It’s one of the most recognized models Ford has put out in modern times, and, according to the automaker, almost 10 million Focuses have been sold worldwide since it first debuted. It was even named one of the 50 greatest cars of the past five decades by CAR magazine, and in 2012, it knocked the Toyota Corolla out of place and took the title of “bestselling nameplate.”The Focus has a long, rich history in the automotive world, and it remains one of the most popular vehicles globally.
The Focus was designed and built to be the replacement for Ford’s aging Escort. The Escort name was intended to carry on with a new line of vehicles designed for family use. Germany threw a wrench into the process when it tried to block the use of the name Focus because it conflicted with Focus magazine in the country, but that dispute was settled at the last minute, allowing the automaker to proceed as it had originally planned.
The Ford Focus first went to market in 1998, hitting European auto dealers a full year before the compact was available to American buyers. The Focus came to America in 1999. On both sides of the Pond, the Focus was an instant hit, but Europe seemed to appreciate the compact’s qualities more than Americans as it earned the title of European Car of the Year for 1999. In both America and Europe, the first generation of the compact car ran until 2005.
A Look at the Second Generation
Technically, the second generation for the Focus ran from 2005 through 2011. However, the car has had a markedly different history in Europe and the US. For American buyers, the second generation officially got underway in 2007 and ran through 2011.
In Europe, the Mk 2 saw some changes from its predecessor, although it maintained the same suspension design. The longer, stiffer body affected the handling though, reducing the precision for which the first generation had become known. With that being said, the extra room created by the body style change was certainly appreciated by most buyers. Body styles available in Europe for the Mk 2 included an estate, as well as both three and five-door hatchbacks.
Europe’s second generation Focus also arrived with a special edition – the Focus ST, which debuted in 2005. This was a sports-tuned variety, capable of putting out 225 bhp, and was a significant increase over the Mk 1. The top speed for the variant was clocked at 152 mph, and it offered a 0-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds. Europe’s Focus got a facelift during 2008, which is when Ford began implementing its Kinetic Design philosophy. All changes were stylistic, but it did result in a slightly more aerodynamic body and a more aggressive look.
For the US, the second generation Focus hit showroom floors in 2008 (late 2007), but was only available as either a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan, as the automaker opted to discontinue the hatchback style in the North American market. Interestingly, Ford never actually recognized this as a second generation Focus for the North American market, and compared to the Mk 2 enjoyed throughout Europe, it was certainly closer to the original North American Focus first generation. North America never really saw a true second generation, as the semi-second generation (little more than a modified first generation style) was replaced by the Mk 3 in the States. Also unlike Europe, the North American market did not receive the Focus ST during the second generation.
The Third Generation
The third generation for the bestselling compact got underway in 2010. Ford made a smart move by combining the European and North American styles into a unified offering, finally giving American drivers the same car enjoyed by their European counterparts. The Mk 3 was released simultaneously worldwide for the 2011 model year, and Americans breathed something of a sigh of relief as the aging previous version was discontinued.
The new model brought a host of changes, including the reintroduction of the sorely missed hatchback version in the North American market. The car also gained a new power plant, with a 2.0-liter direct injection four-cylinder under the hood. The third generation was made available as a five-door hatchback, as a four-door sedan, and a five-door estate (for the European market).
The US market only had the new 2.0-liter engine available, which was actually not offered in Europe with the exception of Russia. Europe and most other nations had three other engines from which to choose, including a 1.0-liter, 1.6-liter and 1.6-liter EcoBoost.
In terms of body style, the new Mk 3 ramped up Ford’s Kinetic Design program with a brand new body style. However, for American buyers with a desire for speed and performance, the third generation also marked the first time they could get their hands on a Focus ST. It was made available in the US and the UK as a five-door “hot hatch”as a late 2012 model. The ST is capable of producing 247 hp through a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. Interestingly, this is a smaller power plant than the previous Europe-only ST, yet manages to produce more horsepower. The top speed for the new ST variant is reportedly 154 mph, slightly above what the previous generation could provide.
The Ford Focus remains one of the most popular vehicles on the planet, and Ford has no plans to retire the nameplate anytime soon. In addition, new variants are in the works, with the new Focus RS slated to debut sometime in 2014 as a 2015 model. The car remains capable of providing substantial benefits – plenty of get up and go, available space for families, and solid handling for those with a need for performance.