What stands out?

The Ford Focus has long been one of the better small cars to drive, and it’s no different with the current model. Power is excellent in most versions, and all steer well. There is voice activation for some infotainment features, and the revised Focus ST sports hatch remains absorbing and quick. This review covers the Focus range prior to the October 2015 update.

What might bug me?

Finding your way around the audio system on all but the Focus ST – there is a mass of buttons and it can be hard to find the one you need. The central information screen is very small, also.

Using the fiddly shift-buttons on automatic versions.

On more expensive models, driving at 80km/h on the space-saver spare if you puncture a tyre.

What body styles are there?

Five-door hatch and four-door sedan.

All are front-wheel drive.

The Focus is classified as a small car, lower priced.

What features does every Ford Focus have?

Cruise control with a speed-limit function, which allows you to set an upper limit that avoids speeding fines.

Rear parking sensors.

Bluetooth connectivity. Voice controlled phone calls and music selection.

Hill launch assist, which controls the brakes automatically to help you start from rest on a slope.

Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and a curtain airbag on each side covering the front and rear side-windows.

Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid. All new cars must have this feature.

The Focus is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.0-litre turbo diesel is the most fuel efficient engine, with consumption of 5.4 litres/100km in official tests (city and country combined). It also delivers strong performance.

But the diesel demands a significant price premium, is available only as an automatic, and is not available in the least costly Focus, the Ambiente.

The Focus Ambiente comes with a 1.6-litre petrol engine rated at 6.5 litres/100km in auto form. Its power output is modest, and you might have to drive it hard to keep up with traffic.

The 2.0-litre petrol engine that is standard in Focus Trend, Sport and Titanium versions has about 30 per cent more power than the 1.6 and is much more responsive – with fuel use almost unchanged. (The diesel is optional in these cars.)

The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the hatch-only Focus ST is the performance hero, producing twice as much power as the 1.6. It requires premium unleaded fuel and uses significantly more of it. However, a start-stop system helps keep fuel use down in the city: it switches off the engine when you come to a halt, and restarts it when you press the accelerator to drive away.

The ST is available only with a six-speed manual gearbox, limiting its appeal.

The other two petrol engines are available with a five speed manual gearbox or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The diesel is automatic only.

The Focus auto gearbox shifts smoothly and decisively, but its dual-clutch design does not offer the fluid, elastic take-up from rest of a conventional automatic, and therefore may require more attention in stop-start driving.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The Ambiente is the least expensive Focus, and it rolls on 16-inch wheels made of steel.

Spend more for the popular Trend and you get the bigger, 2.0-litre engine, and more stylish aluminium alloy wheels that are also lighter, for better roadholding. The Trend’s wipers operate automatically when rain hits the windscreen, and its headlamps switch on automatically at night. Dual-zone air-conditioning allows different temperatures to be set for the left and right sides of the car.

On the Focus Sport, the wheels grow to 17 inches and the tyres are slightly wider. There is a leather-wrapped steering wheel, smart key entry (you can open the car by pushing a button on the door handle, provided the key is nearby), satellite navigation, and a reversing camera. Ambient interior lighting produces a subtle red glow at night.

The Titanium brings leather trim, a power-adjusted driver’s seat, and a sunroof. Wheels grow again to 18 inches, and the tyres become significantly wider and lower in profile, sharpening steering response and improving grip. Front parking sensors are added, along with a semi-automated parking system that can measure a parking spot and steer the car into it. An auto transmission is standard.

And option on the Titanium is a Sports Executive Pack that includes active cruise control, which matches your speed to that of a slower car in front, and Active City Stop, a form of automatic emergency braking that works at speeds up to 30km/h.

The sporty Focus ST comes with the turbocharged petrol engine, grippier tyres, and firmer suspension for more stable handling. Its front seats are made by Recaro, a specialist known for body-hugging racing seats. Headlamps are brighter, using HID bulbs. The Unlike the Titanium, the ST does not have a sunroof.

The ST is the first variant to arrive of a freshened Focus range, and among its improvements is a more appealing and effective dashboard that displays the sat-nav on an 8.0-inch touchscreen. It also has Ford’s Sync2 connectivity, which allows voice control of the sound, navigation and air-con, and your phone.

An optional Technology Pack available only with the ST includes headlamps that dip automatically for oncoming drivers, an alert that warns when changing lanes if a car is alongside in a blind spot, and another that warns if you are drifting out of your lane. And there is Active City Stop, which brings low-speed automatic emergency braking.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

Only the Ambiente and Trend versions have a full-size spare wheel. The Sport, Titanium and ST have a narrower spare, with an 80km/h recommended speed limit.

Tyres on the more expensive 17-inch and, particularly, 18-inch wheel models ride more roughly than those on the smaller-wheeled variants.

The more expensive models also have firmer suspension, with the ST the most firm.

The ST is the most expensive Focus but it does not have the self-parking system or sunroof fitted to the Titanium.

White is the only standard colour on all but one model: the Focus ST also offers red as standard. All other colours cost extra.

How comfortable is the Focus?

The interior of the Focus feels dated, with some grainy plastic finishes that detract from the ambience. The centre console looks busy, with lots of similar buttons.

The exception here is the Focus ST, which has a dashboard that is more appealing to look at and easier to use.

The 3.5-inch monochrome blue screen on Ambiente and Trend versions is too small.

The 5.0-inch screen on Sports and Titaniums remains smaller than those on many rivals, with poorer definition. Those models also get a Sony sound system with a unique cluster of audio buttons. Those buttons too can be difficult to navigate.

The Focus ST’s higher-resolution 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with SYNC2 connectivity is simple to use, with effective voice actuation.

Two cupholders ahead of the covered centre console provide space for odds and ends in the Focus, as does a smaller binnacle alongside the driver’s left knee.

Seats on the Ambiente and Trend are flat but comfortable. The Sport and Titanium get better side support, which improves long-distance comfort.

The Recaro seats on the ST have large side bolsters, to hold you in place. Such seats can be uncomfortable for some people, but these examples fit a broad spectrum of body sizes.

Around town the Focus is an easy car to drive, with light but responsive steering and an agile feel.

At freeway speeds, there is some roaring from the tyres.

The Ambiente and Trend versions have the most supple ride. Sport and Titanium models get slightly firmer suspension. The firmness is more obvious on the Titanium, because its larger wheels and lower profile tyres leave less air between the wheel and the road.

The sporty Focus ST feels very stiff, and can jar its occupants over small bumps.

What about safety in a Ford Focus?

Six airbags, stability control and rear parking sensors contribute to the Focus's good standard safety, and all but the Ambiente step it up with auto-on wipers and headlamps.

The Sport, Titanium and ST come with a rear vision camera, which can help you see people in your path when reversing.

The Titanium and ST offer automatic emergency braking in a package of extra-cost options. This Active City Stop applies the brakes at city speeds to avoid a crash.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Focus its maximum five-star safety rating.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Focus has a well deserved reputation as a competent car through corners. Steering is accurate and the suspension settles the car confidently after bumps.

Grip levels on the Sport, Titanium and ST models are high. That is helped by suspension that reduces leaning in bends.

The 1.6-litre petrol engine in the Ambiente doesn’t offer much power. The 2.0-litre supports confident overtaking.

The diesel is a bit noisier but pulls strongly.

The six-speed auto performs very smooth, fast gear shifts that boost performance. (It is only if you want to override its selections that you must use the small buttons mounted awkwardly on the shift handle).

The Focus ST is a genuine hot hatch, and very rewarding to drive. The turbo engine makes it very quick in all situations, with a big spread of power and a silky willingness to rev. It is limited mainly by its ability to apply all its power to the road through its front tyres. Clever electronics – fitted to all Focuses – help here in corners by directing more power to the tyre with more load.

The ST’s six-speed manual gearbox is slick in its shifts. The absence of an auto gearbox option is partially offset by the immense urge of the engine, which means you rarely have to change gears in highway use.

How is life in the rear seats?

The rear seats are quite flat yet still comfortable, even if you want to squeeze three across the rear.

For adults, the three adjustable head rests will need to be raised, to prevent them digging into upper backs.

Head room is marginal for tall adults, and there are no rear air-conditioning vents.

The rear wheel arch hinders entry slightly, but once inside leg room is good, without being as accommodating as, for example, the Nissan Pulsar and Holden Cruze.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The 60/40 split-fold seats help with loading bulkier items, and they can create a completely flat floor – on both the sedan and the hatch – if you flip the seat bases up first.

The hatch is the better suited body style for carrying bikes or large boxes with the seats folded.

However, with all seats in place the sedan’s boot is bigger: 421 litres versus 316 for the hatch.

Where does Ford make the Focus?

The Focus ST is made in Germany. All other Focuses are produced in Thailand.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Seatbelt reminders for the back seats (the Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza have these).

High-speed auto emergency braking (available on the most expensive Mazda3 variants).

Head-up speedometer display (available on some Mazda3 variants).

Auto stop-start. Used on the Volkswagen Golf and Mazda3, this shuts down the engine whenever the car is stationary, to save fuel. Only the Focus ST has this.

Other cars you might consider include the Volkswagen Golf, Holden Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 and Elantra, Nissan Pulsar and Kia Cerato.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The Focus ST is a very entertaining car if you want something that sporty. And it comes with features such as the bigger touchscreen that other versions won’t get until the final quarter of 2015.

Among the other cars it is the Focus Sport that makes the best case. It gets the bigger of the two petrol engines, which in itself is a significant improvement over the Ambiente. Throw in features such as the smart key entry and leather steering wheel and it justifies the price premium.

When did Ford update this Focus?

The Focus generation went on sale in 2011 and received a minor update in 2014. A bigger update began in May 2015 with the revised Focus ST. In October 2015 the remaining Focus models were given more powerful, turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engines, and the base Ambiente version was dropped. Among other changes were a re-sculpted nose, revised interiors, better infotainment systems, and the fitting of reversing cameras as standard. An all-new Focus is due about 2018.