David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Ford promises this fourth-generation Focus is still a real driver's car, but with more space and better technology. We put it to the test as a tow car.

Overview

The Focus is available as a hatchback or an estate - its the estate we're testing here.

Diesel engines start with the 95PS 1.5 EcoBlue - the most powerful option being the 150PS 1.5 EcoBlue. The petrol line-up ranges from an 85PS 1.0 EcoBoost to the 182PS 1.5 EcoBoost that we've been driving.

Our test car is in the sporty ST Line X spec, reasonably priced at £26,750.

Every iteration of the Focus has been enjoyable to drive. Does the new car build on that, while improving space and practicality? And how well does it tow? Read on to find out.

Towing

Usually in testing an important new car, we'd be more inclined to opt for diesel, rather than petrol. However, Ford offered a petrol Focus to test, and we're very glad we accepted.

The engine fitted to our test car is the most powerful in the range, with 182PS (180bhp). Just as importantly, there's 177lb ft of torque. That's less than most diesels, but a very healthy figure for a petrol car.

The upshot is that the Focus's turbocharged petrol engine is comfortably up to the job of pulling any reasonably matched caravan.

A 1408kg kerb weight means the Ford has an 85% match figure of 1197kg. We paired it with a Swift Duette Classic, which has a MiRO of 1104kg.

Offering maximum pulling power from just 1600rpm, the Focus towed the Swift up to speed with real vigour and kept on accelerating hard all the way to the redline. On motorways, the Focus was happy to hold 60mph in sixth gear on the flat, only needing to drop to fifth on incliners.

Hilly routes do underline that there's less torque than an equivalent diesel, but it's no chore to change gear more often when a gearbox has such a precise shift action.

For a front-wheel-drive car, the Focus handles hill-starts well. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan steady, and released smoothly without allowing the outfit to roll backwards.

On a cold and damp surface, we found the Ford briefly spun its wheels before regaining traction, and pulled briskly to the top of the 1-in-10 slope.

Whether towing on country roads or fast-moving A-roads and motorways, the Focus proved stable and reassuring. ST Line X models like our test car have sportier suspension than other versions of the Focus, and it certainly helps to keep car and caravan on an even keel over dips and crests.

At high speeds, the Focus is just as composed. It tows with the competence of a much larger car, staying straight and true at the legal limit.

Overtaking HGVs or going into sudden crosswinds doesn't upset the Ford - there's almost no movement to speak of, and the Focus feels firmly in charge of the caravan at all times. If any corrections are needed, the precise steering means it's easy to make them accurately.

Arrive at your destination and you'll find the Focus easy to manoeuvre. We had no trouble towing the caravan on damp grass. There's plenty of clearance between the towball and the bumper, although if we're being picky, the electrics could be a bit easier to access.

The rear-view camera helps considerably in hitching up, but it's not standard - it's part of the £500 Convenience Pack.

As a rule we prefer diesels, but the 1.5 EcoBoost is good enough to make us think twice. With strong performance and excellent stability, the Focus really does make a fine tow car.

Everyday driving

The Focus has always been an appealing car to drive, and the new generation upholds that tradition. With this engine and suspension set up, the Focus has what it takes to keep a keen driver happy. Ford claims a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds, a respectable turn of speed.

The engine is tuneful, with a pleasantly thrumny note, and it never sounds strained. The gearshift is the perfect foil for it, with a short throw and a snappy action.

The chassis upholds its side of the bargain, too, with a sense of agility and balance that's rare to find in a family estate car. Well-weighted and accurate steering also contributes to the Ford's engaging character.

Selectable drive modes add more weight to the steering and sharpen the throttle, or dial down for economy. We were happy in the 'Normal' setting.

But the ride is very firm. 

When you're in the mood to coast, it can be tiring to feel every lump and bump in the road. What's more, less noise would improve the Focus as a long-distance car.

We'd be interested to try it on standard suspension and smaller alloys than the 18-inch items fitted to this spec. We suspect it would be nearly as much fun (and as stable while towing) as the ST Line X, but with a more supple approach to rough surfaces that would make it an even better all-rounder.

For some, though, the firm ride will be a price worth paying for such an enjoyable drive.

Space

The Focus is a practical and roomy car, although we have some reservations about the cabin. In particular, there are disappointingly cheap-looking plastics on the doors and lower dash, and around the gear lever.

The driving position is sound, with enough seat and steering wheel adjustment to suit most shapes and sizes, and the front seats are supportive without feeling restrictive.

Those in the back should also be comfortable. The legroom is generous enough for adults, although the panoramic sunroof (a £995 option) does eat into the headroom. On the plus side, it lets in lots more light to what could be a rather dark cabin. However, we'd like to see air vents between the front seats or in the door pillars.

If you're considering an estate, the chances are, boot space is a high priority. The luggage area here is generous, at 575 litres with the rear seats upright. The floor sits low to the ground and the entrance is wide, so it's easy to load up. Folding the back seats gives a generous capacity of 1653 litres.

Running costs

Ford has priced the new Focus Estate keenly. The range starts from £19,400 (£18,300 if you'd prefer the hatchback version), which undercuts the cheapest Volkswagen Golf Estate by nearly £2000.

Our high-spec ST Line X test car has a list price of £26,750, although our colleagues on What Car? have found healthy discounts are available.

Running costs should be affordable. A group 17E insurance rating is relatively low for a car as quick as this. Fuel bills should be reasonable, too; even when tested to the WLTP standard, it achieves 41.5-44.1mpg. We saw 44.5mpg on a solo motorway drive, and 24.5mpg while towing.

The Focus has been given a five-star rating from the safety experts at Euro NCAP, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection is among the standard features. Additional driver aids are on the options list, including a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert for £400.

ST Line X models sit towards the top of the range, and that's reflected in a list of standard kit that includes part-leather upholstery, sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats and cruise control.

Our colleagues on What Car? predict that after three years and 36,000 miles on the road, the Ford will hold on to 42% of the original price, which is slightly better performance than the equivalent Skoda Octavia or Volkswagen Golf.

Technical specs

Engine size1497 cc
Kerbweight1408 kg
85% KW1197 kg
Towball limit90 kg
Maximum towing limit1700 kg
Power180.0 bhp
Torque177.0 lb ft
Official MPG41.5 mpg
Towing MPG24.5 mpg
CO2129 g/km

Verdict

We expected the new Focus to perform well. We didn't expect to be wondering if the petrol model is as good or better than the diesel for regular towing.

We'll be driving a diesel model later in the year, but for now, suffice to say that if you wanted to tow with the 182PS EcoBoost petrol, we certainly wouldn't be trying to persuade you otherwise.

The engine pulls strongly from low revs and has no trouble handling a sensibly matched caravan. Fuel economy while towing is reasonable, too, so there's hardly any penalty at the pumps for choosing the range-topping petrol engine.

As any regular caravanner will know, stability counts for a lot more than speed while towing. The Focus is one of the most stable small tow cars we've driven for some time. It feels right at home, whether towing on a bumpy country road or at speed on motorways.

In everyday driving, the latest Focus picks up where the old car left off, as one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive.

We look forward to trying a Focus on standard suspension; the sports suspension on the ST Line X model is very firm.

Although it's not as roomy as a Skoda Octavia inside, the Focus Estate now has plenty of space for passengers and their luggage. However, it's a shame that the standard of finish isn't more upmarket.

The Focus is well-priced and affordable to run. This new version looks certain to be a contender for class honours when tested at the Tow Car Awards later in the year.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Petrol engine is comfortable pulling any reasonably matched caravan
  • Stable and controlled when towing on country roads and motorways

Cons

  • Disappointing cheap-looking plastics on the doors and lower dash
  • Very firm ride with sports suspension

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