Review and road test of the Ford Focus Active
Here's a Ford Focus with a bit of Crossover attitude. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved Focus Active.
Ten Second Review of the Ford Focus Active
The Focus Active is the car you buy if you like the idea of a mid-sized SUV but can't quite bring yourself to buy one. In this lifestyle-orientated Focus derivative, you get a higher ride height and a bit of fashionable bling but you don't have to join the crossover crowd to get it. In fact, there are hardly any compromises to make in buying this trendy Focus derivative. And of course you get all the design improvements that Ford has painstakingly built into the current version of this design.
The rise and rise of the SUV market shows no sign of slowing down. But not everyone is convinced by the idea of the Crossover class of car. Do you really need something with Jeep-like styling to complete the school run or commute through the suburbs to work? Probably not. It's difficult though, not to be attracted by the idea of a car that sits you a little higher than the traffic around you. And one that looks as if it might occasionally venture from the beaten track.
The concept of delivering this for customers who don't want to make a complete switch to a fully-fledged SUV is what has driven Ford to create its range of 'Active' Fiesta and Focus models. We're going to check out what the Focus Active has to offer here.
It's easy to dismiss cars like this as purely marketing packaging exercises - and some of them are. At least with the Focus Active though, Ford has made some sort of effort to provide drive dynamics that, to some extent anyway, deliver on the promises of the 'hatchback with a backpack' styling approach. The Focus Active chassis features unique springs, dampers, stabiliser bars, and front and rear knuckle geometries, alongside a ride height raised 30mm front and 34mm rear over the standard model.
The SLA system aims to optimise comfort and response, and features an isolated sub frame that delivers better compliance over larger bumps in the road, for smoother journeys. There's also a selectable drive mode system, with two settings; a 'Slippery' mode which adjusts ESC and traction control settings for increased confidence on surfaces with reduced grip such as mud, snow and ice. And a 'Trail' mode, which helps maintain momentum on soft surfaces such as sand.
The engine range was significantly updated as recently as 2020 with Ford's latest Mild Hybrid technology and of course that's carried forward, though the line-up kicks off with a conventional version of the brand's 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine in 125PS form with a manual gearbox. You can have the same engine in mHEV mild hybrid form, though only if you're prepared to specify Ford's 7-speed PowerShift auto gearbox. The 155PS version of this mHEV mild hybrid 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine can be had with either manual or PowerShift auto transmission. Higher mileage drivers will be pleased to see that the 1.5-litre 120PS EcoBlue diesel engine's been retained in the range - though only with 8-speed auto transmission.
Design and Build
Buyers choose between five-door hatch or estate body styles. Either way, you'll recognise this Active model by its 30mm raised ride height. And maybe also by its black painted finish for the roof and mirror caps. Black roof rails are standard and the base models get 17-inch 5-spoke 'Foundry Black' painted alloy wheels. Plusher 'Active Vignale' derivatives swap these for 18-inch 5x2-spoke 'Shadow Black' painted rims. Rear privacy glass, along with unique skid plates and side rocker mouldings also feature as do twin exhaust pipes. So there's plenty of pavement theatre to suggest an active lifestyle. And of course all the changes lately added to other Focus variants, including smarter LED headlamps with built-in foglights. plus the brand badge has been moved from the bonnet to the front grille.
Inside, there are fewer changes with these Active variants, though you do get blue-stitched upholstery and branded door scuff plates. Otherwise, you'll appreciate the higher quality interior delivered by this much improved Focus design, which features a larger 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' central touchscreen. In a controversial move, Ford has decided that this monitor should now incorporate the ventilation controls, giving the dashboard a cleaner, less cluttered look.
Up-front, it all feels of really decent quality and shoulder room is impressive. There's plenty of space in the back too and little touches help; the rear doors for instance have been specially profiled so that back passengers can see out more easily. There's very reasonable levels of boot space too. In the estate version, there's a class-leading 1.14m of width between the wheel arches and 1,700mm of load length with the rear seats folded. That means 1,653-litres of carriage capacity.
Market and Model
'Active' versions of this Focus are priced at the same level as the sporty 'ST-Line' derivatives, which means that prices start from around £25,000. That's for the five-door hatch version: as usual with Ford, there's an £1,200 premium to pay if you want an estate. There's an auto gearbox with the mild hybrid petrol engines - and you have to have an auto with the 1.5 EcoBlue diesel.
As well as all the features we've mentioned in our 'Design & Build' section, standard 'Active' variants get LED headlamps, selectable drive modes with 'Slippery' and 'Trail' settings and a navigation system built into the 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' centre-dash infotainment screen. Anything that can't tell you will probably be covered off by the 4.2-inch colour screen provided in the instrument cluster. There's also keyless start and all-round parking sensors are an affordable option. To this tally, the plusher 'Active Vignale' models add larger 18-inch wheels, a 12.3-inch instrument screen, a wireless charging mat and a load-through ski hatch.
Cost of Ownership
Ford has managed to create the Active package in a way that has very little effect on running cost efficiency. The brand has re-fettled its engines in recent times, the biggest change being the introduction, back in 2020, of 48-volt mHEV mild hybrid technology for the brand's core 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit. The mHEV system uses a beefed-up starter/generator driven by a belt at the front of the engine that stores the energy harvested when you brake or decelerate in a tiny 48-volt lithium-ion battery secreted at the back of the car. Let's get to the figures, which we'll quote using WLTP measurement for fuel and WLTP measurement for CO2. Bear in mind with all the engines that if you choose the optional 8-speed auto gearbox, you'll hit your efficiency readings by around 10% - which isn't the case if you go for a Volkswagen Group model with DSG auto transmission.
The latest version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit that most choose gets increased injection pressure to facilitate efficiency. In mHEV mild hybrid form, this unit gets a lower compression ratio and a larger turbo. And the mHEV version has been embellished by a beefed-up starter/generator driven by a belt at the front of the engine that stores the energy harvested when you brake or decelerate in a tiny 48-volt lithium-ion battery secreted at the back of the car.
That 1.0 EcoBoost petrol unit comes in two forms with 125PS (standard as a manual and mHEV as a PowerShift auto), both of which return up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle with a CO2 reading of 121g/km. For the 155PS manual version of this 1.0-litre mHEV engine, the figures are up to 54.3mpg and up to 116g/km of CO2 (it's 53.3mpg and up to 119g/km of CO2 for the auto version).
What about the diesel? Well, for the 1.5 EcoBlue unit with 120PS and auto transmission (the only spec on offer), you're looking at up to 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and up to 120g/km of CO2. For completion, we'll also give you the figures for the ST 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol variant - up to 35.3mpg and up to 183g/km (35.8mpg and 182g/km for the auto).
If what you really want is an SUV, you'll dismiss the Focus Active as a piece of marketing frippery. But if you're looking for a family hatch, but you'd actually like a slightly more adventurous-looking one, it may be right up your street. OK, so you don't get 4WD - but then hardly any small or mid-sized SUV provides that either. The same could be said of a requirement for a raised driving position - though this car's 30mm ride height increase does provide a little of what you might look for in that regard.
Overall, it depends what you want. If what you really want is a Focus, this is one that'll give you a bit of extra peace of mind the next time a snowy or icy snap strikes, thanks to the extra traction afforded by its 'Slippery' and 'Trail' driving modes. And it'll fit in nicely on the school run too.
Ford Focus Active review by Jonathan Crouch