DriveLife went to the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus Active, and found it to be an enjoyable extension of the normal Focus. A great chassis, that sweet-sounding 1.5-litre Ecoboost engine, a well finished interior. There wasn’t too much not to like.

But that was just for a few days. What happens when you spend a few weeks with the Focus Active? Will it be a long-term love, or will it end in, “it’s not you, it’s me”?

The Range

There’s 5 models in the Focus range. At the base is the Trend, available in a hatchback (with Ford’s 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine) or a Trend Wagon, that comes with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel. The petrol motor manages 134kW of power and 240Nm of torque, while the diesel rates 110kW and 370Nm.

Then there’s the ST-Line in the middle of the range, followed by the Active and then the Titanium. Those three models also use the same EcoBoost motor, and all petrol models are fitted with an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission.

The diesel wagon runs a 6-speed automatic.

On the safety side of things, all models get hill start assist, automated emergency braking, forward collision warning with pre-collision assist, rear parking sensors, Dynamic Brake Support and Post Impact Braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping aid, rear parking sensors, and a 180-degree reversing camera. There’s also 16” alloys, a rear spoiler, tinted glass, cruise control, front adaptive fog lights, LED daytime running lights, dual zone AC, an electronic park brake, a leather steering wheel, an 8” touchscreen display, 6-speaker audio, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability.

If you move up to the ST-Line or Active, you get added adaptive cruise control, Evasive Steer Assistance, Lane Centring Assist and Distance, Alert, keyless entry and start, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, a sports body kit, sports tuned exhaust, front adaptive LED front fog lights, Follow Me Home headlights, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, auto wipers, power folding mirrors, and aluminium pedals.

The top of the range Titanium includes fully automated parking, a heads-up display, front parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, LED tail lights, illuminated footwells, and heated front seats.

  • Trend hatchback: $31,990
  • Trend Wagon: $37,990
  • ST-Line: $36,990
  • Active: $36,990
  • Titanium: $41,990

There’s five colour options for this car; Metropolis White, Blue Metallic, Magnetic (grey), Ruby Red, and Moondust Silver.

You can read more about the Active on Ford New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

This is a good-looking car. The Focus has always had some nice, crisp lines, and this model looks even better with the slightly higher profile, and the plastic wheel arch mouldings make it look that little bit tougher on the side view.

Dual exhaust tips give it a sporty look at the rear, rounding off the lines coming in from the sides. Those wheels are unique to the Active, and look great.

Our test car was finished Blue Metallic, and it looked great in that colour – I got lots of positive comments on the car during my time with it.

The Interior

The first thing everyone notices first off, is the rotary gear knob – the same as in the Endura. No, you are not in a Jaguar. Ford have gone the rotary knob route, and I can see why; it looks cool, it’s different from the pack, and it saves centre console real estate. There’s your usual cup holders in the centre console, and being a Ford, these are illuminated so you can find your coffee at night.

Inside, there’s quite a lot of hard plastic, although there’s some different textures used here and there to break it up. Actually the whole interior is very well finished, and should impress. A nice touch are the lined door pockets. We’re seeing more of this now, and it’s very welcome. It looks better than solid plastic, and it stops drink bottles from rattling around while you are driving.

Thankfully the headlining is a light beige, so keeps things nice and light inside, and hopefully keeps the dreaded car sickness away from the kids.

For a change for a test car, the Active model has cloth seats, with some added ‘A’s in the seats to make it a bit different from the standard Focus. They look stylish, with that contrasting stitching giving them a classier feel.

In the rear, things are good. The Focus has a surprising amount of legroom for the size of the car. There’s no rear USB ports, but there is a 12-volt socket there for your passengers.

Opening the boot is surprising too – it’s a lot deeper than you expect it to be, and is a reasonable size at 443 litres.

The Drive

Let’s get it out there right now; Ford’s 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine is a gem. Oh-so torquey, smooth, quiet, and that engine note…at last, an engine that has character. The sound is one of the best for any small-capacity engine. With the windows down at idle, there’s a deep baritone rumble coming from under the car. It sounds delicious. Giving the car the beans only makes that 3-cylinder turbo motor sound even better.

Smoothness comes in a close second to engine note, probably dead even with quietness. On the motorway at a steady throttle, there’s no engine noise to be heard, and it’s so freaking smooth. Without a doubt, the motor is a highlight of this car. I love this engine.

But then, what about the all-new 8-speed automatic with the rotary dial? This is where the Focus falls down a bit. Quite a bit. The gearbox is jerky and is very slow to engage a gear. I’m not sure if it’s the rotary selector knob or the gearbox itself, but it can take a second or two for the Focus to actually go in gear. May not seem like a big deal, but it is at certain times when driving. For me, one of those times was when I was doing a three-point turn. There was traffic coming, but I had time. I went forward, stopped, and selected reverse. And waited…then the car when into reverse. By now traffic had arrived and was waiting for me. So I stopped the reversing part of the manoeuvre, then selected Drive, and waited…the traffic was waiting too. I hope Ford sorts this out soon, and for me this was almost the only negative aspect of the car.

It’s a shame about the gearbox, as overall the car is extremely refined. It’s quiet, smooth, nice to drive. Wind noise on the motorway is almost non-existent, as is road and tyre noise. The overall refinement of this car will blow some people away, except for that gearbox.

There is a manual mode for the automatic, selected by the ‘M’ button on the rotary knob. Once selected, steering wheel paddles are used for changing gear. Not far from the gear knob is the drive mode button; Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Trail. Eco mode is actually pretty usable, and doesn’t impair performance too much. With all that torque at hand, Eco mode is just fine for daily driving. As you’d expect, Sport mode gets the car quicker off the line, and increases performance at all speeds. In Normal mode, midrange acceleration is very good, and in Sport mode, even better.

The Focus has a reputation for having a sweet little chassis, and it’s a deserved reputation. It rides beautifully, it corners well, steering feel is good and so are the brakes. You’d think that with the extra ride height of the Active model, it’d roll a lot more in the corners. It does roll a little more, but it still sticks and handles. With that engine and chassis, the Focus Active is a fun car to chuck around, end of story.

Still on the Daily Drive, the Focus is a top choice. There’s good visibility all round, and of course blind spot monitoring to keep you safe. On the visibility side of things, the rear doors extend quite far back to give you that little bit of extra side view on the motorway. One small drawback of this is when you open a rear door to get into the car, the quarter window sticks so far back, you end up stepping back a bit to let the door open up. Not a biggie, but catches you out the first time.

Adaptive cruise control is standard in the Active, and it works perfectly, including bringing you to a full stop, and starting off again with a touch of the gas pedal. When adaptive cruise control is on, you have the option of using Lane Centring, which does an admirable job of almost self-steering the car. It was good to see Ford have a separate button for cruise control and speed limiter – at times, having them on the same button can be confusing to some.

Satnav is included in this model, and gives you some nice clear turn-by-turn instructions in the driver’s information display (DID). Only one small gripe, you can’t get your passenger to enter a destination, as you have to be stopped to do this.

On a very positive note, the Active has an electric park brake along with brake auto-hold. And – hallelujah! – the auto-hold function stays on when you stop the car, and then start it again. At last, a main-stream car that does it right. Not only that, but the auto-stop feature of the engine doesn’t restart the engine when you take your foot off the brake when you are at the lights. Thank you, Ford.

Steering wheel controls are well done, and are mostly a never-look-down scenario after a few hours in the car. The audio controls are split, so that volume is on the left side of the wheel, and track/station change on the right. I still struggle with this – or at least, my brain does – and after two weeks in the Focus my fingers still went to the wrong side of the wheel. I’m sure after a few months, it’d be second nature. The wheel itself is leather, and feels excellent in your hands.

There’s a reasonably-sized cubby in the centre console, that can fit an SLR camera and a wallet, and I love that it’s got a sliding lid. I wish more manufacturers would do this.

Ford’s Sync3 infotainment is still a good one – simple to operate, big and clear. It’s definitely one of the easier ones to use. The system is quick to respond too, which saves some frustrations over other systems that lag. A shame that the display itself has stuck with the tacked-on look; hopefully in a future update, Ford will integrate it into the dash.

Audio quality is above average, with nice and clear higher frequencies. I don’t see teenagers complaining too much about it. With bass turned up, there can be some pounding from the speakers in the doors, but probably no more so than other cars in this segment.

The seats are worthy of a mention. The comfort level is spot on, with nice side support and just the right amount of padding. Even after a reasonable amount of time in the car, they still fall into the Cinderella range.

So – is there a big difference from the Active to the normal Focus? One of the key mechanical differences is the change from torsion beam rear suspension to fully independent. The front is 30mm higher and the rear 34mm higher. You also get the extra drive modes, unique bumpers, Active scuff plates and other trim changes. But is it better? By all accounts, it should be better if you take it into conditions where you need that little bit of extra grip, or height. I didn’t get to test the Active out on roads like that, but manufacturers can do some pretty tricky things with electronics these days. Could it be an alternative car to take to the snow fields instead of an SUV, or say a Subaru XV? Sure it could, but keep in mind it is two wheel-drive.

Ford suggest that an average rating for fuel consumption for this car should be 6.4L/100km. I managed 7.5 over 600km of driving, and in the scheme of these measurements, that’s pretty close.

The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorquekW/NmCargo capacity, litres0-100km/h, secondsFuel L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Subaru XV Premium AWD 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol115/19631010.57.0$39,990
Honda HR-V Sport NT FWD1.8-litre, 4-cylinder petrol105/172437NA6.9$39,990
Toyota C-HR FWD1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol85/185318NA6.4$36,990
Ford Focus Active FWD1.5-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol134/240443NA6.4$36,990
Citroen C4 Cactus Shine FWD1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol81/20535810.95.3$35,990
Suzuki S-Cross FWD1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol103/2204408.75.9$33,990

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Design
Performance for a 3-cylinder
Refinement
Engine smoothness, quietness
Leg room in the rear
Brake auto-hold and engine auto-off functionality
Boot space
Ride quality
Jerky gearbox at low speeds
Gearbox slow to engage gear 

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Focus Active. On almost all accounts, it’s a fantastic Daily Driver, with the added bonus of having some sort of light off-roading capability.

And that engine…I’m going to miss it. Up until now, Suzuki’s BoosterJet has been my benchmark for small capacity turbo petrol motors, but there’s a new king now; Ford’s EcoBoost is bloody brilliant. Smooth, quiet when you want it to be, and growly when you need it to be. Torquey, torquey, torquey. It’s 3 cylinders of fun.

I don’t really want to add a ‘but’, but that gearbox. I know it’s new from the ground up, but the delay in engaging a gear when you select one is a bit painful. Not a deal breaker, but a little annoying.

The chassis is excellent, and any fears of it being worse from a ‘normal’ Focus, with the suspension changes to the Active go unfounded. It handles great, and rides superbly. You can’t ask for more than that.

In our launch article, we noted that the Active is the same price as the ST-Line, itself a very nice car. Is the Active better? Really, I don’t think that an ST-Line buyer is going to be the same as an Active buyer.

Our verdict? If you are looking for an active lifestyle car, add the Focus Active to your Must Drive list. It’s a hell of a fun drive. If it wasn’t for that gearbox, I wouldn’t hesitate to award it a full 5-chevron rating.

drivelife-car-review-chevrons-four-and-half

2019 Ford Focus Active
4.5 Chevrons

Vehicle TypeMedium sized 5-door hatchback
Starting Price$36,990
Price as Tested$36,990
Engine1.5 litre, 12 valve, turbo-petrol with Active Grille Shutter
Transmission8-speed automatic
Power, Torque (kW/Nm)134/240
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight (Kg)1,404
Length x Width x Height (mm)4398x1825x1502
Cargo Capacity (litres)443/1320
Fuel Economy (L/100km)Advertised Spec – combined – 6.4
Real World Test – combined – 7.5
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Fuel tank capacity (litres)52
Towing Capacity (Kg)
unbraked/braked
700/1400
Turning circle (metres)11.0
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 years, unlimited km
3 years Roadside Assistance
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

2 COMMENTS

    • HI Ken. Thanks for that. I went back through all the documents I have for this car and you are 100% right – it’s a torque convertor automatic. I have no idea where I got it in my head that it was a DSG. Thanks again so much – I’ve corrected this review.
      Cheers
      Fred

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