In Titanium trim, the Ford Focus makes for one of the better options in the intermediate car category if you are not planning on having rear passengers.
Car Class: Intermediate/ICAR
Alternatives: Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta & Golf
|Drive off||Walk away|
|High feature content||Cramped rear seats|
|Engaging driving dynamics||Jerky transmission|
|Cargo practicality||Awkward seating position|
With the market’s focus (no pun intended) shifting towards crossovers and SUVs, Ford’s venerable mid-size offering is on its last legs. Not long ago, Ford announced that it would be discontinuing its car lineup with the exception of the iconic Mustang. Given that the next generation Focus has already been introduced to our peers across the Atlantic and in Asia, the days of the Focus in North America are numbered. That said, the Focus remains a major player in the rental space with many roaming airports around the country. This week, we downsize and check out the drive in the 2018 Ford Focus Titanium.
Aside from the performance oriented ST and RS trims, all other Focuses are powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine producing 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. While output numbers are competitive for its class, the engine is let down by the 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which has been problematic since its introduction back in 2012. While DCTs in the right application have been known to deliver quick and responsive shifts, the one in the Focus never feels right. Shifts are sloppy and the vehicle jerks under throttle inputs. Fuel economy during our drive was 9.9L/100km, which is on the higher end of the intermediate car class.
Fortunately, the driving experience more than makes up for the unrefined powertrain and middling fuel consumption. Ever since its introduction way back in 2001, the Focus has always been known for its engaging driving dynamics. The steering is nicely weighted and responsive to inputs. Likewise, the suspension is well-calibrated and delivers a good balance between ride comfort and handling. Body roll is kept within acceptable levels and overall the vehicle feels agile and smaller than it already is. Driving the Focus is certainly an enjoyable experience, with only some aspects of the interior breaking the fun (see below). Despite riding on larger 17-inch wheels, road noise is on par with other vehicles in its category. It is not luxury-car quiet, but neither would your ears bleed on long highway drives.
With generous glass area all around, visibility out the front and sides of the Focus is commendable. However, like the Ford Edge that we drove a week earlier, the A-pillars are thicker than we’d prefer and did block some of our vision when making turns. To aid with reversing duties, the Focus comes standard with a backup camera and in our Titanium trim, backup sensors as well.
Comfort and Convenience
As the top of line trim, our Focus Titanium comes nicely equipped with many features that renters may not expect from this class including an 8-inch Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple Carplay, Android Auto and 2 USB ports, Sony premium sound, dual zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push button start, heated 6-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting and a sunroof. Owing to the age of the Focus, active safety features such as autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are unavailable on any trim level. The only exceptions are blind sport monitoring, automatic high beams and lane departure warning, which are available as a package on the Titanium trim. We feel these important safety aids should be standard, especially given their proven effectiveness in mitigating accidents.
For a vehicle that was introduced more than 6 years ago, Ford has certainly done a good job keeping the Focus’s interior fresh over the years. Comprising of mostly soft touch materials on the upper dash and front door panels, the Focus still exudes an aura of quality that exceeds the norm in its class. While we appreciate the use of piano black and some chrome surrounds in the air vents to break up the sea of black, we wish there was more contrast in some of the trim pieces. Ford seems to like all-black interiors, as we had the same quibble with the Edge we drove last week. Standard on the Titanium trim are leather seats, a rarity in the intermediate rental car segment. However, we had a hard time finding a comfortable driving position. With the absence of a seat bottom cushion tilt adjustment, we found thigh support to be lacking, which make our legs sore after long drives. As such, do try out the seats to see if they fit your frame before making your choice at the rental lot.
Standard on the Focus Titanium are heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Unfortunately, the steering wheel heating is lukewarm at best. But at least it is more comfortable than holding on to a freezing wheel every morning. Heated rear seats, however, are not available on any trim.
Ease of Use
Like most of the other vehicles in Ford’s lineup, the Focus is available with Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system, which comes standard on the Titanium trim. Featuring Apple Carplay, Android Auto and an 8-inch touchscreen, the system is light years ahead of its predecessor, MyFordTouch. Touch responses are quick and the menus are clearly laid out for easy access to various system functions. We especially like the shortcut buttons that are pinned along the bottom of the screen, allowing for easy access to audio, phone and settings. If there is one gripe that we have about the system, it would be the position of the screen. With the bulky trim surrounding the main event, accessing touch zones on the screen’s corners do require contorting our fingers and taking our eyes off our road. Lower on the dash lies the audio and climate controls, which feature well labelled buttons and knobs for easy adjustment of the volume and temperature. However, tuning functions are handled by buttons instead of a knob. Equipped with 2 USB ports, the Focus does a decent job of making sure everyone’s devices remain powered on a long road trip. Some rationing may be needed, but we never ended up fighting for a charge.
Similar to the Edge we drove, the gauge cluster features a centre screen delivering various trip information and limited vehicle settings. While we are surprised to not find the dual screen set up on the larger Fusion sedan, we understand the need to keep costs down. Like the Edge, we enjoyed the simplicity and easy of navigating through the various displays using the D-pad on the steering wheel. For such an unconventional (bad) transmission, the Focus’s PRNDS shifter cannot be more traditional. Renters in a hurry will have no problem getting in and driving off.
As an intermediate vehicle, we never expected the Focus to be exceptionally roomy inside. That said, what we experienced was downright disappointing. Headroom in our hatchback model is a non-issue, with adequate space in both rows. What is a problem, however, is legroom. With the front seat adjusted for a 6 ft tall driver, rear seat legroom is non-existent. Even children will have issues fitting back there. Moreover, the narrow cabin (a common trait among all intermediate cars) also makes having three passengers in the rear an intimate experience. If there is a need to ferry more than two passengers during your rental, we strongly suggest moving up to a full size vehicle such as the Ford Fusion.
Fortunately, the cargo capacity in the Focus hatchback is large for its class. Measuring 23.3 cubic feet with all seats in place and 43.9 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, the Focus has more than enough room for most of your gear. Just be aware of the hard cargo cover, which is troublesome to remove and store when carrying taller items.
Driving the Focus this week has been an enjoyable experience and we will definitely miss it when Ford discontinues the model in 2019. Despite being one of its last years on the market, the Ford Focus remains one of the best handling vehicles in its class and in Titanium trim, one of the better equipped models on rental lots. That said, the Focus is starting to fall behind its competition in areas such as interior space and safety features. If you are looking for a vehicle that is fun to drive and loaded with features, the Focus Titanium remains one the better rental options. On the other hand, larger parties and families should turn their attention to more spacious alternatives and even consider moving up a rental category for a more comfortable ride.
Avis/Budget/Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Oddly enough, we have yet to spot any Ford Focuses in the fleet of these rental agencies in Canada.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Most, if not all of the Focuses that we have spotted on the lots of Enterprise/National/Alamo have been of the well-equipped Titanium trim like our rental, which is a departure from the myriad of trims that other Ford models in the rental fleet comes in. Spot them by the badge on the rear as well as the multi-spoke alloy wheels that is exclusive to the top trim.