The SUV boom has had a significant impact on passenger car sales, however hatchbacks are still big business in Australia, not least because of sexy hot-hatch variants and their lesser-powered mid-strength siblings that invoke the more powerful cars’ athletic styling and sporty dynamics without the performance or circa-$40k price tag.
The fourth-generation Ford Focus arrived in Australia at the end of 2018 with five variants, including a wagon version.
The range starts with the Focus Trend hatch that retails for $25,990, with the ST-Line adding desirable extras including sports body kit, flat-bottom steering wheel, and keyless start for just $3000 extra.
An ST-Line wagon is also available for $30,990, and for $34,990 you can get the luxury-focused Focus Titanium.
Our test vehicle included a $1250 Driver Assistance Pack and Desert Island Blue premium paint ($650) which took its $28,990 retail price to $30,890, which still compares favourably to rivals such as the Toyota Corolla ZR ($31,920) and Kia Cerato GT ($31,990).
The Focus ST-Line’s official fuel consumption is 6.4L/100km combined, with our testing taking that up to a still-respectable 7.5L/100km.
The Ford Focus ST-Line is covered by Ford’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
All fourth-generation Focus variants in Australia are powered by a three-cylinder 1.5-litre ‘EcoBoost’ turbo petrol engine coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Autonomous emergency braking is standard across the range, as is an eight-inch touchscreen with 180-degree view parking camera, Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system with in-built-satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
The Focus ST-Line adds larger 17-inch wheels over the Trend’s 16s, a 10mm lower ride height, more athletic-looking ST-Line body kit, LED fog and tail lights, tinted windows, and folding door mirrors with puddle lights.
Interior extras include a black roof-lining, alloy pedals, flat-bottom sports steering wheel, keyless engine start, tyre pressure monitoring, and wireless phone charging pad.
At 4.38 metres long, the fourth-generation Focus is 18mm longer and has a 53mm lengthier wheelbase (2.70 metres), than its predecessor. This adds to interior space, but low overhangs at each end give a more compact, svelte appearance.
This, and the fact it's 88kg lighter than the previous model, makes it feel more nimble, making it great for driving around town and parking in tight spots.
A more compact dashboard design adds an additional 100mm to the cabin, resulting in more rear legroom than before even with the front seats pushed back to accommodate tall occupants.
The boot space is measures 373 litres, which is about average for the small hatchback class.
The Ford Focus ST-Line comes standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist protection, and lane-keeping assist. It also has post-impact braking that applies the anchors after impact so the car doesn’t roll away.
An extra $1250 brings a Driver Assistance pack that brings additional safety features such as rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop & Go’, which is great in traffic jams.
All Focus variants are equipped with six airbags, front and rear side curtains, and ISOFIX child seat anchors in the rear seats.
The 2019 Ford Focus range was awarded a 5-Star ANCAP rating in December 2018.
The roomy interior design is much more refined than the previous model, however it seems downmarket compared to rivals such as the Toyota Corolla ZR, Renault Megane GT-Line and the relatively older Hyundai i30 N-Line (formerly i30 SR).
The interior doesn’t reflect the ST (if the previous model is anything to go by) with the flat-bottom steering wheel and some red stitching on the standard cloth seats the only things providing any kind of sporty aesthetic.
The front seats are comfortable with good back support, but lack decent side bolstering as found in other warm hatches such as the i30 N-Line. The rear seats feel good too, but lack a centre armrest and their own air vents or USB sockets, though there is a 12v socket.
The dashboard design is a big improvement over the previous model, with the bulky central head unit replaced by a floating touchscreen. This also lacks the sporty flair you’d expect from a warm hatch though, not helped by a rotary gear selector shared with the Endura SUV and bland gauge cluster.
On the plus side the ride is comfortable. The decision to give the ST-Line relatively small 17-inch wheels instead of the 18s that most of its rivals roll on pays off here with a smooth and quiet ride.
ON THE ROAD
The 2019 Ford Focus’ 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo is full of life and is rarely found wanting. There’s little turbo-lag when you put the foot down and the eight-speed auto does a nice job shifting through the cogs, with Sport mode holding the revs more.
Using the paddle shifters adds to driver involvement, though there is a pronounced delay between paddle input and shifts that takes some getting used to.
Where Focus ST-Line really invokes some hot-hatch spirit is with its ride and handling. The steering is light but crisp so there’s good engagement between your hands and the front wheels, which inspires confidence when pushing it into corners.
The ride on the lowered suspension also feels controlled. The torsion beam rear suspension isn’t as advanced as the multi-link set-ups on rivals like the Toyota Corolla ZR or Hyundai i30 N-Line, but it steadies the ship really well and even feels better than the Korean hatch on rougher roads.
The ST-Line hatch is set to gain multi-link suspension that’s already fitted in the wagon version toward the end of the year, but you’re not missing out too much with the current set up.
The sporty ride and handling doesn’t come at the expense of comfort around town or on the highway, which makes this a nice all-rounder that should make it a very popular variant for those wanting a few extra features over the Focus Trend.
The Ford Focus has always been an excellent hatchback and this fourth-generation model doesn’t let its lineage down.
The ST-Line spec is a welcome addition in the Aussie line-up, and while its excellent ride and handling and punchy three-cylinder turbo provide bags of cheap thrills, Ford has missed an opportunity to properly cash in on the enduring popularity of its Focus ST and RS hot hatches by not decking out the ST-Line accordingly.
The lack of sports seats and instrumentation, even as an extra-cost option, robs this of much needed showroom appeal, which it will need to take on its new-generation hatchback rivals.
That said if you like the Focus and are looking at the entry-level trend, paying an additional $3000 for all the extra features and ride and handling that the ST-Line offers is, in itself, a bit of a bargain.