- Sweet ST, schizo RS
- High-economy 3-cylinder
- Ride quality on non-performance models
- Attractive sheet metal
- Lots of high-end options
- Convoluted dash
- Tiny audio controls on base models
- Lots of tire noise
- Costs more than some good rivals
- Light on safety tech
The 2018 Ford Focus is irony on wheels: it comes in a dizzying range of models, of which the SEL and ST are our picks.
The 2018 Ford Focus hatchback or sedan covers a lot of ground for a small car. Commuter? Sure. Hyper-miler? OK. Tire-shredding weirdo? Why not.
The Focus family runs the gamut from miserly sedans and hatchbacks to legitimate track weapons. The S, SE, and SEL tilt toward the latter, while the ST and RS deliver a huge turbocharged kick in the pants. All have good handling, cramped rear seats, somewhat higher price tags than rivals, and better luxury touches than safety scores.
The Focus lineup earns a 6.2 on our scale of 10, with higher scores for fuel economy and features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Ford still stamps and folds the Focus’ sheet metal as it has since 2012. Its design still holds a smart appeal, though hatchbacks have more pert bodies. Inside, all Focus cars have an overly busy look that submerges its dials and buttons in waves of black plastic. It’s not an inexpensive look, just a cluttered one.
Ford sells a parsimonious 3-cylinder turbo Focus, and for commuters who value fuel economy ratings, it’s not a bad choice at all. Still, more commonly, the Focus has a 4-cylinder engine with a choice between manual and automatic and dual-clutch transmissions. Acceleration is moderate, shift quality fine except in the dual-clutch unit, where it’s jerky, particularly at low speeds. (A Focus Electric only has batteries; we cover it separately.) On all, steering is quick with some heft, and ride quality is quite firm without being brittle.
The Focus ST sharpens its skill set with a 252-hp turbo-4 and a 6-speed manual. It’s the Focus for everyday enthusiasts. The 350-hp Focus RS dumps everything from the performance shelves into its shopping basket: torque-vectoring, all-wheel drive, Track and Drift drive modes. It’s a track toy that gets tiresome on public pavement.
All Focus hatches and sedans have well-shaped front seats, while RS and ST models have more confining sport buckets. No Focus has a spacious back seat. It’s tough for big people to fit three across, to slip in easily under the low roof, to find knee room suitable for people old enough to have a mortgage.
The IIHS says the Focus doesn’t do well in its latest crash test, but other scores are fine, and all models have a rearview camera. Other standard features include USB and Bluetooth audio, and in a charming retro throwback, a CD player. Top trims get navigation, leather, a clear and easy-to-use infotainment system, and Sony audio.
2018 Ford Focus
Extroverted sheet metal still gives the Ford Focus an athletic appeal, but the interior’s dated and busy.
The Ford Focus has been flouting the economy-car rules since the 2012 model year—that is, if you think the rules dictate economy cars have to be plain and boring.
The Focus is neither of those. It’s a sharp-looking hatchback or a decently styled sedan, with an interior that puts complexity over functionality.
We give it a 5, adding a point for the body, taking one away for the interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
New in 2012, the Focus had its last makeover in 2015. It still cuts a dashing figure, particularly in its hatchback body style. Ford melds curves and creases behind a simple front end, and relies on a rising window line to give the shape its wedgy, dramatic appeal. A few details seem out of balance, like the Focus’ huge taillights, but in all it’s a balanced look.
Opt into performance models, and Ford twists the eyeball dial to 10. The stance gets lower, the wheels get bigger, the aero add-ons more numerous. Inside, the Recaro seats get colorful stitching and lots of logos, which seem to have been on sale by the pound.
The cabin could use a strong editing hand. The original shape still reads as complex, a half-decade after Ford drew it. Slim vents slash in verticals on heavily sculpted surfaces. Those undulations eat up a lot of dash space, and relegate some major functions to small areas and oddly-shaped buttons and switches. The degree of visual clutter is high. Busy design aside, no Focus looks abjectly cheap, despite the large swaths of black plastic. Titanium models have the nicest trim and look the least economical; at more than $25,000 in base spec, they should.
2018 Ford Focus
The Ford Focus cars share an eagerness to drive; ST and RS models are legitimate performance machines.
Focus sedans offer mild performance across the board. The hatchback Focus? It’s all over the map, with miserly acceleration and skinny-tire handling on some models, stabby turbo thrust and board-flat handling on others.
We rate the Focus a 6 for performance. It handles well in all versions, and the engine lineup is wide-ranging. The dual-clutch’s shift quality costs it a point. In our minds, the Focus ST and RS are solid 9s for performance, but account for only a sliver of sales. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
If driving bores you and saving gas money drives you crazy in the right way, by all means, shop for the 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder Focus SFE. With 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque at just 1,400 rpm, the small-displacement engine drops the best gas mileage numbers of the Focus family, and it’s pleasant enough to pilot when you’re commuting solo. If you can find it, you’ll likely find it paired with a 6-speed automatic; if you can drive one of the rare 6-speed manuals, you’ll shave hundreds off the sticker before you save at the pump.
The more common Focus engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 with direct injection. It puts out 160 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, and it sends power to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, or a 6-speed automatic. The engine isn’t at fault here, and neither are the 5-speed or the 6-speed automatic. The problem child is Ford’s dual-clutch gearbox. Shifts can be jerky, especially at city speeds, and fuel economy doesn’t improve all that much.
Ford still fits S and SE Focus models with rear drum brakes, which saves money compared to four-wheel disc brakes, but delivers subpar brake feel and stopping distances in some cases.
These Focus models have a friendly, fun attitude that’s all but absent in most compact cars, save the Civic, Golf, and Mazda 3. Ford tunes the Focus’ electric power steering well, and gives it the proper weighting for a car its size. The strut and multi-link suspension delivers a firm ride, but the Focus doesn’t crash over bumps with the usual short-wheelbase clumsiness. The mature ride quality and road feel renders better on cars with 17-inch wheels and tires, in our experience. Choose a Focus SE with a sport package, and you’ll get paddle shift controls for the automatic, a touring suspension, and 17-inch wheels, a nice compromise for those who don’t want to take the leap into ST or RS range.
Focus ST and RS
For real performance in a small package, Ford sells the outstanding Focus ST and the nutso Focus RS. A 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-4 powers the ST, launches it to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds, and tops it out at 155 mph. A 6-speed manual and front-wheel drive provide the rest of the performance rush, along with a well-integrated driving personality without the twitchy manners of a WRX STI. The tuner-car feel is entirely absent: the Focus ST has its own variable-ratio steering, a 10-mm lower suspension, a wider-mounted rear suspension, and special tires that give it an authentic set of performance bona fides.
We like it better than the bat-guano-crazy Focus RS. With 350 hp from a 2.3-liter turbo-4, the RS has a full-time all-wheel-drive system with dynamic torque vectoring and its own 6-speed manual. Ford fits it with an adjustable sport suspension, stability control with pre-programmed Track and Drift modes, stouter brakes, and a sport exhaust. The net is a car that’s unyielding and stiff on the road, a handful to gather up in quick corners thanks to tons of artificially induced oversteer and copious torque steer. On a track, the Focus RS can grind up a set of tires and still leave the driver grinning, but its track-toy status falls short of the ST when it comes to everyday driving.
2018 Ford Focus
Comfort & Quality
Skimpy back seats are the rule in compact cars, but the Ford Focus has good front seats and hatchback versatility.
As a general rule, compact cars lack the interior space and especially, the back-seat room to perform well on our comfort and quality index.
The Focus is no different. Sedans fare better, but both the four-doors and hatchbacks give up space for dramatic styling. Both have a dated interior that won’t change until the Focus is replaced in the 2019 model year with a Chinese-built model.
We rate the Focus a 5 here, giving it a point for shapely front seats, deducting it for rear-seat room. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Focus has a deeply sculpted dash that trims out some of the space around its front seats. It’s still usefully roomy for most adults, and the seats themselves offer good support in base versions. Focus Titanium cars have better-formed sport seats, with more back support and under-leg cushioning. The Focus RS and ST get confining sport seats that work perfectly in hard-charging maneuvers, but their extremely snug fit and lack of adjustments (relative to the base seats) mean they’re not as comfortable in daily driving.
The back seats on both models feel more restrictive than in other compact cars in the Focus’ class (Elantra, Civic). The back seat’s tough to get into thanks to a low roofline and small door openings. Knee and head room are lean, even for smaller adults. The hatchback has the bonus of more usable space behind the seats, so we prefer it over the four-door shape.
The Focus’ interior looks dated, and it’s wrapped in plenty of hard black plastic. Models we’ve tested recently haven’t boasted the finest fit-and-finish, either. Road noise is typical for this type of car, and the Focus has more than its share of tire noise generated by coarse pavement.
2018 Ford Focus
The IIHS gives the Ford Focus a ding in its safety profile.
The Ford Focus has suffered through changes in crash testing since it was new in 2012. It’s no longer a leader, which is why we give it a 6 for safety. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Focus earns a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA. The compact car also earns five-star ratings in side-impact and front-impact subtests.
The IIHS says the Focus is "Good" for crash safety in most tests, but only merits an "Acceptable" rating in its small-overlap test. That prevents it from any Top Safety Pick award.
Ford makes a rearview camera standard on the Focus, and blind-spot monitors and active lane control are options. It does not offer forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, a feature that has become standard on many vehicles.
The Focus offers good outward vision, but the rearview camera helps resolve some minor blind spots. It’s not as helpful on cars with the smaller 4.2-inch display as it is on cars with the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen.
2018 Ford Focus
Stick with basic Focus sedans and hatchbacks; pricey Titanium editions make little economic sense.
From cheap stripper to rorty rally car, the Ford Focus has an amazing range of performance. Its features follow its marching orders.
Though some Focus models crank past $40,000, we think the best values come in well below $25,000, and come with reasonable features.
We give the Focus a 7 for its optional features, and its custom touches. We take one back for its small-ish base infotainment screen. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Ford sells its Focus sedan in S, SE, SEL, and Titanium versions. Hatchbacks run the gamut from the SE, SEL, and Titanium, to the enthusiast ST and RS models.
All versions have power features, air conditioning, 15-inch wheels (at least), steering-wheel audio controls, a rearview camera, and AM/FM/CD audio with Bluetooth streaming. The Focus S makes remote start available at a cost.
The Focus SE gets 16-inch wheels, foglights, cruise control, and Ford's MyKey system. Options include a power driver seat, leather, rear disc brakes, a sport package, a moonroof, rear parking sensors, navigation, satellite radio, Sony audio, and heated seats. SEL cars have 17-inch wheels, ambient lighting, and the Sync 3 infotainment system.
Sync 3 is Ford’s latest touchscreen-based setup, with pinch-and-swipe control, smart-charging USB ports, and connectivity with smartphone apps. It’s a much cleaner user interface, but has a few faults. We’ve noted bugs as it toggled between day and night modes, and some laggy behavior, but it’s a huge improvement over the previous MyFord Touch setup.
The Focus Titanium tops things off with dual-zone climate control, HD radio, leather, a sport seats and suspension, and summer performance tires on sport wheels. Options include automatic parking assistance and navigation. At that trim level, it approaches Benz CLA and Audi A3 prices.
Performance ST and RS models get dedicated powertrains as well as sport suspension tuning, 18- or 19-inch wheels, and distinctive styling add-ons. Options include Recaro seats, a carbon-fiber accent package, and navigation.
2018 Ford Focus
The Focus only has a huge appetite for fuel when you have a huge appetite for power.
The Ford Focus ranges in performance from acceptable to awe-inspiring. Fuel economy follows in lockstep, though the numbers fall as the grins widen.
We give the Focus an 8 for fuel economy, with a tilt toward the more common versions. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The most recent fuel economy ratings for the Focus put its 3-cylinder edition at the top of the EPA ratings. The agency rated this Focus at 30 mpg city, 40 highway, 34 combined when fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission. With an automatic, it’s rated at 27/38/31 mpg.
The most widely available Focus comes with a 4-cylinder and a conventional 6-speed automatic. It’s rated by the EPA at 26/38/31 mpg. Select the 5-speed manual and ratings drop to 25/34/28 mpg. The same engine also pairs with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic; it’s rated at 24/34/28 mpg.
The sporty Focus ST comes with a turbo-4 and a 6-speed manual, and gas mileage of 22/30/25 mpg. The least efficient Focus—the thrilling Focus RS with a turbo-4, all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual—checks in at 19/26/22 mpg.
Ford also sells a Focus Electric, which we cover separately. It’s pegged at 107 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).