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Right car, wrong time: Why the Ford Focus was the Blue Oval's best small car but arrived too late to challenge the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda3

The Ford Focus was a good small car in an SUV world.

Ford has a long history with small cars dating back to the Cortina, Escort and Laser. But the current Focus looks set to be the end of the line, with sales in steep decline and the Blue Oval no longer seen as a major player in the small car market.

Which is a real shame, because the latest generation Focus is arguably the best small car Ford has built in a very long time. It arrived in late 2018 and offered a broad range that should have appealed to many different buyer types. There was a broad spread of variants that included Ambiente, Trend, ST-Line and Titanium as well as hatch and wagon options, plus the high-riding Active crossover.

This was a small car line-up that tried to account for anyone interested in a conventional passenger car rather than an SUV. At the very least this latest Focus range should have given buyers pause for thought before they bought a Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 or Mazda3. Instead, it seems would-be customers ignored the small Ford.

In its first full-year on sale with a new-generation model in 2019, Ford sold just 3682 Focus models, while Toyota led the small car market with more than 30,000 sales. 

By June of 2020, Ford dropped the Ambiente, Trend and Titanium as well as the wagons, with the exception of the Active. Not surprisingly this had a negative impact on sales, and in that same year Ford sold just 1878 Focus vehicles, which was slightly more than the Hyundai Elantra (1520) and Subaru WRX (1399).

In October 2021, the Active and ST-Line were dropped too, leaving only the red-hot Focus ST hot hatch to carry the blue oval’s small car hopes. 

The decision to drop the Laser name in favour of Focus arguably played a role (as Nissan can attest, ditching a name customers are familiar with isn’t good for small car sales), but even so, the Focus has been around for nearly two decades in Australia so it’s not an excuse for the car’s failure to fire.

This latest Focus may not have been a standout market leader, but it’s hard not to believe that it should have performed better. Indeed, if Ford had acted quicker and offered models like the Focus Active earlier it may have helped the company extend its small car legacy.

The popularity of the Corolla Hybrid shows that Ford also missed the timing with its latest addition to the Focus range - in Europe at least. For the 2022 model, Ford introduced a mild-hybrid powertrain that returns an economy rating of just 5.5 litres per 100km. While not as good as Toyota’s 4.2L/100km claim for the Corolla, it would have given the Focus line-up an option that the i30, 3 and Cerato don’t have.

Ultimately the biggest problem for the Focus is that while a very good small car on merit, it arrived at a time when SUVs rule the automotive world.