Ford Focus VS Toyota Corolla
- Refined styling
- Roomy interior
- Advanced safety equipment
- Blind spot warning standard only on Titanium
- Auto transmission can seem indecisive
- No manual gearbox
Ford has just released its new-generation Ford Focus. Do you know what that means? It means we're at a monumental point in history that, while nobody will ever really remember it, could impact you greatly.
Because like the automotive equivalent of planetary alignment, we are reaching a moment when Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford will have all brought their latest-gen small cars to market at about the same time.
Okay, you may not find that exciting. But it means you've now got the most current technology, styling and safety features to choose from right across the board, with Ford the latest to throw everything it's got at its new small-car contender.
All that and more as we take you through the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus, where we tested the hatch in the Trend and ST-Line grades, and the new wagon, too.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The last time I drove a Toyota Corolla hybrid was a couple of years ago when I tested on by one by taking it 400km north from Sydney to a meeting of old cars with giant petrol engines, otherwise knows as a hot rod run, a pilgrimage to worship at the shortened exhaust of the combustion engine.
The good news is that nobody torched the Corolla hybrid during the night of revelry, and the other good news is that I found it to be an impressive car.
That was the previous generation Corolla hybrid, now the new-gen one is here and, while I didn’t take it on a hot rod run this time, I put it through another test – the day-to-day living challenge of pre-school drop offs and shopping, parking, commuting… I even used it to carry a 2.5m tall tree. So, is the new Corolla Hybrid just as impressive as the old one?
The grade I tested was the Ascent Sport. What does that mean? Read on to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Different but more refined looks, a smaller but powerful-for-its-size engine, plenty of advanced safety equipment and more room than ever before, the new Ford Focus is much better than the model before it. And it has to be – the competition is fierce.
The sweet spot in the range is the ST-Line hatch with its long list of standard features, comfortable ride and impressive handling.
Is the new Focus a car to take on the might of Hyundai and Toyota? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
I’m never going to stop worshipping the combustion engine and I’ll keep going to hot rod runs in my big, old V8-powered beast, but to me, if you’re going to buy a Corolla why wouldn’t you choose the hybrid? It’s more fuel efficient than a regular petrol variant and offers a better city driving experience, by being able to run silently and smoothly as an EV at low speeds with decent off-the-mark shove when you need it. As for hybrid rivals – there are none right now, but even if there were, Toyota’s perfection of hybrid tech over the past two decades means it would likely be better than the competition.
Would you choose the petrol or hybrid version of the Corolla Ascent Sport? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
This new-generation Focus is completely new, and that goes for its design, the structure of the vehicle and the platform that underpins it all.
That grille, though poutier than before, still makes this new car recognisable as a Focus, but the rest of the car’s styling is a fairly big step away from the look of the previous model. The nose looks more elongated and turned down, and the headlights have an irregular shape (which somehow works) and they're helped to look more defined by the LED running lights that sit above each headlight like an eyebrow.
That front-end may take some getting used to, but I think most will like the rear exterior styling straight away. The hoisted-up style to the rear of the previous car is gone and the illusion is now a car which sits lower and level. I particularly like the Focus badging across the tailgate, too, which is reminiscent of Fords of the 1960s.
The car’s profile has changed, too, with the window structure simplified. Previous versions of the car had rear quarter glass; a small porthole which looked into the boot. That's now been incorporated into the door glass, which means the rear passenger aperture is larger.
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of its galaxy of buttons, and that busy interior has given way to a more minimalist design with many of the functions moved to the large dash-top screen. That said, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons for my liking or need.
Telling the grades apart may not be obvious at first, but the ST-Line car is recognisable thanks to the blacked-out grille, more aggressive bumper treatment with its air-blade style design around the fog lights, and its twin exhaust. The car itself sits 10mm lower on sport suspension.
You can pick a Titanium from the inside by its leather-accented seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and the B&O sound system speakers.
The ST-Line’s seats are upholstered in a mesh-fibre material with leather accents and red-stitching, and there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic brake and accelerator pedals. The wagon version of the Focus only comes in the ST-Line grade, and it comes with roof rails and a cargo cover.
The Active grade is the most recognisable of the Focus family due its higher-riding stance and its plastic wheel-arch cladding. The Active suspension has it sitting 35mm higher than a Trend grade, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the overall affect is quite dramatic, giving the Active a true SUV-like appearance.
There are nine colours to choose from, including Ruby Red, Orange Glow, Desert Island Blue, Blue Metallic, Shadow Black, Magnetic, Moondust Silver, Metropolis White and Frozen White.
At 4378mm end to end, the Focus hatch is 18mm longer than the previous model, while at 1454mm tall it's 13mm shorter, and it's 1979mm wide including the wing mirrors.
There’s a lot of love for the Corolla, particularly older versions of the species (just ask our editor Mal, he rescues rusty ones out of paddocks), but the previous model was never really widely adored for its looks and was beginning to age compared to new and improved rivals. Enter this new-generation Corolla, which looks sexier and more modern.
I’m especially taken by the tail lights, which are far more appealing than the previous model’s egg-splat design. The same goes for the new headlight design and that large grille.
It’s a completely different Corolla to the last one, but has kept the same pointy nose at the front and the bulbous bum.
The only indication that the hybrid isn’t a petrol variant is the Toyota badge with the blue halo aura effect and, of course, the word ‘Hybrid’ on the tailgate.
The interior is also modern feeling with a large, cleanly designed dashboard with that touchscreen sitting prominently atop it, like a billboard. I have to admit, though, the Ascent Sport’s interior lacked a bit of wow-factor, with its hard surfaces and too much use of piano-black plastic. I know Toyota can do cool interiors – just look at the C-HR, so it’s a bit disappointing that the Ascent Hybrid’s cabin isn’t more interesting.
In terms of dimensions, the Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is 4375mm long, 1790mm wide and 1435mm tall. The small size made it easy to park in the tiny spots left outside my house by the time I get home, and easy to pilot in narrow laneways and city traffic.
The new Focus is longer by about 18mm, but it’s the wheelbase which has increased the most dramatically (by 52mm) and that means more space inside.
I’m 191cm tall and I can just sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seatback – I wasn’t able to do that in the previous Focus. Headroom is also great for me in the backseat.
The entire cabin feels roomy, actually. For this new model the dashboard was moved 100mm further forward, opening up more space in the cockpit. Even the gear shifter being a rotary dial has freed up room.
Storage throughout is pretty good, with a deep centre console bin covered by the armrest and a hidey-hole in front of the shifter, plus two cup holders and big bottle holders in the doors up front. The door pockets in the back are big, too, but there are no cupholders in the second row.
Boot space is for the hatch is 341 litres packed to the cargo cover with a space saver spare, while the wagon’s cargo capacity is 575 litres. With the back row down, the hatch can fit 1320 litres and the wagon can do 1620 litres.
I was afraid you’d ask me that question because the answer is: not very. The legroom in the back seat is tight, so much so that at 191cm tall I can’t fit behind my driving position. I’m tall, but even our more normal-sized reviewers found the rear legroom to be limited.
My four-year-old is only three feet tall and he remarked that “Mummy’s seat is squashing my feet”. That was when he was in his car seat and my wife was sitting next to me. She had to move her seat almost until her knees touched the dash so that his feet weren’t squashing.
Also a bit disappointing is the boot space – 217 litres of cargo capacity if you have a space-saver spare wheel and 333 litres if you go with the tyre-repair kit. That’s too small for our CarsGuide pram, so if you’re thinking of a Corolla as your next family hatch, then I’d take your pram/golf clubs/drum kit and test out the space before handing over your money.
Cabin storage isn’t bad, with two cupholders up front and two in the back, along with bottle holders in the doors. The centre-console bin offers good storage and there’s a small tray in the second row big enough for a wallet.
As for USB ports, there’s a lonely looking one under the dash.
If it’s any consolation, I used the Corolla to transport a 2.5m tall tree that arrived at CarsGuide HQ for me after I ordered it online. My other two choices were a Mitsubishi Triton ute and a Ford Mustang and, as it turned out, the hybrid hatch was better suited to the job, as you can see in the images. So there you have it: the Corolla is more practical in some ways than a ute or a Mustang.
Price and features
Ford has priced its new Focus competitively compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3, but its most affordable grade does kick off at a slightly higher level than the entry-level cars for those other brands.
That start point for the Focus hatch range is the Trend grade, with a list price of $25,990. Above it is the ST-Line, which is a sporty spec, for $28,990. And at the top of the hatch range is the $34,490 Titanium. There’s also a wagon version of the Focus in the ST-Line grade for $30,990.
But wait, there’s more. Ford is offering an SUV-style version of the Focus for the first time. It's called the Focus Active, and it'll cost $29,990. We’ll cover the physical differences between it and the rest of range in the Design section below.
Coming standard on the Trend is an eight-inch display screen with sat nav, Ford’s Sync3 voice activated media system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hot spot, single-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rotary-style gear shifter, LED running lights, paddle shifters, halogen headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec ST-Line takes the Trend’s features and adds dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, floor mats, puddle lamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys wheels. There’s also the sports suspension, which we’ll cover in the Driving and Engine sections.
The top-of-the-range Titanium brings a B&O 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, leather accented upholstery, roof rails and LED headlights.
The Ascent Sport is the entry grade into the Corolla range and the hybrid version is $1500 more than the petrol-engined variant at $25,870.
There is the Hyundai Ioniq, which is larger and a damned good thing, but the most affordable one costs way more, at $33,990. The closest car to the Corolla Hybrid isn’t really a competitor but more of a sibling rival, in the form of the Toyota Prius C, which was being offered at a driveaway price of $27,596 at the time I wrote this.
Standard features on the Ascent Sport Hybrid for the most part mirror those on the petrol version. The list includes LED head- and tail lights, LED running lights, heated and power door mirrors, an eight-inch touch screen with reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control and some cool advanced safety tech, which you can read about below.
As far as standard features go, Toyota hasn’t been super generous and you’re made to step up to the SX if you want sat nav and the wireless-charging pad, while you need to climb higher into the top-grade ZR if you want to swap the cloth seats for leather.
One of the bonuses of buying the hybrid version of the Ascent Sport is getting dual-zone climate – the petrol version only has single zone air conditioning.
Still, at $26K the value equation is impressive.
Engine & trans
The new Focus has been given a new engine! It’s a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol, but don’t let that put you off - it makes as much grunt as the four cylinder in the old Focus. Actually, at 134kW, it makes 2kW more power and the same amount of torque (240Nm). Cylinder-deactivation allows the engine to run on two when not under much load, which is even more frugal.
The old six-speed auto has been replaced with an eight-speed automatic – it’s not a dual-clutch, it’s a traditional torque-converter auto. The Focus doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, and is front-wheel drive.
So, you’re thinking of a petrol-electric hybrid, eh? Well you’ve come to the right review because Toyota has been producing hybrid cars on a huge scale longer than anybody, which has given the company decades to refine and develop the tech.
The Ascent Sport Hybrid doesn’t plug into a power point. Toyota doesn’t currently sell any plug-in hybrids in Australia. Nope, this one builds the charge back up in its batteries from the energy captured when you brake.
Those nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries are in the back of the car and under the bonnet you’ll find an a 72kW/142Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 53kW/162Nm electric motor. The engine and motor take turns and also work together to drive the front wheels, and the transition between one power source and another is smoother than any other hybrid I’ve driven.
The transmission is a CVT, which is an automatic and, while I’m not a fan of them in petrol variants, because they cause the engine to rev without much in the way of shove to go with it, in a hybrid the extra torque from the motor means acceleration is pretty good.
According to Ford, the three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the Focus will use 6.4L/100km of fuel after a combination of urban and open-road driving. My mileage in the Trend grade, according to the car’s trip computer, was 9.4L/100km after 487.9km of country roads.
Not all of those kilometres were mine, mind, but that was the average after four different drivers had been behind the wheel.
This is what it’s all about right? Well, sort of. Hybrids of this kind don’t achieve fuel economy as good as, say, a plug-in hybrid and while Toyota claims the Ascent Sport Hybrid should only use 4.2L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads, after mainly city testing I measured 7.7L/100km when I filled up at the petrol station. It takes 91 RON, by the way.
That fuel economy is still good, considering our testing of the regular petrol variant saw it use 9.0L/100km.
The Active and Titanium grades weren’t available to drive at the Australian launch of the Focus, but I did get to drive the ST-Line in hatch and wagon form, as well as the Trend hatch.
The ST-Line hatch is the sporty one in the Focus range, even though it has the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Trend (and the Titanium). What makes it sporty is its sports suspension. Does it work? Absolutely, although I didn’t realise just how well until I drove the Trend hatch after steering its ST-Line brother for a few hours first.
Three-cylinder engines tend to have a satisfying little burble to their exhaust notes, but the ST-Line hatch I started in had a particularly deep growl to it at idle. While the ST-Line does have a dual exhaust, the engine output is the same as any other Focus, and so the gravelly voice is more theatrics than suggesting the car is any more potent than a Trend.
What the ST-Line does do without any drama is handle well, because even though it has a torsion bar set-up in the rear (like the Trend), it also has a lowered ride height and a sports suspension tune. It’s not Focus ST-level of agility by any means, but the ST-Line hatch felt nicely pinned down in the bends, with excellent steering feel and accuracy ensuring it is a genuinely fun car to drive.
What I didn’t know until I drove the Trend hatch is that the firmer sports suspension actually gives a more comfortable ride in the ST-Line than the base-grade car. The Trend, like the Titanium, has softer suspension, which you’d think would offer the best ride, but I found that over the bumps and bruises of country roads, the Trend’s ride was comfortable but bit bouncy, while the ST-Line was more composed and meant the occupants weren’t jiggled around as much.
The award for the most comfortable ride and best handling of the three cars I drove goes to the ST-Line wagon with its sports-tuned multi-link rear suspension. Yup, the cargo hauler of the range was also the best to drive from a comfort and fun perspective, with its compliant suspension keeping life civilised inside the cabin over bumps, while also feeling planted in the switchback and hairpins that cut through country Victoria.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic (you can’t get a manual), but it’s super keen to shift to a higher gear as early as possible, and when sitting at about 100km/h on a motorway, it was indecisive about which gear it wanted to be in; go 104km/h and it shifted up, drop to 97km/h and it shifted down. Up, down, up, down, up... well, you get the idea.
When it came time to drive roads which went all bendy, the transmission still tried to take the fun out by shifting up and bogging the car down in lower revs. The solution was to leave the car in Sport mode, which instructs the gearbox to cling to lower gears for longer. I kept the Trend and ST-Lines in Sport mode most of the time I drove them – it didn’t affect the ride (the cars suspension isn’t adaptive), but the throttle response and shifting was perfect for all driving, whether I was flinging through the winding country roads or trundling through town centres.
All three – the Trend hatch, ST-Line Hatch and ST-Line wagon - performed well, with the ST-Line duo feeling like they were approaching or even matching Volkswagen Golf levels of agility and composure.
At no point did I feel that the three-cylinder was under powered - it’s a surprisingly responsive and grunty engine.
Welcome to the driving bit, which will make even more sense if you read the section above, which explains how the hybrid system isn’t alien technology, but rather a petrol engine and an electric motor engaged in a constant dance to provide drive to the front wheels.
That engine-motor combination works superbly and more seamlessly than any other hybrid I’ve driven. I even like the CVT transmission, which is something I thought I’d never write, because when this type of automatic is in a petrol variant it provides a lucklustre feel to the acceleration. It's not the case here, thanks to the help of the motor, which adds instant torque and good off-the line shove.
Combine this with great steering, good handling, a comfortable ride and a very quiet cabin, and you have a hatch that’s enjoyable to drive. I’m not going to say outstanding (it’s not quite an 8 out of 10) because the Mazda3 is also impressive to drive and so are the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato. But the Corolla Ascent Hybrid is right up there with them.
The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Standard across the range are seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition - the latter of which can read speed limits for you.
The Titanium comes standard with a lane-centre system, which I tested and found it works seriously well – drift out of your lane and the system rapidly yanks you back in again. Only the Titanium comes with blind spot warning, which is odd considering the impressive advanced safety tech that’s already standard across the range
Auto parking is optional only on the Titanium, and can be used for parallel or perpendicular parking. Also standard on all is a 180-degree split-view camera, but front parking sensors are only available to option on the Titanium – again, that’s a bit odd.
A space-saver spare is found under the boot floor for all grades. For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts in the second row.
The new-generation Focus was developed in Europe and built in Germany.
The Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Coming standard are AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance, speed-sign recognition and auto high beam headlights.
There are also seven airbags and for child seats you’ll find three top-tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
The Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a five-year capped-price servicing plan. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km and you can expect to pay $175 for each of the first four services.