Was There Ever a Reliable Ford Focus?

The Ford Focus is a nifty compact car that enjoyed a North America-based 20-year tenure which started in 1998. Production continues even today in China, Taiwan, and Germany. The Focus had a tumultuous career as a hatchback, sedan, and station wagon. At first, it was quiet without much fuss; then, the 2000 model year made a lot of noise with ignition problems. It stopped kicking up dust from 2004 until 2011, until the dreaded automatic transmission shuddering problem, from which it never recovered. If you’re a big fan of this car and must own one, or if you’re just curious if there ever was a reliable Ford Focus, you’re in luck because there definitely was, at some point, a reliable Ford Focus.

Ford Focus dual-clutch transmissions tanked the car

Ford Focus RS testing at Stratford
Ford Focus RS testing at Stratford | Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

The Ford Focus’ automatic transmission shuddering problem was dangerous and totally random. The car would shudder with a gear change and lurch forward without driver input. The problem was bad enough to incite a class action lawsuit against Ford. By estimation, Ford has paid $2-3 billion in repairs. Not to be cheeky, but the obvious solution is to buy a Focus with a manual transmission. The shuddering problem occurred with Ford’s dual-clutch transmission, called the “Powershift”. So it stands to reason that as long as you find a model prior to this transmission, you’re in good hands, right? 

Dual-clutch transmissions weren’t the only problem

Ford Focus racing at Donnington Park
Ford Focus racing at Donnington Park | Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, when there weren’t dual-clutch transmission problems, there were engine and suspension problems. Early-generation Ford Focuses had wheel bearings that would crumble and disintegrate prematurely and suspension issues that would cause abnormal tire wear. Engines would also shut down without warning. Ford seemingly fixed these problems after 2012, just in time for the dual-clutch transmission. The Ford Focus just couldn’t catch a break.

The only solution is to buy a newer manual Ford Focus

Ford Focus racing at Donnington Park
Ford Focus racing at Donnington Park | Julian Finney/Getty Images

If you’re stuck on buying a Ford Focus and want it to be reliable, you’ll have to opt for a manual transmission. The dual-clutch problems were bad enough to avoid the car at all costs, but the manual presented a saving grace for the little hatchback. Car and Driver praised the manual Ford Focus SE in 2012, citing direct shifting and adequate throw length. If you can find a manual SE, its 2-liter direct-injection inline-four produces 160 horsepower. The Sport trim is the icing on the cake, which comes with a few goodies for $ 700, including rear disc brakes.

The Ford Focus is a neat, sporty package

Ken Block racing his Ford Focus in Portugal
Ken Block racing his Ford Focus in Portugal | Paulo Oliveira / DPI / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The newer, the better, and for living in North America, that means 2018. Its wheelbase is a bit long, but the car responds quickly and provides impressive feedback despite its electric steering. As long as you find a manual transmission with rear disc brakes, it’s a solid car and reliable. The 1.6-liter engine is questionable and may not live up to certain standards according to some owners, but the 2.0-liter doesn’t appear to be mentioned as often and provides decent mileage for a relatively sporty non-hybrid car. If you’re looking for a reason to learn manual shifting, the Ford Focus could be it.

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