Ford has given its improved Focus family hatch a useful dose of electrification in EcoBoost mHEV Hybrid form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look
When it comes to family hatchbacks, electrification is really getting into gear, with full-Hybrid, Plug-in and full-electric options all available to the eco-conscious buyer prepared to pay the price for the technology on offer. But not everyone can stretch to cars like these. Ford says it can offer a more sensible solution and this is it, the Focus EcoBoost Hybrid, most affordably offered in 125PS form.
This model adds mild hybrid tech to the company's usual 1.0-litre EcoBoost three cylinder petrol engine to create a small but significant improvement in efficiency. And, at the same time, a perkier feel through the gears. Sounds promising.
Hybrid engines aren't new in this class; Toyota has been offering one in the family hatch segment since 2010. But they add what for many buyers is an unacceptably large price premium to cars of this kind - the cheapest, most basic Corolla Hybrid does, after all, cost around £25,000. What if a slightly more affordable approach into hybrid tech could be delivered that would be lighter, cheaper and more driver-orientated? Ford says that its 'mHEV' mild hybrid tech does just that. True, it's nothing like as efficient as a full-Hybrid (like the Corolla), or indeed a plug-in Hybrid or a full-electric model - you'll find all three technologies represented right across this segment: make sure you know what you're buying. But in compensation, 'mHEV' tech boosts driver feel because it's lighter and it adds a slice of extra pulling power just when you need it.
Simplicity's the keynote here, so the 1.0-litre three cylinder EcoBoost petrol powerplant this car features is essentially the same one Ford's been offering since 2011, more recently enhanced with cylinder deactivation tech which cuts down on cylinder use at low-to-medium throttle speeds. In mHEV mild hybrid form though, this unit gets a lower compression ratio and a larger turbo. And it's 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. Which provides a bit of extra zip when you accelerate (Ford says up to 50Nm of extra torque) and delivers a little electric boost from low revs to 'torque-fill' while you're waiting for the turbo to spool up.
Most Focus EcoBoost Hybrid buyers will probably choose the 125PS version of this mHEV engine, which gets to 62mph in 10.2s en route to 121mph - but the disadvantage there is that you have to have the brand's 7-speed Powershift auto transmission. A manual gearbox Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost model is available with a stick shift, but it lacks the latest mHEV hybrid tech. Alternatively, you could pay a lot more and get the 155PS version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost mHEV in your Focus, which offers both transmission options but will set you back a minimum of nearly £26,000.
Design and Build
Both hatch and estate versions of this improved Focus are marked out by smarter LED headlamps with built-in foglights. plus the brand badge has been moved from the bonnet to the front grille. And the darker rear tail lamps have a smarter 'loop light' illuminating signature. As before, there are separate styling details to mark out the different trim levels, with varying front grille designs for 'Titanium', 'ST-Line' and 'Active' versions. The 'Active' model, as before, gets SUV-style visual changes, including extra lower body cladding, larger side vents and a higher ride height.
Bigger changes are reserved for the cabin, which now in most models 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. We're not sure that this is actually a step forward but the infotainment system's ability to now accept over-the-air updates certainly is; as a result, you'll get into your Focus one morning and find it able to do something it couldn't do the day before - which is rather cool. As before, rear seat space isn't exemplary, but there's decent room for a couple of adults.
Luggage space still isn't particularly noteworthy either; there's 341-litres of capacity if you load to window level - or 375-litres with a tyre repair kit fitted. A typically-specified Estate model fitted with a mini-spare offers up to 575-litres. Fold down the 60:40-split rear backrest and between 1,250 and 1,320-litres of space can be freed up in the hatch model, depending on the size of spare wheel you decide upon. An Estate version will give you up to 1,653-litres. The Estate's load area also now features a wet zone, with a load-floor liner inserted into the space to provide water resistance against items such as wet suits and umbrellas.
Market and Model
Pricing for the 1.0-litre EcoBoost Focus mHEV 125PS variant we're looking at here is a touch higher than you might expect because with this engine output, it can only be had with Ford's Powershift 7-speed auto gearbox. Prices start from around £25,000 and run up to around £29,000 for the top-spec mHEV 125PS Powershift model. The estate body style attracts a premium of £1,200 over the equivalent hatch. You could save around £1,800 and get a 1.0-litre Focus EcoBoost 125PS without the mHEV tech and with a manual gearbox. Alternatively, provided you're able to avoid entry-level trim, you could find around £300 more than is required for the 125PS auto mHEV model and get the mHEV engine in perkier 155PS form with a manual gearbox - at that level, auto transmission is around £1,200 more.
The trim range kicks off with the base 'Trend' variant, before progressing through 'Titanium' and 'ST-Line' variants, both of which are also available in plusher 'Vignale' forms. An SUV-style 'Active' version (also with a 'Vignale' variant) is also available. Equipment levels reflect the fact that many customers will be paying upwards of £25,000 for this once very affordable compact family hatch. Even the base Focus 'Trend' comes as standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, full-LED headlamps, navigation, drive modes and air conditioning. Avoid base trim and you get Ford's latest 13.2-inch 'SYNC 4' touchscreen incorporating navigation, 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, a DAB digital radio with Bluetooth and Emergency Assist. Plus there's an electronic parking brake, autonomous emergency braking, tyre pressure monitoring, Hill Start Assist and a Lane-Keeping Aid.
For sporty drivers, the 'ST-Line' variant offers unique body styling, including unique upper and lower grille, rear spoiler and polished twin tailpipes. Inside there's a flat-bottomed steering wheel, black headlining, an aluminium gear knob, alloy finish pedals and red stitching.
New safety systems added across the range include 'Blind Spot assist', 'Intersection assist' and 'Local Hazard Information' (which can warn drivers of hazardous situations on the road ahead). Plus there's 'Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go', 'Speed Sign Recognition' and 'Lane Centring' (which helps to ease the strain of driving in stop-start traffic). 'Pre-Collision Assist with Active Braking' helps drivers avoid or mitigate the effects of collisions with vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, while 'Active Park Assist' operates gear selection, acceleration and braking to enable fully automated parking manoeuvres simply by holding down a button.
Cost of Ownership
We've explained how the mHEV system works in our 'Driving Experience' section but we'll further add here that the belt-driven integrated starter/generator is also able to aid the powerplant's stop/start system in urban traffic, restarting the engine in approximately 300 milliseconds - about the same as the blink of an eye. And the 'BISG' also enables the Focus EcoBoost Hybrid's Auto Start-Stop technology to operate in a wider range of scenarios for even greater fuel savings, including when coasting to a stop below 10mph - and even when the vehicle is in gear with the clutch pedal depressed.
Thanks to all of this, the subsequent reduction in the amount of work required from the petrol engine results, says Ford, in a fuel efficiency improvement of up to 9%. So what does that equate to in terms of stats? Well, let's base this around the Focus EcoBoost Hybrid variant most will choose, the 125PS mHEV 1.0-litre EcoBoost Hybrid Powershift auto gearbox variant we're looking at here. This returns 52.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 122g/km of WLTP-rated CO2. The 155PS version of the same engine manages 54.3mpg and 116g/km with a manual gearbox. You'll need some class perspective here; most directly comparable conventionally-engined family hatchback-segment models deliver about 5mpg less and put out about 15-20g/km of CO2 more.
As long as you understand what you're actually getting here - a slightly more efficient combustion engine, not a proper full-Hybrid - there's lots to like about this lightly electrified Focus. That understanding will help put into perspective the fuel and CO2 benefits of Ford's mHEV technology. So you'll be pleased with these efficiency enhancements, rather than disappointed that they're not more Prius-like.
It helps that the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine being used here was already pretty efficient thanks in part to its cylinder deactivation technology. Many of the family hatchback segment models this Focus EcoBoost Hybrid derivative directly competes with on price have nothing like this level of engine sophistication at this price point. Add in this fourth generation Focus model's dynamic virtues and the deal you're likely to get from Britain's market-leading brand and you might well find the overall ownership proposition quite a compelling one.