2022 Ford Focus ST-Line Vignale MHEV review: hybrid hatchback is a fitting send-off

The Ford Focus is one of the best driving hatchbacks on the road. The 2022 refresh adds Sync 4, new trims and mild-hybrid MHEV into the range

A long-standing yardstick for the once-dominant C-segment, the days of the Ford Focus are numbered. Ford has announced that in 2025 the model will follow its bigger brother and fellow late-90s upstart, the Mondeo, to join the big heritage fleet in the sky after a 27-year run, a victim of changing consumer habits and a drive toward electrification.

This mid-life refresh will be the car’s last-hurrah - a visual nip and tuck to bring the styling up to date, but also upgraded technology and revised model range. Is the final Ford Focus in for a fitting send off almost 30 years in the making, or will it, like its millennial contemporaries, slide into irrelevance alongside its Gen X and Baby Boomer forebears?

What’s new for the 2022 model?

There’s a long list of visual changes to the exterior of the Focus, but of the subtle, blink-and-you’ll-miss-em variety. Generally the little design tweaks here and there have a cumulative effect of making the car seem that wee bit more chiseled, like a Men’s Health cover model after a pre-photoshoot spray tan and two dry Weetabix.

The Ford badge now sits lower down, on the honeycomb grille as opposed to above it. There’s also a subtle change to the shape of the bonnet, the front curve slightly different to the old one, presumably to annoy the scrap merchants. New, slimmer front headlamps with incorporated foglights enable a redesigned, less messy front bumper.

To the rear, the tail lights have been changed too, and the cluster on our ST-Line Vignale test model was slightly smoked, while the alloy wheel designs have also been revised.

Vignale is no longer a stand-alone luxury trim and can now be added to the other trims - Titanium, ST-Line, Active and (entry-level) Trend - as a bolt on.

The technology suite has had the most comprehensive modernisation and that is reflected in the 13.2-inch touchscreen display dominating the dashboard. The responsive and quick loading Sync 4 system is a quantum leap forward from the Sync 3 system - which I already rated highly. As well as an intuitive design and layout and crystal-clear display, Apple Carplay and Android Auto are now supported wirelessly, with no need of a connecting USB cable.

The interior of the Focus has had a more dramatic refresh with the addition of a bigger infotainment screen

The one black mark I would give the system is that Ford has done away with the physical dials to control the air conditioning. While always visible, rather than hidden away in a sub-menu like some operating systems, It’s still an ergonomic step backwards having to adjust temperature, fan speed, toggle A/C and choose which vents to use via the monitor. An unnecessary distraction, that I hope will go out of fashion with car designers before global warming turns the UK into the Sahara.

While I think touchscreen air conditioning controls are a safety backward step, otherwise the Focus is the safest car it’s ever been. The dynamic high-beam system means you don’t have to toggle the lights to avoid blinding drivers and the matrix LED system ‘bends’ round corners according to your steering to aid visibility. The beam pattern will even change to optimise visibility in poor weather. Blind spot assist is a new option costing £400 and pairs with active steering.

Driving the 2022 Ford Focus

Our test car was powered by the 153bhp, 48-volt mild hybrid version of the well established 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine found across much of Ford’s model range. Around the town it feels little different to the standard, 123bhp version of the engine - if anything a little less lively away from the lights and there’s statistically slightly less torque.

There are hints of that extra power on the open road and, driving aggressively, the hybrid battery lends a helping hand around 3,000rpm to give the Focus a bit more sporting impetus. It’s the most powerful version of the hatchback unless you’re looking to go for the Focus ST, but the pay off from the hybrid system is principally in emissions and fuel consumption rather than performance - something unlikely to satisfy petrol heads, but prudent in the current financial climate.

The mid-life refresh has done nothing to impact the already winning formula Ford has developed in the chassis and suspension set up and it’s still, for my money, the best handling car in the class, sharp and fun to drive in a way that few manufacturers seem to be able to replicate without ruining the ride. If I miss anything about the Focus once it’s gone, it will be the ability to make the most mundane drive quite fun - so long as there’s a corner or two in front of you.

How does a mild hybrid system work?

Perhaps one of the most confusing terms as the car industry makes its drive toward electrification is “mild hybrid”. I’ve used it erroneously myself in reviews, only to nip in and correct myself months later post light-bulb moment.

The hybrid gauge sits between the speedometer and rev counter and shows whether the battery is regenerating or assisting the engine

With a small battery, a mild hybrid typically offers less assistance than a full hybrid system and lacks EV-only driving capability. Where the system adds value is to act as a power bank for the car to draw from in times of need, limiting the strain on the mechanical combustion engine.

So, whether it’s the post-3,00rpm kick in the backside when accelerating at pace, or the helping hand that pushes the car along when you dab the accelerator in high gear, the engine doesn’t have to work quite as hard as it would unassisted, which benefits emissions.

Verdict

The second car I ever owned was the bow-out model of the Ford Escort and, unlike the fun and sporty car I remember my dad driving years before it was cheap feeling, underpowered and wallowed about like a disorientated boxer well past its best.

The 2022 Focus, unlike its bloated and punch-drunk predecessor, feels like a car still in its prime. Technology, refinement and comfort-wise it’s the most accomplished non-performance Focus there’s ever been - barring the climate control system - and the refresh has even re-captured some of that space-age sharpness that made the 1998 launch model stand out against the competition. The UK car market in 2022 is a very different place compared with the late 90s and the 2022 Focus is unlikely to dominate sales charts in the way its predecessors did. Nonetheless, it’s a fitting send-off for the C-segment veteran.

Ford Focus ST-Line Vignale 1.0-litre EcoBoost MHEV

Price: £28,625 (£32,225 as driven) Engine: 1.0-litre EcoBoost with 48v Mild Hybrid battery; Power: 153bhp; Torque: 140lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 131mph; 0-62mph: 9 seconds; Economy: 52.3mpg; CO2 emissions: 121 g/km