Ford Focus MK1 – What’s all the fuss about?

What a departure from the old Escort, the Focus is
What a departure from the old Escort, the Focus is

Visual Impressions
The Ford Focus Mk1 was launched back in 1998, so is now a fairly old car. Its styling carried on Ford’s ‘New Edge’ philosophy that they had going on at the time. This is certainly a fresher and more aggressive design when compared to the Escort that it replaced. With the possible exception of the Escort Cosworth, a car that looks just as ridiculous today as it did when launched.

To my eyes, the Focus still looks reasonably fresh and isn’t going to offend anybody. Clearly the majority agree because there are lots of them on the roads today. The version I have is the Ghia (‘luxury’) version. One will be rewarded with sportier suspension and some neat alloys if one goes for the Zetec version. These really help the car sit well on the road. The focus seems to have aged quite well, and I’m not sure the same can be said of its successors.

Interior
The interior is exactly what you would expect from a car produced in the late 90s. It’s very late 90s. The materials are not of the highest quality, but at the same time, nothing has fallen out and everything still works as desired. There is more than enough adjustment in both the steering column and the seats that it should be easy to get into a suitable driving position. There is ample space for driver, passengers and luggage.

The seats are reasonably comfortable, but it might be a good idea to take a break every couple of hours anyway. The controls are logically laid out, such that this is not a scary car to get familiar with. They also have a good weight to them, so one knows when the indicator is on, or the air conditioning has been selected. Some driving schools use the focus as their vehicle of choice, so the logical cabin makes life easier.

Performance
This version has the 2.0 Petrol, which provides 130bhp. This doesn’t sound like much (because it isn’t), but the car is also quite light at around 1250kg so it does feel pretty nippy around town. The engine also develops good torque from low engine speeds, so it get’s off the line well. The 2.0 version is also geared slightly more aggressively than other versions, so it reaches lower speeds in the first four gears than its stablemates. Fifth gear allows the 2.0 to demonstrate its extra power though.

For those interested, the top speed is about 126 mph and 0-60 takes around 9 seconds. The short gearing means the car feels faster on the road than it may read in the brochure. Brakes are not the most powerful, but have good progression. The pedal feels solid enough that it’s easy to apply the amount of braking force that one needs.

Driving Experience
This is the foundation on which the Focus has built its name. The old Escort didn’t have the best reputation as a ‘driver’s car’. The Focus was therefore a bit of a revelation in this are. Some may argue that it still is. It drives superbly, even by today’s standards. The Focus is fun not only compared to the Escort, but also compared to some of the versions which followed. It’s also more enjoyable than some cars from supposedly more ‘prestigious’ brands. If you’re after an everyday car with the emphasis on how it drives, then your search is over. Don’t bother checking out other cars of a similar size or age. This car simply drives better.

The main technological improvement comes from this car having independent rear suspension, which was not commonplace at the time of launch. This increases both stability and agility. The steering is sharp enough that you aren’t endlessly turning the wheel to make it round a corner, but not so sharp that changing lanes will feel unsettling. The car has great grip from the tyres, which is useful for learners. The car stays flat while turning, and this makes it reassuring to drive at speed. The ride is firm, and you do feel bumps but it’s rarely uncomfortable. There is a fair amount of noise when on the motorway, but it never becomes too tiring on longer journeys.

Running Costs
I bought the car for £2000 5 years ago. I thought this was good value considering the version, mileage, condition and service history. Insurance for me was around £700 initially, and it’s been going down from there. In terms of servicing, parts are cheap and don’t need replacing too often. The Focus is a reasonably common car, so it’s easy to find parts and not too selective.

I can keep the car well serviced for around £100-£150 per year. Fuel economy is very dependent on environment. I’m getting around 28 mpg if I never leave town, but on the motorway it is regularly over 40. It has not broken down once, even after some constant ‘enthusiastic’ driving. I’m told that occasional fast driving is good for the car. So I’m happy to oblige!

Who’s it for?
This car, and cars like this, are for most people who would like a cheap set of wheels. People who want a car that gets on with the job without fuss. People that want to enjoy themselves behind the wheel but not pay for it everywhere else. This is a car that demands very little from its owner. But the amount of fun that we get from this and cars like this makes it a great option. Many are limited to just one car, so it makes sense to have a car that’s great for driver, passengers and bank account. This is that car!

MotorKwirks Value Rating: 90%
This has been my only car for the last 5 years and, apart from track days, there is no situation that it can’t reasonably handle. I’m very happy with it, although sometimes I do wish it was a little bit quicker. But as an only car, it fits the bill very well. The Ford Focus Mk1 is cheap to buy, cheap to run, great to drive. There is a reason so many of these things were sold.