How Far Has The Ford Focus Come In 20 Years? | Blog | Hartwell Ford
Mk1 Focus ST170 and 2018 Focus Vignale

How Far Has The Ford Focus Come In 20 Years?​

The All-New Ford Focus is now available to buy at your local Hartwell showroom. It’s two decades since the launch of the original Focus, and the world has massively changed in that time. Technology from 1998 is almost unrecognisable, and fashion has luckily moved on too. But just how different is the UK’s best-selling family hatchback now than when it was launched in 1998?


When the Focus was launched, it was like very little else on the road. Ford’s design team were brave with the styling, and it was a much-needed departure from the Escort, Fiesta and Mondeo of the time. The bonnet was low with a sleek grille and triangular headlights, and the window-line stretched all the way back to the funky lights either side of the rear windscreen. It’s aged really well – especially the facelifted model.

The All-New Focus also has triangular headlights, a low bonnet and a sloping roofline, but the rest of the styling is completely different. For a start, LED daytime running lights are now fitted, and the rear lights have migrated to a more conventional place on the tailgate. The Estate model is much larger than the original, yet offers a sleeker, svelte design. The Focus has grown massively to offer more space for passengers and luggage, but still retains the handsome looks introduced by the original car.


Time has been slightly less kind to the interior of the 1998 Focus. At the time, I’m sure it was a refreshing change from the sea of square black plastic consumers were used to, with its quirky angles and sweeping centre console. But now, it hasn’t aged particularly well – perhaps due to the sheer amount of technology we’re used to in modern vehicles. That said, everything seems to be logically laid out, so it would soon become second nature.

Fast forward 20 years, and you wouldn’t think these two cars were from the same company. The quirkiness is gone, replaced by a much cleaner dashboard and centre console. It’s much improved from the last model, with plusher materials and fewer buttons to get confused with. With its increased size, the All-New Focus offers far more leg and headroom.

Technology and features

For a buyer in 1998, the highlights of the equipment list were body-coloured bumpers, power windows and central locking. Higher specifications offered a leather-covered steering wheel, wood-effect trim and heated mirrors. The options list included air conditioning, a CD autochanger, rear electric windows, remote locking, traction control and parking sensors.

Now, there’s too much included on the Focus to list. Even entry-level models offer alloy wheels, automatic headlights, an electric parking brake and plenty of connectivity. Ford has pulled out all the stops with this new car, and has even included a suite of technology that will allow it to drive and park itself! Find out more about the features in the All-New Focus by clicking here.


In the original car, avoiding an accident or reducing damage/ injuries was up to two airbags and your reactions. ABS and traction control were optional on some models, but the Focus still gained a respectably four-star Euro NCAP rating. However, it goes without saying that you’ll be much safer sitting in the All-New Focus.

The Euro NCAP test is much more stringent now, yet the Focus scored five stars and gets high marks all round. That’s due to automatic emergency braking fitted as standard, plus speed assistance and lane keeping systems. If that’s not enough, you can specify almost any safety technology you can think of onto the Focus – including blind spot warning, cross traffic alert and adaptive front lighting.


The original Focus came with 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol engines, and smooth diesel engines. Performance models came later, in the form of the ST170 and the original Focus RS – now a cult classic, it featured a 215hp 2.0-litre turbo, Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential and the Ford Racing blue paint. The handling was even more amazing, though, and even the base-spec cars handled like sports cars.

Back then, a 1.0-litre engine would be common in underpowered first cars. Now, Ford’s 1.0-litre turbo kicks out up to 125hp, and up to 182hp is available from a 1.5-litre turbo. The upcoming ST model will produce around 275hp and a future RS model will head north of 400hp. As for the handling, some things don’t change – Top Gear says the new Focus is the sweetest drive in the mainstream hatch class.

The All-New Ford Focus is now available to test-drive or buy from your local Hartwell Ford dealership. Or, if you'd like to know more about Ford's fantastic new family hatchback, please click the button below.

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