Watch for transmission problems in the otherwise strong LW series Focus.
There is plenty to like about Ford’s LW series Focus, which was on the local new car market from July 2011 to September 2015, but caution is needed when looking for a used Focus. It is a good car which, in some petrol variants, is let down by serious transmission issues.
A practical small/medium car, Focus has style and a good range of features. There are sedan and hatchback versions (the smart-looking five-door hatch is by far the most popular option), five equipment levels, petrol and diesel engines plus manual or automatic transmissions.
There’s a significant step in trim quality and standard features as you move up the range. The base Ambiente gets a 92kW 1.6-litre petrol engine, while the Trend, Sport and Titanium grades have a 125kW, 2.0-litre engine which delivers much better drivability and tends to consume only slightly more fuel.
The 2.0-litre diesels, which were not big sellers, offer a pleasing blend of performance and fuel economy. There are also a few performance-designed ST manual hatchbacks around which have a 184kW 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine.
Dynamically, Focus is a slightly more involving driver’s car than many of its peers. An excellent chassis and suspension set-up, along with sharp steering provide one of the best handling and ride packages in the class.
Front seat space is good but the rear is tighter than in some competitors. Two average-size adults or three children can fit comfortably in the back. Hatchbacks have greater versatility with a 60/40 split-folding rear squab and three conveniently placed child-seat anchorages.
Around two-thirds of used Focuses advertised are petrol automatics, and this is where a potentially serious problem lies.
We have heard many horror stories, so buyers do need to be wary. There is even a brewing class action on this transmission issue.
These PowerShift six-speed automatics use a dry clutch-style DCT (double-clutch transmission), similar in design to the DSG transmissions that also caused problems in some earlier Volkswagen models. (The diesel models employ a wet-clutch design and are not having the same issues.)
The DCTs have a different feel to a conventional automatic. The shifts can be a bit abrupt, but the real problem is when the transmission begins to shudder, shift erratically and generally behave poorly at low speed and in traffic, even very early in the car’s life.
Ford has struggled to come up with a permanent fix, despite numerous software updates, clutch pack replacements and warranty extensions. A few owners still had the problem after a complete transmission replacement.
It is a worldwide issue affecting a range of Ford vehicles, including Fiesta and EcoSport. As part of a substantial model upgrade in October 2015, Ford changed to a more conventional six-speed automatic in Focus.
While the majority of problems are transmission-related, there have also been reports of electrical issues, faulty drive shafts and oil leaks, as well as normal wear issues.
The majority of diesel Focus owners seem far happier with their cars.