Ford Focus Active Review 2023

Written by Andrew Brady

heycar ratingSpeed-hump friendly family car
  • 2019
  • Family hatch
  • Petrol, Diesel

Quick overview


  • Cheap to run
  • Great to drive
  • Plenty of standard kit


  • Rivals have more interior space
  • Cabin quality isn’t faultless
  • Auto gearbox dents performance and fuel economy

Overall verdict on the Ford Focus Active

"Our Ford Focus Active review looks at the excellent use of the standard Focus as a base, adding chunkier styling and a hint of ruggedness to make a car that’s even better suited to the urban jungle than the regular model."

Ford Focus Active Review 2023: Front

How so? Well, it might not sound like much, but the Ford Focus Active’s 30mm taller suspension means you can go over even the nastiest of speed humps without having to worry about hearing a scraping noise as your bumper kisses Tarmac. 

Even the Active’s chunky body kit has it uses, deflecting scrapes and scratches with no sign of the damage you’d get on painted panels. It’s not so much what’s changed as what stays the same that makes the Active so good – just like any Focus it’s a hoot to drive. It’s grippy and direct in bends, cruises arrow straight on the motorway and is easy to manoeuvre in town

Such a well-rounded skill set deserves an excellent engine to get the most from it and Ford’s 125PS 1.0-litre petrol fits the bill perfectly. Its tiny size translates into superb fuel economy for a petrol, but it also turbocharged for fizzy performance. Ok, so it’s a little noisy under acceleration, but it’s thrummy engine note suits the sporty way the Focus drives.

Want more fuel economy? Then go for the 120PS 1.5-litre diesel – it sips fuel and is quieter on the motorway.

This excellent fuel economy is possible because, despite its looks, the Focus Active isn’t four-wheel drive. Instead, you get a couple of unique driving modes (on the driver selector in between the front seats) that help the front wheels get traction on slippery roads.

From the inside, the only other giveaway that this is an Active and not a regular Focus is the flashes of blue you get on the upholstery. All Active models have Ford’s excellent 8-inch sat-nav display as standard, while Active X cars get a host of additions including a glass roof and half-leather seats.

Whichever model you choose, it’s easy to get a comfortable driving position and tall adults will be happy in the back even if you and your front-seat passenger are tall. Even the boot has improved compared to the pitifully small one you got in the old Focus. 

So, if you’re looking for a car that can handle the rough and tumble of city life, keep moving on slippery roads and tracks, and do it without the compromises of a traditional SUV, the Focus Active should be right up your street.

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The Ford Focus Active is the model for you if you’re looking for a rugged family car that drives like a normal hatchback. It won’t handle off-roading like a traditional SUV but it laughs in the face of speed humps and will find grip on the slippiest of roads.

You can forget about rolly polly SUV-style cornering, the Active feels as pin-sharp in bends as the standard Focus and its running costs won’t bleed your wallet dry like an SUV’s either.

Along with all this, you also get a practical interior with excellent infotainment and a long suite of safety features that make the Focus Active a safe bet in more ways than one. 

Ford’s 125PS 1.0-litre petrol is an excellent all-round engine. It costs buttons to run, but its turbocharger means it’s got plenty of zip in town. Planning to do lots of long journeys? Then choose the 120PS diesel, it feels gutsier on the motorway and is even kinder on your wallet. 

You can have the jacked-up Focus in two trim levels – Active and Active X. Equipment’s decent even on the basic model, but Active X cars are worth the premium. To the standard car’s four-electric windows, air-con and top-of-the-range infotainment, X cars add an opening glass roof, half leather seats and keyless entry.

All models are available with an eight-speed automatic gearbox but it takes the edge off acceleration and isn’t needed when the Ford Focus Active’s six-speed manual is so slick and easy to use.

Choosing a direct alternative to the Ford Focus Active isn’t easy. Scout and Alltrack versions of the new Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf are sure to be on the way but, as with the old models, will be four-wheel drive – making them heavier on fuel than the Focus.

Even two-wheel-drive versions of traditional SUVs will cost more to run than the Focus due to their aerodynamic, boxy shapes. Maybe the best alternative can be found in a Ford showroom, in the form of the smaller but no less accomplished Ford Fiesta Active

Comfort and design: Ford Focus Active interior

"If you think the Ford Focus Active looks nearly identical to a normal Focus on the outside then you’ll not be surprised to learn that it’s pretty blooming similar on the inside, too. "

Ford Focus Active Review 2023: Interior

How do you tell the difference? Well, Ford Focus Active models get flashes of blue on their seats and you’ll spot a couple of new drive modes on the drive selector between the front seats and, well, that’s it. Does it matter? No, is the short answer. There’s so little wrong with the Focus’ interior Ford would be mad to change it. 

Things get off to a solid start with the Active’s excellent driving position. There’s a wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel and driver’s seat so almost anyone can get comfortable and with the supportive driver’s seat cranked up to its highest setting, the Active’s raised suspension means you get a slightly better view of the road than in the standard car. 

Like in the regular model, you can also lower your chair into the floor for a sporty feel which suits the way the Focus (even this Active model) sticks to corners.

And this underlying ease of use follows through to the way the dashboard is laid out. Yes, you get the customary large infotainment screen, but you also get big knobs and buttons for the radio and ventilation system, so there’s no need to pull your hair out hunting through on-screen menus just turn up the heater. 

The downside to this approach is the interior looks a little fussy, outdated even. There’s a sea of buttons that you don’t get in the delightfully clean interior of the latest Volkswagen Golf. But, if you’re happy to sacrifice aesthetics for usability then the Active will be right up your street. It just works. 

If you’re looking to swap your old Focus (it went off sale in 2018) for a new model, then you’re going to notice a big hike in interior quality. Where plastics were hard and brittle in the old model, they’re now soft and squidgy. 

It’s not perfect, though. The centre console between the front seats is still made from hard and scratchy materials and you also sense Ford couldn’t decide which texture of plastics to go for, instead using a little bit of everything. If we’re being uber harsh, it does look a bit messy. 

That’s particularly true when you compare it to the new Volkswagen Golf’s cabin design which, in comparison, looks and feels like a case study on how to make a cabin classy.

On the bright side, the Ford Focus Active model skips Ford’s tiny basic infotainment screen fitted to entry-level Style cars. Instead, it uses Zetec models as a starting point, meaning you get the larger screen as well as a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, and a front centre armrest.

To that list, Active models add their unique flashes-of-blue seat upholstery and all the windows behind your seat are tinted to keep the cabin cool in the blazing heat.  

Active X models manage to feel a tad posher, giving you part-leather seats that are heated in the front and a glass roof that fills the interior with light. It has a solar reflective coating to keep out heat and – unlike the glass roofs you get on most cars – also opens with a tiny spoiler deploying to reduce wind roar when you’re on the move.

Both the Ford Focus Active and Active X come with the top-of-the-line 8-inch infotainment screen, which is backed up by a 4.2-inch colour TFT display nestled between the dials on the instrument binnacle.

The way the big infotainment screen sits proud of the dash makes it look like a bit of an afterthought but there’s no denying it limits the time you need to take your eyes off the road when you're using it. 

Operating the touchscreen can be a little hit and miss when you’re jiggling down the road, but Ford makes it as easy as possible by organising its menus into large tiles that are fairly easy to hit. It’s a responsive system with colourful graphics and a full complement of connected services that are part of a two-year subscription that’s included with the price of the car.

It means your sat-nav gets live traffic updates and can route around them. Trouble is, your smartphone does this already and it’s easy to use it’s sat-nav on the car’s big screen because Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are fitted as standard.

Ford also throws in a three-month Vodafone subscription for onboard wifi, so you can communicate with your car remotely using the FordPass app on your phone. Using it, you can do things like programme the sat-nav, plus check your remaining fuel and range, from the comfort of your sofa. It’s clever, but also a gimmick you don’t really need. 

Your money would be better spent on the optional Convenience Pack, which adds auto park, front and rear door edge protectors and a high-definition reversing camera with a crystal clear picture few cars this price get close to matching.

The wide range of adjustment upfront makes getting comfortable behind the wheel a piece of cake and Ford Focus Active models get lumbar support as standard for the driver’s seat. 

Active X models add another layer of comfort. As well as getting a posh half-leather interior, their front seats are heated and your front passenger’s seat now also gets height and lumbar adjustment. Meanwhile, your driver’s seat has six-way electrical adjustment so there’s no need to crank levers and twist knobs just to get comfy. 

The back seat does without the extras – it doesn’t even get its own air vent – but it’s still fundamentally comfy. Even if you're six-foot, another six-footer can sit behind you without feeling crushed, though they’d have even more room in a Skoda Octavia. That said, three adults will fit in the back of the Ford and there’s plenty of room for everyone’s feet despite the hump in the floor.

Fitting a child seat is simple because the ISOFIX points are clear to see when you remove their easy-to-lose plastic covers and there’s plenty of room to manoeuvre the baby chair in behind the front seats. Storage spaces are also well thought out. The glovebox is large and so are all four door pockets, you get a place to hide small valuables under the front centre armrest and, in front of it, you’ll find a couple of cupholders hidden under a sliding-covered recess. 

The Ford’s USB port is easy to see – not hidden under the dashboard like a Honda Civic’s – and there’s a handy rubber-lined tray sitting below it, so you can leave your phone charging without it disappearing under a seat the minute you touch the brakes. 

Ford’s also given the boot a lot of thought. Open the door and you get a nice square opening, a flat floor and rear-wheel arches that are recessed away, all of which makes loading a cinch. Especially because the raised suspension means not having to bend your back so much loading.

The Ford Focus Active's 375-litre boot is only slightly smaller than the one you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf and you should be able to get two large suitcases into place without trouble. That said, the mammoth boot in a Skoda Octavia would give you room for at least one more case.

Need more space? Then you can drop the back seats by yanking a couple of levers conveniently located at the front of the boot – that frees up a total capacity of 1,354 litres, so you’ll get an adult’s bike in there with its wheels on. Though you’ll have to lift it over the step in the floor where the seats fold away. 

Any other notes? Well, it’s a shame the back seats only split 60/40 – not 40/20/40 like in a Volkswagen Golf – but it’s good to see Ford’s hidden space-saver spare wheel under the floor, so you won’t be left stranded by a puncture. Oh, and Active cars come fitted as standard with roof rails, so you can easily fit roof racks and the like.

Due to the rugged body cladding the  Ford Focus Active has larger dimensions than the regular Focus model at 4397mm long, 1844mm wide (excluding mirrors) and 1483mm tall. 

Handling and ride quality: What is the Ford Focus Active like to drive? 

"Don’t be fooled by the Ford Focus Active’s chunky styling, raised ride height and off-road driving settings – this Ford likes off-roading about as much as a cat likes swimming. "

Ford Focus Active Review 2023: Driving

But that 30mm raised ride height still has its uses. In town, you’ll be able to cruise over big speed humps without worrying about taking your front bumper off and the long-travel suspension helps take the sting out of potholes.

Without four-wheel drive, anything more adventurous than that is risky. That said, the car’s clever Slippery and Trail driving modes delicately divvy power out to the front wheels helping you find grip even on snow or mud-covered roads and tracks. It’s surprisingly effective and could come in handy if you live somewhere that’s prone to bouts of extreme weather.

The ace up the Ford Focus Active’s sleeve is that it can do this without hurting how it handles normal driving. Sure, the suspension is a little fussy over bumps at lower speeds – particularly in Active X models that get 18-inch rather than 17-inch wheels – and it does roll slightly more in bends, but this is still a great car to hustle about in.

The Ford’s steering is quick, accurate and direct and there’s loads of grip, so you can set-up for curves perfectly and there’s no need to correct your inputs halfway through.

The same things that make it fun to drive quickly also make it easy. The excellent steering means you don’t need to constantly adjust your position in lane, plus the progressive weight of the clutch pedal and the precise gearbox means driving smoothly is easy. Everything just feels right in the Focus. 

The Ford Focus Active borrows its engines from the regular range so you can choose from petrols in either 125PS 1.0-litre or 150PS 1.5-litre form or two diesels – a 120PS 1.5-litre or a 150PS 2.0-litre.

The most popular model is the 125PS petrol that, as with the 1.5-litre petrol, is a three-cylinder engine. It’s easy to see why people like it because it’s very frugal, for a petrol. Under new testing, the Focus can return a shade under 50mpg on a mixture of roads and you can expect to get close to 40mpg in normal driving.

So it’s cheap to run, but also nippy, getting from 0-62mph in 10 seconds with a sporty thrum that suits the engaging way the Ford drives. If you’re likely to use your Ford Focus Active for lots of long journeys, though, we’d recommend the excellent 120PS diesel. 

As a four-cylinder, it's smoother than the three-cylinder petrol models, and it also has a surprising amount of shove for motorway overtakes – more than its 10 second 0-62mph would have you believe. The best bit is the fuel economy, though, this car will return 50mpg all day long.

Surprisingly, fitting Ford’s optional smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox (available across the range) has a detrimental effect on both fuel economy and performance.

Another advantage of choosing a jacked-up family car like the Ford Focus Active over a standard SUV is that it’ll be much quieter on the motorway.

Why? Well because the Active has the same slippery shape as any other Focus, so it won’t suffer from the wind noise around the windscreen that you get in boxier SUVs and its small wing mirrors let air flow past them without causing wind-whistle.

Even Active X model’s 18-inch alloys (Active cars have 17s) aren’t that big in the context of an SUV so neither Active model suffers from huge amounts of road noise even on poorly surfaced motorways.

What will make a difference is what engine you choose. Both the 125 and 150PS petrol models have three-cylinder engines that produce more vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel than four-cylinder alternatives available in the Volkswagen Golf. That said, it’s never annoying.

The four-cylinder diesels never sound sporty like the petrols – actually, the 120PS diesel can be a little gruff if you stamp on the accelerator – but both settle down when you ease into a cruise.

Although the Ford Focus Active hasn’t itself been evaluated by Euro NCAP, the standard car was awarded five stars when it crash-tested and you can expect the jacked-up model to perform just as strongly. 

Looking beyond the lab results, it’s clear Ford has done a comprehensive job of making the Active as safe as possible. Okay, so you don’t get bright shining LED headlights, but you do get LED fog lights that light up the sides of the road when you go round corners, while LED tail lights make the car easier to spot at night.  

Automatic emergency brakes also come as standard and they’re an advanced system, meaning they can detect vehicles, but also cyclists and pedestrians. 

The system will warn you of the impending impact before applying the brakes hard if you don’t react. If you do hit another car, the Ford will also lock its brakes to stop you rolling into a secondary accident.

You even get Intelligent Speed Assist. It reads speed limit signs and will stop the car exceeding the speed limit. And if you don’t like the sound of that, don’t worry, it can be switched off. 

You can of course boost safety by dipping into the Active’s (very reasonably priced) options list. The Driver Assistance Pack is a good starting point adding kit such as auto dipping headlights and adaptive cruise control that can accelerate, brake and steer the car on the motorway. 

Drive often at night on pitch-black country roads? Then the optional Adaptive Front Lighting system is worth a look, although annoyingly it’s only available on Active X models. It adds dynamic LED headlights that produce a bright white full beam that can be used even in oncoming traffic. 

MPG and fuel costs: What does a Ford Focus Active cost to run?

"All Ford Focus Active models have cheap running costs with even the thirstiest 150PS 1.5-litre petrol getting close to 50mpg in official fuel economy tests. The 125PS 1.0-litre improves that by a few MPG although, in reality, you can expect to get closer to 40mpg out of both."

Ford Focus Active Review 2023: Centre Console

Ford fits its petrols with clever cylinder deactivation technology that means the engine can switch off one cylinder to save fuel when extra power isn’t needed.

Diesel models do without this tech but are still the cheapest to run. The 120PS 1.5-litre model can return up to 60mpg – but it won’t drop far below 50mpg even on busy city streets – and the 150PS 2.0-litre model is barely any thirstier.

Diesels have a relatively small 47-litre fuel tank which gives them an easy range of more than 500 miles. Petrol models’ larger 52-litre tanks skew the figures slightly, you can expect them to get just under 500 miles from a fill-up.

Ford finished in the bottom five car brands in the latest Satisfaction Index. However, modern cars are generally pretty reliable, and the fact that Ford sells so many cars means it's more likely that problems are reported.

Fitting safety tech such as automatic emergency brakes – which should guard against low-speed shunts – has helped keep Ford Focus Active insurance costs low. 

Cheapest of all is the standard Active fitted with the 125PS petrol engine – it qualifies for group 13E insurance. Next in line is the 120PS diesel (14E), followed by the 150PS petrol (16E) and the 150PS diesel (18E). By way of comparison, the cheapest Volkswagen Golf to insure is the 130PS petrol that sits in insurance group 17E, while the most expensive is the 150PS diesel in group 23E. 

Under the latest car tax rules, the Ford Focus Active will cost you a flat-rate £150 a year in VED. That'll be the same as any alternatives, apart from those powered by a hybrid engine (which will save you £10 a year).

How much should you be paying for a Ford Focus Active?

"At the time of writing, a Ford Focus Active would set you back £27,020 on the road, while posher Active X cars start from £29,220."

Ford Focus Active Review 2023: Boot

Despite their higher asking price, Active X cars are the most popular and they add plenty of useful kit. That said, standard Ford Focus Active models get the same chunky looks and still have Ford’s top of the range infotainment system

Want to save a little cash? Then buy on the second-hand market, we found a 125PS petrol Active with under 5,000 miles up for less than £17,500, while a same-spec Active X will cost just £1000 more. 

It’s easy to see why you might choose a Ford Focus Active X in favour of the standard Ford Focus Active. They look smarter inside thanks to their half-leather interior, while you also get heated front seats, six-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s chair, a glass roof that opens, climate control and larger 18-inch wheels. 

Getting in is also easier thanks to the X model’s keyless entry and handy puddle lights that light up the area around the car so you don’t tread in something wet (or worse). 

That lot is additional to what you get in the standard Active. It gets rough-and-ready looks courtesy of its 30mm raised ride height, chunkier bumpers, black-plastic wheel arch protectors and black-painted roof. Inside, you get Ford’s top-of-the-range sat-nav system with an 8-inch display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a couple of unique driving modes – Slippery and Trail – designed to keep you going on low grip surfaces. 

Ask the heycar experts: common questions

The Ford Focus is a hatchback whilst the Focus Active is a beefed up version that offers a higher ride height and ground clearance.
In short, no. The Ford Focus Active is able to achieve excellent fuel economy because, despite its looks, it's not four-wheel drive. Instead, you get a couple of unique driving modes (on the driver selector in between the front seats) that help the front wheels get traction on slippery roads.
Ford finished in the bottom five car brands in the latest Satisfaction Index. However, modern cars are generally pretty reliable, and the fact that Ford sells so many cars means it's more likely that problems are reported.

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