I was a child who grew up the 1990’s a decade where cars started to evolve. Evolve from 20 years of boxy shapes and beige interiors into rounded, efficient, safe, pedestrian friendly desirable cars for the impending millennium. For me the one car that epitomises this change was 1998’s Ford Focus. So please come with me on this little look at why it was so important both for me and car manufacturing in general.

I first must set the scene; by the mid 90’s Ford had been topping the sales charts with the Escort since 1982. And although it probably could have rested on it loyal followers and continued with the Escort as its mid size hatch Ford along with the car enthusiast fraternity knew that the Escort had lost direction from its stylish, fun handling 60’s beginnings and morphed into a podgy not particularly exciting hatchback. A change was needed and 8 year old me fell in love with what that change looked like, the Focus.

Ford Focus Mk1

Clean lines of the Mk1

I remember I was sitting, waiting in the barbers, looking at the shiny new car pages of one of the car magazines available when I first saw the production ready Focus. It looked like no other hatchback I had ever seen. In a world of fat Mk3 Golfs and dreary Astra’s the Focus looked like a concept car. Rounded edges, pointy headlights stretched back up the bonnet and rear lights perched high up the C pillars no everyday car even came close to looking so good. I became so obsessed that games of car spotting on journeys simply became Focus spotting missions (admittedly not a lot of fun for my parents). Then my dreams came true, my mums friend bought a Focus! A brand new S registration silver one with 5 doors, air con and a sunroof to be precise. Of course my mum knew how taken I was and arranged that I go out for a ride; the interior was just as awesome as the exterior. There were swoopy lines from the passenger side that ran across to the driver, rounded surfaces and big soft controls not to mention a feeling of total space (ok I was 8 but I’ve had a go since and they are very roomy).

My point is I have never been as obsessed with one particular car as I have the original Focus. Not even my more recent love affair with VW’s has been as overriding as the crush I had. However now, 15 years since it first appeared I can put some factual meat onto the bones of my obsession and not just base this recommendation on looks alone. However, the styling is an important place to start.

Mk1 Focuses may be as unique as a pair of pastel coloured skinny trousers these days but actually stop to take a closer look when you next see one. Personally I think the Mk1 looks much better than the Mk2 and current Mk3 Focus that surpassed it. The Mk3 especially looks overcomplicated, a bit fussy and lumpy, look at those rear lights; they look like smeared lipstick on the cheek of a 3am mildly hung-over club goer. The original car looked crisp and uncluttered, if it where released today and we had never seen it before I bet people would rave about how wonderful it looks.

Look at those rear lights!

Look at those rear lights!

Focus Mk1 was built for 7 years before it was replaced, in that time not very much changed, engine choice was particularly straightforward. There was a 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 petrol, there was also a TDCi diesel. None of these were particularly exciting but the bigger engines were able to hustle the focus along nicely and exploit the most from arguably the Focuses trump card over its competitors. The control blade rear suspension, essentially the focus had independent rear suspension unlike the torsion beams used in its rivals. Its design meant ride quality was second to none and road holding superb. This was something that only the elitists at BMW had managed before and something that no family hatch had at that time; a well-balanced chassis. Control blade suspension also meant that space could be saved in the construction, so boot space was much bigger than rivals.

For proper performance fans Ford did do a couple of sporty Focus variants to get even more out of the willing chassis. First there was an ST170 model, its 2 litre had 170bhp mated to a six speed gearbox, inside was half leather seats while outside it gained some bigger, spoke filled alloys and a slightly lowered ride height. It could manage 0-60 in a shade under 8 seconds and do 134mph. Of course this was not quite hot enough for some so Ford brought its RS badge out of storage and stuck it on the back of the Focus too.

RS’s were a limited edition no holds bared old school hot hatch, they only came in blue, had wide arches, bigger wheels, Recaro buckets and 212bhp from a 2 litre turbo (0-60 in 6.2secs and 144mph). They also featured a trick front limited slip differential to stop any power being spun away when exciting a corner. Unsurprisingly like older RS’s values for the Focus RS are holding firm at around £6000, as time passes expect them to appreciate not depreciate. My advice if you can is, buy one now and watch the price double.  Or if all you want is a good handling reasonably quick hatch then ST170’s can be picked up for as little as £1600.

Aggressive looks of the Mk1 RS

Aggressive looks of the Mk1 RS

Smaller engined cars can be had for as little as a few hundred pounds but budget over £1500 for a good one. There were many trim levels available so take your time shopping around for a car which has everything you require. Options included air con, leather trim, heated seats, electric heated door mirrors and quick clear front and rear windscreens, not to mention tonnes of alloy wheels styles. Reliability should be good too as long as you follow the second hand buyers rule book, checking for service history, obvious signs of dodgy repairs and to be safe, stumping up a little for a HPI check.

Eight year old me and my obsession with Focuses did fizzle out slightly but 15 years later I still find myself trawling the classifieds for a good one, I think that is proof if anything of how good the Mk1 still is. If you want your daily driver to actually be an involving drive then a MK1 Focus is an absolute steal. Practicality, comfort, reliability and precision engineering can be had for next to nothing. Honestly once you get over the fact that everyone and they’re dog has one the Focus is a great second hand hatch back, after all there is a reason why so many people bought one in the first place.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zone41/5551335861/”>zone41</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/s1lang/3107841539/”>s1lang</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zed888/3300695351/”>tnessy</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>