Is a Ford Focus a Good First Car? (incl. Focus ST & Focus RS)

As with most compact and subcompact cars, the Ford Focus is a good first car as it is inexpensive to buy, although plenty of better small cars are available.

That said, the Ford Focus is no longer in production, so maintaining a used Focus within reasonable costs may become an issue.

ford focus good first car

5 Reasons the Ford Focus Is a Good First Car

#1 Reasonably Fuel Efficient

EPA estimates for the 2016 Ford Focus and older base trim are 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined.

Those figures improved to 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined for the final Ford Focus model years (2017 & 2018) with their three-cylinder turbocharged engines.

However, some competing hatchbacks can return higher mileage.

 Fuel Economy
MINI Cooper31 mpg combined
Ford Fiesta30 mpg combined
Ford Focus34 mpg combined
Toyota Yaris35 mpg combined
Honda Fit36 mpg combined
Ford Focus vs. other subcompacts fuel economy.

#2 Ideal Engine Power & Drivetrain for a First Car

First cars only need an engine with sufficient power to travel from A to B as efficiently and safely as possible.

The 2.0L four-cylinder engine in most of the Ford Focus model years is adequate for the job.

Depending on the model year, it produces between 110 hp and 160 hp.

You can choose the higher SE trim with a 1.0L three-cylinder turbo powertrain if you want a little more thrust at lower speeds in your Ford Focus.

It may be a turbocharged engine, but it gets you more mpg than the base S trim.

Additionally, the delivery of the user-friendly horsepower is through a front-wheel-drive system, which is a better drivetrain for inexperienced drivers.

#3 Good (But Not Great) Safety Ratings

Good first cars are safe vehicles, and they typically score strongly in crash tests.

The Ford Focus’s crash safety isn’t the most impressive.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the Ford Focus ‘Good’ in all their crashworthiness tests, except ‘Acceptable’ for the Small Overlap Front (driver-side).

That said, the slight dip in IIHS ratings shouldn’t be a major concern, and the Ford Focus is generally a safe vehicle.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
 Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)
Ford Focus3.8/45/5
Ford Fiesta3.6/44/5
Honda Civic4.0/45/5
Ford Focus, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Civic safety ratings.

The compact Honda Civic is one of the safest first cars, judging by the numerous IIHS safety awards it received to date.

#4 Easy Car to Drive & Park

It’s undeniable that small cars with diminutive dimensions are the easiest to drive due to their lightweight nature.

The Ford Focus hatchback and sedan are no different.

Further, outward visibility in the Ford Focus is good, helped by the slim windshield pillars and generous-sized glass areas.

Opting for compact or subcompact cars will make life that much easier for new drivers.

#5 Relatively Inexpensive to Insure for Teens

Insurance quotes vary significantly between vehicles, driver age groups, and locations.

So, it is always better to request quotes from multiple insurers to get an accurate estimate.

That said, the insurance cost for a Ford Focus shouldn’t worry because of its inexpensive vehicle price tag and good safety ratings.

Compact cars like the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Volkswagen Jetta are (a tad) more expensive to insure than the Ford Focus.

These small cars are cheaper to insure:

  1. Ford Fiesta.
  2. Nissan Sentra.
  3. Subaru Impreza.
  4. Toyota Corolla.
  5. Honda Civic.

Ford Focus Drawbacks You Should Note

Mediocre Reliability

Ford vehicles typically aren’t as reliable as their rivals.

Consumer Reports ranked Ford #18 out of 28 automakers, and RepairPal ranked the Ford Focus #27 out of 36 compact cars in reliability.

That said, the reliability in Ford vehicles is improving, which makes buying newer Ford models the wiser choice.

Above-Average Maintenance Cost

The average repair and maintenance cost on a Ford Focus is $569 annually.

It is slightly higher than the average of $526 for compact cars.

Although that may sound reasonable, comparing it to other cheaper-to-maintain compact vehicles tells you that first cars with a lower running cost are available.

 Maintenance Costs
Ford Focus$569/year
Honda Fit$390/year
Toyota Yaris$333/year
MINI Cooper$846/year
Ford Focus vs. other subcompact cars upkeep (RepairPal)

Best Ford Focus Year for Your First Car

Table Guide:

  • 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • mpg city/highway/combined (base trim).
  • /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2018 Focus3.8/45/530/40/3477/100
2017 Focus3.8/45/530/40/3476/100
2016 Focus3.8/45/526/36/3077/100
2015 Focus3.8/45/526/36/3076/100
2014 Focus3.8/45/526/36/3069/100
2013 Focus3.8/45/526/36/3070/100
2012 Focus3.8/44/526/36/3068/100
2011 Focus3.6/4NA24/35/2879/100
Ford Focus model years comparison.

Most Ford Focus model years aren’t as reliable as the Japanese subcompacts.

Avoid Ford Focus year 2013 and 2014 as they had 10 recalls each (according to CarComplaints), about double the average of the other model years.

The 2017 and 2018 models (SE trim) are the best Ford Focus for a first car because the turbocharged 1.3L three-cylinder engine can achieve a significantly improved fuel economy of 34 mpg combined.

2016 Ford Focus and older return less mpg.

If you love the Ford Focus and want the highest possible gas mileage, opt for the Ford Focus Electric – you get an equivalent of 107 mpg combined.

When shopping for a used car, always inspect before buying as each vehicle is different.

Ford Focus Compared with Similar Vehicles

There are several exciting subcompact alternatives to the Ford Focus.

Let’s see how the Ford Focus compares with its subcompact rivals below.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Ford Focus30/40/3471/100$5693.8/45/5Good
Honda Fit33/40/3679/100$3904/45/5Excellent
Toyota Yaris32/40/3580/100$3334/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
MINI Cooper27/37/3183/100$8464/44/5Good
Ford Focus comparison with similar vehicles.

If you want your first car to have top-notch fuel efficiency, strong reliability, and excellent safety ratings, the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are desirable options.

Plus, their annual upkeep cost is considerably lower.

The Mazda 3 – available as a sedan or hatchback – has an utterly impeccable crash safety record and is a worthy contender for your first car.

The Mini Cooper is only viable if you love the brand and its iconic design because it is one of few subcompacts with costlier upkeep than the Ford Focus.

Is the Ford Focus ST a Good First Car?

The base Ford Focus is a good first car with all the right indicators of a frugal daily driver.

But the same car with considerably more horsepower, while welcomed by enthusiasts, becomes less suitable for inexperienced drivers.

The Ford Focus ST is unsuitable for a first car, although it does have some pluses that can (barely) make it a reasonable choice for better-skilled drivers:

  • Hot hatch – it also has a 2.0L four-cylinder engine like the base Ford Focus, but it is turbocharged to produce a stealthy 252 horses; excessive for most new drivers.
  • Poor(er) fuel economy – only mid-20s mpg combined for the ST; the regular Ford Focus returns mpg in the low-30s.
  • Compact dimensions – it’s still a Focus hatchback and is easy to maneuver and park.
  • Good visibility – the views out the front and sides are relatively unimpeded, although a little worse out the back due to the small rear window and large head restraints.
  • Hatchback usability – it still has the shell of a Ford Focus.
  • Reasonably civilized ride quality – good considering it is a performance car.

But if you want a more comfortable everyday ride, opt for the base Ford Focus.

Is the Ford Focus RS a Good First Car?

The Focus RS is the most potent performance-oriented version of the Focus four-door sedan.

It may be a superb driving machine, but out of the three Focus models, the Ford Focus RS is the worst choice for your first car:

  • Potent power output – the turbocharged 2.3L Ecoboost inline-four produces a massive 350 horsepower and an equal torque. The 0-60 mph sprint takes under 5 seconds.
  • Less-comfortable seats – supportive for high-performance driving but can feel unnecessarily tight in a leisurely cruise.
  • Stiff ride – the Focus RS is more of a track car than a daily driver.

Although some pluses of the standard Focus still apply, the Focus RS’s first car drawbacks are overwhelming, making it a bad car for freshly-licensed drivers.

The enormous horsepower boost can breed bad driving habits.

Ford Focus vs. Focus ST vs. Focus RS

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg combined (base trim).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
VehicleHorsepowerDrivetrainFuel Econ.Maint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Ford Focus110-160 hpFWD34$5693.8/45/5Good
Ford Focus ST252 hpFWD25$569+NA5/5Good
Ford Focus RS350 hpAWD22$569+NA5/5Good
Ford Focus vs. Ford Focus ST vs. Ford Focus RS for a first car.

The all-wheel-drive system in the Focus RS is handy for drivers living in snowy climes, but the hatchback produces close to 3x the power of a regular Ford Focus – unsafe for a first car.

The base Ford Focus is the most fuel-efficient and the ideal choice for teenagers among the three.

Still, the costly upkeep and substandard reliability should concern first car shoppers when cheaper and more dependable alternatives like the Honda Civic exist.