.
Sporting equipment and styling cues are taken several steps further with the RS hatchback ($41,995). Those Recaro seats are standard, and 19-in alloy wheels wear summer tires (track-focused Michelin tires are an option), yet the RS still packs the high-end Sony audio system and dual-zone automatic climate control. It also has selectable drive modes that go from civilized to track-worthy. As mentioned above, the RS gains some more standard equipment for its final year, such as power-adjustable/leather-trimmed front seats, mechanical (as opposed to electronic) limited-slip front differential and navigation.
Some of the higher trims’ standard features are offered on the less expensive trims as options. Other extras include a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, a self-parking system and a carbon fiber interior trim for the ST.
Rear passenger space is a downside, with knee room particularly tight. The better news is that the sedan has above-average trunk space — 13.2 cu. ft — and the seats fold down (60/40) for extra flexibility. The hatchback is more generous at 23.3 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 43.9 cu. ft with the seats folded.
Anti-lock brakes are standard, but only the SEL, Titanium, ST and RS have 4-wheel discs. The S has rear drums (an older, simpler and cheaper setup), while the SE offers rear discs as an option. Traction control, stability control and six airbags (dual-stage front, front side and full-length side curtain) are standard throughout. A lane-keeping assist system and a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert are available on higher trims.
In government crash tests, the Focus scored five out of five stars, including four for frontal impacts and five for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Focus its top score of Good except for the small overlap front impact test, where the car still gets the second-best rating of Acceptable.
Behind the Wheel
The compact car class in general is enjoying increased sophistication, which is largely because of the trail blazed by the Focus, with its high-quality materials and sleek, contemporary dashboard design.
The 2.0-liter engine is quite eager, delivering smooth and satisfying acceleration. The automatic transmission gets confused at times, however, hunting for the right gear and pausing before downshifting. The 5-speed manual adds a sporting character more in line with the car’s essential nature.
Most people will appreciate the 3-cylinder’s smooth torque off the line, but it runs out of oomph quickly. That’s the downside of the best fuel economy in the Focus lineup.
The turbocharged ST is one of the best-handling front-drive cars around. The rush of acceleration is addictive, and the short-throw 6-speed manual adds to the experience. This manual-only approach makes sense here, since the ST is aimed at enthusiasts who likely prefer three pedals. But the ride is not so jarring that everyday driving feels like punishment.
With 350 hp in a compact car, the RS shows just how sporting and capable the Focus chassis can be. It also has torque vectoring by brake, where individual wheels are subtly slowed to help the RS achieve high cornering speeds with massive levels of grip. Take this to a track and you’ll embarrass more expensive machines.
Although the ST and RS are the athletes, even the entry-level model provides dynamics similar to upscale sport-luxury cars. In any trim, the Focus is composed, refined and responsive. Automatic transmission hiccups aside, it’s never less than a pleasure to drive.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Honda Civic — A fine reputation for quality and strong resale values join sharp looks and a well-tuned chassis.
2018 Volkswagen Golf — Sophisticated and well-rounded. The GTI model is a drivers’ favorite. For a sedan, try the spacious Jetta.
2018 Mazda3 — Sleek styling, plus handling that’s a match for the Focus. Fuel economy is also compelling.
2018 Kia Forte — Stylish, well-equipped and keenly priced. A new generation is due for the 2019 model year.
Used Ford Fusion — The next size up and great to drive, with poise and comfort in equal measure. Equipment levels are tempting, and this sedan offers plenty of rear passenger space.
For most of us, an SEL with the regular 2.0-liter engine would be a good balance of equipment, cost and power. Give the ST a try, though, if only for the fun of it. Or wait for the 2019 model.