Ford, a name synonymous with muscle cars and pickup trucks, also has a history of building commuter cars. Some have been abysmal failures of aesthetics, such as the Fiesta, or the Mondeo. There are times, though when the boffins and designers at the Ford Motor Company create a game-changer — like the Focus. This compact vehicle combines top of the line functionality with an affordable price tag, making it a very popular addition to the lineup. Since it first rolled off the production floor in 1998, the Focus has gone through several iterations, each more streamlined and fun than the last. It might look like a zippy back and forth ride, but the stats under the hood of some of these models might surprise you.
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Out with the old Ford Escort and introducing the new Focus starting in 1998 in Europe. It took two more years before this re-styled and sleek, compact car made it across the pond, but when it did, it was a worthy addition to the lineup. The first set of Focus vehicles in America came in 3-door hatchback, sedan, or wagon. It hit a lot of high points for urbanites and suburbanites around the country with its sleek front end design and high interior clearance.
What set the Focus apart from other economy cars was performance. The very first model released in the US featured a multi-link rear suspension that outperformed top cars like the Jaguar XJ8L and the Bentley Continental in the slalom. That's a ton of handling packed into a small frame, and this switch raised the bar for compact cars for every brand. It was just faster on the turns, and that made an inexpensive commuter car into a fun ride to work.
Take the already great performance of the 2000 Ford Focus and add in the 2.0-liter turbocharged Duratec RS engine, and you have a small car that packs a heck of a punch. Some estimates say that nearly 70% of the components for this high-performance version of the Focus were redesigned specifically for this model. Don't spend too much time looking for one in the States though. This model was manufactured for European drivers only and never made it across the Atlantic.
With its high-performance standard, it should come as no surprise that the Focus also hit the track for Ford, starting in 1999. This rally car growled out some impressive performances, claiming a total of 44 partial victories. Racing legend Colin McRae was behind the wheel for some of the decade of rally racing behind the Focus. Add in the Constructor's Championship wins from 2006 and 2007, and you have a car that has proven its worth on and off the track.
Some cars gain such instant appeal that they transition from real road to digital racing, and that's exactly what happened with the Focus. Fans loved the car enough that it made its way onto the Forza 6 highways, screaming down tracks and taking on the bigger engines of race cars from around the world. Since it was introduced to the game, the Focus has continued to make an appearance in subsequent versions in a hot hatch model.
As great as the first Ford Focus was, no car remains the same. In 2004, Ford released the redesigned Focus as a second generation. Originally, this version was only available in Europe. The continental version featured a keyless start, solar-reflective windshield, hands-free phone operation, and voice-controlled systems for climate control and audio. Essentially, it added all the convenience features needed for the modern commuter. It also added some serious size in all directions, creating more passenger and cargo space.
The Focus is an outstanding commuter car, but sometimes you just want something a little more stylish. So, for those who like to feel the wind in their hair while hitting top highway speeds, Ford introduced a new body style in 2007 — the coupe-cabriolet with a retractable hardtop. It had the same multi-link rear suspension and responsiveness at the wheel but encased in a more aggressive look and with the option to go top down.
The sports division of Ford had plenty in store with their 2005 redesign of the Focus. This second generation sport version, known as the Focus ST, generates 225 bhp and hit 60 mph from a standing start in just 6.4 seconds. That's pretty impressive for a compact car. The speed tops out at 152 mph, which is more than enough for standard drivers. All of that speed and power comes from a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder turbocharged engine.
In a sharp move away from what was released in Europe, the North American Second Generation Focus hit the dealership floor in just two body styles — the 2-door coupe and the sedan. In this year, Ford discontinued all hatchbacks and wagons. In the remaining models, the interior got a serious overhaul with new seats, brushed aluminum-look dashboard panels and the addition of the Ford voice-controlled Sync system that also includes Bluetooth capability to support hands-free phone operations.
The Focus RS has a devoted fan base, due in large part to its solid performance on the road. Great handling, reasonable acceleration, and plenty of speed make it an affordable option for those who want to really take control of the wheel. In 2010, Ford released a limited run RS model in matte-black. Every unit was in the hot hatch body style, but this ode to the RS was not just an interesting new look — it also made some serious under-the-hood upgrades. The RS500 delivered 345 bhp and 360 lb-ft of torque, making it a powerhouse front-wheel drive vehicle.
The third generation of the Ford Focus brought all of the design features back under one roof. Both European and North American models were virtually identical, and the release date was coordinated for a multi-national launch. It hit the dealership floor in a five-door hatchback or station wagon and had a new 2.0-liter direct injection inline-four engine under the hood. What really made this re-design special was the thoughtful approach to usability. Designers made changes specifically to accommodate those with a limited range of motion.
The third generation not only brought some design changes to the standard model, but it also ushered in a new era of performance vehicles. The ST was finally available to American buyers in both the 5-door hatchback and the wagon body styles. It also replaced the old, 5-cylinder engine with a much more powerful EcoBoost version. The 4-cylinder, 2.0-liter replacement delivered a whopping 252 horsepower, bringing it in line with the rest of the Ford performance vehicle catalog.
Sometimes it takes a paragraph to explain why a new model is so amazing. Sometimes it only takes a few words. The beauty of the 2015 Focus RS can be summed up in a single phrase — Drift Mode. No, Ford is not telling you to practice drifting, but if you do, this car is ready to help. It uses a twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system that can push up to 70 percent of generated torque to the rear wheels, and then up to 100 percent of that to the side, making torque vectoring pretty easy to achieve.
In 2018, Ford decided not to continue with the Focus domestically. All new models hit the roads in Asia, Europe, and Australia. But, those new models offer some really great features. It's sportier. It's available in the sedan, hatchback, and estate body styles. It has a full-featured infotainment system (hello, Sync III), and plenty of driver assistive technology. Plus, there's even a crossover SUV option. But, high tariffs on imports mean that Ford-fans won't be driving around in any new Focus.
The Ford Focus might be gone from North American dealerships, but it is a staple of the brand overseas. Ford has designed a new chassis that works with a variety of models, making it more affordable to build compact and subcompact cars. Plus, while pickups and Mustangs are the brand's mainstay in the US, compact cars are the big seller in China, where the 2019 Focus is all set to debut with high safety ratings and an affordable price point.