By on April 2, 2009

More than a few members of TTAC’s esteemed B&B have been clamoring for the European specification Ford Focus—ever since Ford decided the original was just fine for the non-discriminating American customer. “If you bring it, they will buy it” our commentariot railed at the Powers That Be. Well, after sampling the latest basic Focus, I can tell you that the Euro Focus sucks just like the American Focus, just not quite as much.

The first inkling that the Schwarz black, manual transmission 2009 Ford Focus 1.6L was a turd: when I failed to find a comfortable driving position despite the multitude of levers and knobs arrayed on the side of the seat just for that purpose. Push, pull, twist, jerk; I never could get quite comfortable. The steering wheel was too high or the shift knob too far away or my feet were splayed at weird angles. It also smelled like cabbage but this might not have been Ford’s fault.

I settled for slightly awkward and motored off to the A60 autobahn. Puttering down an L-road (not motoring, as the 1.6L proved woefully inadequate to power the overweight compact), I realized that the verve-to-corner ratio remained from the original Focus. The Blue Oval Boyz sure know how to tune a chassis. And yet, somehow, the rest of the car conspires against this excellence. Brakes, gearbox, steering—none of the major systems works in harmony with the other. Trying to get the most out of this economy car quickly transforms the Ford Focus into a rolling box of pent-up frustration. It felt cheap, tinny, unsubstantial, brittle and not completely not fun.

The stoppers remain the Focus’s single worst aspect. As I crested 160 kmh (downhill) at full steam, I tried to brake for a Fiesta that pulled out into my lane. As the Focus’s wimpy calipers attempted to scrub speed, the stop pedal sank to the floor. The Ford Focus wiggled and squirmed under the pressure, threatening to cause another navigation course correction (I nearly slammed into the central barrier). I had moment, after moment, after moment . . . .

After conversing with the European B&B, I will reserve final judgement on the Focus until I have sampled the higher-spec models, such as the 2.0L petrol and diesel versions, or the interesting Focus CC (Convertible in German). However, from my initial impressions, if you are a North American reader and aspiring European compact driver, stand down.

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52 Comments on “Capsule Review: Ford Focus 1.6L [Euro Spec]...”


  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    However, the worst thing about the Focus remains the brakes.

    I always thought the worst thing was the lower part of the seatback. God damn, do those seats hurt after a while.

  • avatar
    kericf

    At least it looks a hell of a lot better than the version we get here in the states. The current US model looks like a Kia and Suzuki love child gone wrong (as wrong as fake chrome fender vents).

  • avatar
    jpc0067

    We have a euro-bred and borne compact in the Astra. Look how well that is doing in the U.S.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    The fake fender vents on US spec models are thankfully gone for the ’09 model year in all but the SEL trim level (which is covered in faux chrome).

    The only thing that bugs me about the US spec Focus is the quality of the interior, which, at least from the photo, looks much nicer on the Euro-spec car.

  • avatar

    Here’s hoping the 3rd generation that comes to the US will be a winner. According to Edmunds’ first Cruze drive it’s a very good car.

    Could we possibly have two excellent small US cars for 2011?

  • avatar
    MM

    MS,
    It’s all perspective.

    I live in Europe, and have been driving a rental ’08 Focus 1.6L gas 5dr for three weeks. Around town and on the highway at normal speeds (up to 140 kph, or 88mph) I find no major problems w/the Focus. As a $16-18K econobox (these rentals sell for about 14K euro), it performs as fine or better than the ’05 Corolla I had in the U.S. or most of the midsize rentals I’ve gotten stuck with.

    Push it above 160kph (100 mph) and, well… you can’t expect BMW dynamics, or even close, at this price range. The 1.6 is the puniest engine available, and you (correctly) saw you’ve gotta ring the piss out of it to make it above 130 on the highway. But for what it does, and what it is, Focus is as good as any base econo I’ve driven on US market (sans perhaps Honda Fit and Impreza, which I’ve not yet driven).

  • avatar
    blowfish

    At one time all the import rules & reg were to protect US big 3, so the imports cannot be easily brought here.
    Now the the time has changed, Big3 has to rely on European designs as the ones designed here were less than stellar.
    Big 3 cannot bring anything here in a hurry!
    What a victim of her own charm.
    If possible they can save on design as one size fits all.
    IE Walmart under fashions.

  • avatar
    86er

    Well, after sampling the latest basic Focus, I can tell you that the Euro Focus sucks just like the American Focus, just not quite as much.

    Plus it’d cost more, a lot more.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Be careful what you wish for…

  • avatar
    SV

    I’m betting it was the 1.6 that caused the suckiness, considering every other review of the Euro Focus I’ve read has only been filled with praise.

    Steering feel has supposedly taken a step down from the Mk1 Focus, there is a clear consensus about that. Otherwise most everyone who’s driven one says it’s great. I have a Mazda3, which is mechanically near-identical, and I have fun driving it…

  • avatar
    MM

    Two complaints I have of EuroFocus: Smallish footwell (I’m only 5’11) and cheap seat material on base trim. Other than that, it’s good.

    Mike, if you want to sample a truly heinous rental, seek out a Chevy Metro… holy crap, what a POS those are. Put a 48″ mower deck under it and it might be decent…

    86er, alot of what makes cars expensive here is the 24% VAT. Strip it out, and they’re close to US prices. But the way Gov’s spending, we’ll have something similar before ya know it.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @blowfish: Ford US hasn’t designed a small car stateside since the 1980 Escort. And even that had a smattering of European engineering input, so if you’re looking for purity, try its predecessor, the Pinto.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    As the owner of an 02 focus, Its good to see the chassis is still good, pity about the brakes(try stopping from a hundred with drums at the back) the seats aren’t… right and the less said about the auto the better, However fitting the svt suspension, speeding up the shift changes and a lumpier camshaft set improves the package to something….livable. but the thing is well screwed together (Ford got it right by 02, I guess)with not a squeak in the thing.

  • avatar
    adonasetb

    The comfort of a seat is dependent on the size, shape, contours of the posterior that’s plopped down in the seat. Hang over the edges and it won’t be comfortable.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I rented a 1.6 in Lithuania last year and found it vastly superior to the Fit: handled curves well; not as buzzy; with pleasant, Germanic feeling of structural rigidity. Of course, it was undercooked and underspecced, but so are rentals.

    I think, Capt. Mike, your example had run-down brakes because the Focus’s are rated to be right up there in Golf territory, under 40 meters 60-0 mph, lo-fade, hi-fun.

  • avatar
    dwford

    “The comfort of a seat is dependent on the size, shape, contours of the posterior that’s plopped down in the seat. Hang over the edges and it won’t be comfortable.”

    In other words: you must be fat.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr Solowiow!

    I’ve been saying this for ages and people just didn’t believe me.

    The Euro Fords aren’t that great and I don’t know why people thought otherwise. I’ve had 2 Focuses for work and they both handled like a tank, the interior was woeful and it drank fuel like GM drains taxpayers’ money. I’m completely flummoxed as to why it’s so popular.

    To be fair, the later Euro Fords do have better interiors, but I’m still not impressed and the styling of the Mondeo is interesting, a lot better than the previous generation.

    I don’t doubt their reliability, but as cars? They suck like a Dyson vacuum cleaner.

    There are much better hatchbacks on the Euro market, than the Euro Focus.

    VW Golf is good, the interior is brilliant, but too expensive and dodgy reliability.

    Honda Civic is cheap, reliable, built in the UK and is well equipped, but the styling is “love it or hate it”. I personally, hate it.

    Toyota Auris is probably the best all rounder. Reliable, cheap, built in the UK and handles well. The styling is a little bland but bearable.

    FIAT Bravo is another good hatchback, cheap, reliable (comes with a Hyundai-busting 5 year, bumper-to-bumper warranty) and quite well equipped.

    So for the love of God, Euro Fords suck, but I’m interested to know how much worse NA Fords are…..

    Thoughts….?

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Katie – The guys on TopGear seem to like the Euro Fords a lot, the reviews I’ve seen of the Mondeo and the Fiesta were both overwhelmingly positive, and I seem to remember them making good comments about the Focus at some point as well. Then again, I seem to remember the Honda Jazz (Fit) winning the test they had their mothers perform as well…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The comfort of a seat is dependent on the size, shape, contours of the posterior that’s plopped down in the seat. Hang over the edges and it won’t be comfortable.

    So, what part am I overhanging if I’m feeling in the lower back, huh? Maybe they’ve improved it since 2003/4, and I am a freak (6’8″, 240lbs) but the Focus was incredibly good at bending my spine.

    Don’t believe me? Here’s C&D’s take:

    2002: The seatback has a rock-hard bar that runs across the very bottom. By dialing a crank on the front of the seat track, you can run the cushion up or down, thereby moving your back relative to the bar.

    2003/4: The cushion’s butt pocket is too far forward, bending the upper body into a half-moon when seen from the side. This complaint is serious enough to earn a won’t-buy rating from several staffers.

    I really like the car, but I’d never buy a version with the standard seats.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Also, the stick shift will probably only be available on the lowest model, if it is available at all.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Aren’t the Volvo C40 and the Mazda 3 built on the same platform?

  • avatar
    AG

    Why does that Aveo have a Ford badge on it?

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Sunnyvale – In the current Focus a manual is the standard transmission across all trim levels.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    @Richard Chen – my memory tells me that the 1980 “world car” Escort was developed in Europe, and that Ford NA (very) successfully dumbed it down.
    There were huge differences in the suspension settings, interior, etc.

    Mike – I also think you got one with bad brakes. Auto Motor und Sport does grueling brake tests, and would have long called out the Focus if it were not up to par. At this stage, anyone who wants to compete in Western Europe, and/or have their car tested by ams, has to have brakes up to par.

  • avatar
    SV

    @KatiePuckrik:

    You think the Auris is the most well-rounded? Seriously? Then again if you’ve driven it and I haven’t…

    Maybe Fords just aren’t your type of car, because barring some huge media conspiracy all the road tests that praise Fiestas, Focuses and Mondeos weigh heavily in the opposite direction of your opinion.

  • avatar
    jamie1

    I am sorry, but this is a bunch of large grannies undergarments! The Euro Focus is easily the most dynamically engaging, best built and value vehicle in the C segment in Europe and there really is no more to debate.
    Having driven all the competitors, nothing else comes close. A review of some poorly treated rental car (aren’t they all) hardly constitutes as a well-rounded piece of journalism.
    The Focus gets its plaudits from the European media based entirely on merit. There is nothing else in that segment that I would even look at, let alone drive.
    Katie – Euro Ford’s suck – have you lost your marbles mate? From a dynamic standpoint, everyone else is playing catch-up. The interiors are outstanding, the quality is so much better than VW is is almost embarassing and whilst styling is a personal thing, I think the new Fiesta is a stand-out car that sets a new benchmark.
    Ford in Europe is on a roll and if that is what they are bringing over here – bring it on I say!

  • avatar
    CarShark

    @SunnyvaleCA:

    Which will matter to…what, nine or ten people?

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    @ psarhjinian

    No effing shite! Those seats suck my @ss. If the brake pedal was a self destruct button they couldn’t be worse than those g0ddamn seats.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    Where’s the ASBO?

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Richard Chen :
    The Pinto (early ones anyway) used Ford of Europe motors, so much for purity even back then.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Sucks compared to what? Sounds like someone read the book, heard 20 people say the movie was amazing, then finally went and watched it themselves. How could you not be disappointed?

    Euro-origin models will do well in Canada. We’ve always loved hatchbacks and are open-minded about things like diesel and fun firm riding cars.

    America is opened minded to; hatchbacks are fine.. as long as you add a trunk to it before you sell it. Ergo, sayonara to the previous cool Focus hatchback, hello butt ugly 2-door sedan pretending to be a coupe.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Okay, okay – you guys ay this car sucks whether it is the NA or Euro-spec version. Could we at least have the better LOOKING Euro-spec version? At least I wouldn’t mind being seen in it as much.

    I get the feeling that the NA car lineups are designed to make a person feel bad about their purchase…

    Okay Detroit – hurry up and go broke – okay? Maybe somebody will bring more itneresting products here…

  • avatar
    adonasetb

    An 04 model is my daily driver (1.5 hrs each way in metro Washington, DC rush-hour) and no complaints with the seats – it’s like hearing/reading someone remark that they get terrible gas mileage with the Focus – either the car is in real need of a tune-up or the driver isn’t very……… even in rush hour I’m getting 28 mpg. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate but I really have no complaints with the Focus as a commuter.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    So, we were fooled by the sheet metal on the hatch. It looked so much better than our version, and then they even took away our hatch.

    Now we can have sour grapes, too.

  • avatar
    niky

    jamie1

    Having driven all the competitors, nothing else comes close. A review of some poorly treated rental car (aren’t they all) hardly constitutes as a well-rounded piece of journalism.

    Echo this.

    The current-spec Focus has excellent insulation… it takes a hell of a lot of beating to elicit creaks from the Focus (maybe a few hundred days of a 200 pound renter leaning on the door while it’s open) and the brakes are amazing. A friend runs them in a race series, and all they’ve done for the discs is add better brake pads. Very good warp resistance and great stopping power (and the ABS-programming is second-to-none).

    True, the 1.6 just barely gets the car moving. Expected when the Focus, like the Golf, is as heavy as a tank. But it’s not all that bad for the segment. It’s likely though, that the minimum amount of engine American buyers will tolerate will be the torquey 1.8, the 2.0 or the diesel, which is a gas.

    The seats are a weird thing… some people hate them, some people don’t. Just like the Civic (which feels like it has an anvil sticking into the small of your back), but on the opposite side of the coin.

    And strangely, I have the same problem as Mike does when it comes to the Focus/Mazda3… despite having a near infinite range of motion and tilt/telescope steering, I can never find the right seating position. Just about the only thing the Civic has over the Focus (besides the excellent R18 engine… oh, and the better plastics), in my opinion.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    straying just slightly off course here –

    Even the American spec Focus doesn’t suck – until you compare it with a Civic. The Focus (Am/Euro) isn’t a bad little car, it’s just not a great little car.

    You don’t have to be the best, just so long as you don’t want to sell the most.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    @SV

    There’s a slight flaw in your thinking.

    Until the recession, all media (except TTAC) believed GM, Chrysler and Ford were in no danger of bankruptcy and such talk was considered nonsense.

    Just because the media say something is so, doesn’t mean it is….

    @Jamie1

    I’m British, losing ones marbles is practically a birthright. But I still stand by my comments. I’m not overenamoured with Euro Fords. I just think there are better cars out there. There are some I like (S-Max, Galaxy, Mondeo’s styling), but on the whole, I can leave it.

  • avatar
    Luther

    The Ford Focus is overrated but the German Ford Fiesta was a great little car…Especially with that smooth little 1.25L mazda engine.

  • avatar
    sutski

    The only one you really want though is the ST or the RS…

    The new RS is just SHWEEEEEET! and it looks even better in the flesh…

    http://www.caradvice.com.au/wp-content/gallery/2009FordFocusRS/Ford-FocusRS-15.jpg

  • avatar
    akear

    The current Focus is Ford’s best selling North American car. Some enthusiasts on this and other forums may not like it, but it sells, and is probably keeping Ford out of bankruptcy. What scares me is that these Ford European derived cars may not appeal to Americans. The Astra was a thousands times better than the ION, but its poor sales played a role in Saturn’s road to extinction.
    Why would Ford replace its only car breaking the annual 200,000 annual sales barrier. GM keeps the Impala around for this very reason, in fact (get this) the Impala was the best selling American car last year.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Every review I’ve read of the European Focus praises it…Clarkson and Company seem quite enamored with it. So I’m inclined to take a review based on an experience in a heavily used rental car with a boulder-sized grain of salt.

    We have a 2005 Focus SE, and the seats are fine with me. They provide more lower back support than the seats in our 2003 Accord EX. The car has been quite reliable, too.

    akear: GM keeps the Impala around for this very reason, in fact (get this) the Impala was the best selling American car last year.

    The Impala is a fleet queen, and GM loads it up with incentives to move it out the door to retail customers.

    It reminds me of the doddering Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera of the 1990s – it was the best-selling Oldsmobile, but each one that went out the door hurt, rather than helped, the division’s image.

    It sells because it’s cheap and fairly big, not because it’s good.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The Euro Focus is easily the most dynamically engaging, best built and value vehicle in the C segment in Europe and there really is no more to debate.

    I think it highly depends on which Focus you’re talking about. This is the most miserable trim level, with the least expensive, least ambitious tires, cheapest trim and meanest feature set. It is not the Focus RS or ST that American reviewers dribble over, and it feels like it.

    It’s akin to reading about the 335i, getting some seat time in a sport-package 328i, but actually driving a 316i (or, in my case, the base Canadian 320i) with base tires, stock suspension, cloth seats and an automatic transmission. It really changes one’s opinion of the car vis a vis the reviews published.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    The current US Focus really isn’t a bad car, it’s just not a good looking one. I’d actually consider buying one if it looked like the Euro version (along with the Euro interior) even if its current performance remained the same.

  • avatar
    MrDot

    The Astra flopped because GM totally half-assed the effort. At least Ford is attempting to market the Fiesta.

  • avatar
    akear

    The ugly truth is that the Impala was best selling American car in retail sales last year. Did you know the Malibu is now GM’s new rental whore.

    The Focus after years of refinement has finally adapted to the US market. It had a rough beginning, but now is Ford’s best selling car. I have a feeling Ford will keep the current Focus around due to its decent sales. Why risk having a sales flop with the new Focus.
    Everything about the Astra was wrong for the US market. Its shape, hatchback design, interior, and performance weren’t what American’s were looking for. I mean Saturn could not even sell the 15,000 they were given. This European Focus also looks wrong. Hey, it is no skin off my back if Ford flops. It is only a matter of time until Ford follows GM and Chrysler into bailout city. With cars like the upcoming Focus that will happen sooner than later.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    The Astra was a thousands times better than the ION, but its poor sales played a role in Saturn’s road to extinction.

    Once again Americans and hatchbacks, not the best of matches. They’ll probably have a hard time selling the new Porsche as well.

  • avatar

    Before people get too bent out of shape, yes it was a rental with only 6000kms on the odo, but you also have to realize that ford Europe doesn’t build their lower spec models to the same standard as the others, hence the capsule review and reserved judgement. But, it was still so dreadful of a disappointment that I drove all the way to ramstein to switch it out. Let’s hope the 2.0l is a lot better.

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    As to these kind of cars, I’ll give you my take:

    Having driven: Focus, Astra, Stilo, previous generation Brava, Megane, 307, Golf.

    From worst to best:
    Astra
    Golf
    307
    Stilo
    Megane
    Focus
    Brava

    My brother had both a top-of-the-line Brava HGT and Focus Ghia (and father had the top Golf, which I hated) back-to-back. Though the Focus had the bigger engine, my brother sorely lamented having sold the Brava to get the Focus. It was just a better car.

    Now, as according to Katie, the new Bravo looks the best of the bunch. Great driveability, reliability, guarantee.

    The Focus is a very good car. Its behavior is second only to the Brava. Its internal space is so-so. Economy is so-so. Design is good on hatch but boring on sedan and a little disappointing (Peugeot derivative and all). Finishing is good. US Ford will probably kill it though only offering the sedan, being that the hatch is clearly the pick of the litter.

  • avatar
    davey49

    Nice honest review
    The problem with press everywhere is they always drive the high trim levels. (ST,XRS,EX…)
    This car seems no better than the US version.
    It’s 6 of one, half dozen of another thing
    I think I’d like the interior of the US one better.
    It doesn’t look great but the display on top of the center is nice to have and easy to see.
    Despite the Euro Ford love I’d say the Fusion (US spec) is the best thing Ford makes right now.
    akear- The Focus is keeping Ford out of bankruptcy? I think you’re missing something there.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    People…I hope you realize that the Focus that is tested on Top Gear is the Focus ST. Very different than your regular Focus tested here.

    I agree with the comments of some others. Even if the car is no better than our half-assed reskin…can we at least get the Euro model so Ford can sell a small car that does not look like a deformed creature that spent too much time roaming near the nuke plant?

  • avatar
    don1967

    I am so disillusioned. To dis the Euro-Focus is like writing a letter to Car & Driver bashing the Honda Accord. It’s heresy I tells ya!

  • avatar
    niky

    And the regular 2.0 Focus is also quite a ways away from the rental.

    @FromBrazil:

    That’s a worrying thought. The hatchback Focus is so much better than the sedan that it’s the de facto choice in Focus buying… and for a market the prefers sedans uber alles… that’s a bad thing…


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