The original Ford Focus mk1 was a ground breaker styling wise when Ford released it onto the market in 1998. Bold fresh styling which was totally modern and sharp compared to the older dated looks of the mk6 Escort it replaced put it ahead of more mundane looking rivals. Available as a 3 door/5 door hatchback, 5 door estate or later a 4 door saloon, it was a versatile range which catered for everyone. With a vast range of interior options, engines and options list it also appealed to the buyers and became an instant success. And it drove well too! With decent performance and razor sharp handling, it was also a car you could have fun in and it paved the way for the ST and RS performance models. It still looks fresh even today!
As mentioned above, the style of the Focus is one which has aged really well. For a medium sized family car, the Focus was a great looking car. They seem to have proved good rust wise, although neglected examples did surrender to the dreaded tin worm. This has seen numbers fall massively, along with the fact that nobody thought of it one day becoming a classic (ST and RS models aside) so a lot have been run into the ground and scrapped. One area rust is an issue (as with most cars it seems) are the rear arches and also the front arches. The sills have also been known to rust, along with the bottoms of the doors. Inspect these areas carefully. Due to the sleek shape of the front, bonnets can suffer from stone chip damage, which left untreated, will rust. Where fitted, the front fog lamps can also suffer from damage caused by stones being thrown up by vehicles in front, so check these are intact as they can be expensive/time consuming to replace.
Another known issue is the bonnet lock. To open the bonnet on the Focus is done with the key. On the front grill, the Ford badge flips to the side, revealing the lock. You insert the key, turn anticlockwise (which pops the bonnet) then turn clockwise and lift the bonnet to open. While it's a neat feature, the lock itself is badly designed. There is a rod which has a plastic bit at each end that goes from the lock to the mechanism for the bonnet itself. Unfortunately, the plastic does through time break, meaning you have no way of opening the bonnet! To fix it means replacing the whole lock and rod assembly, which is a very tricky and time consuming job. There are videos on Youtube showing how to do this. So check the lock works!
There were a host of petrol engines available, from the basic 1.4cc and 1.6 Zetec-SE engines, to the 1.8 and 2.0 Zetec engines. Ford also offered a 1.8 turbo diesel which will soldier on for mega mileages. All engines are reliable, although the 1.4 is perhaps too small for the size of car it was pulling. Pick of the bunch would be the 1.8 Zetec engine (unless you can stretch to the ST/RS, which were both really powerful strong units) All require the timing belt changed. Ford recommends every 100k miles/10years but it's more preferable to change at 70k miles/7 years. All engines should pull strongly through the gears. There should be now signs of smoke and if there is any it may mean the valve stem seals are on their way out or piston rings are failing. Diesels do tend to be a bit smoky, but excessive smoke can point to the turbo/turbo seals being shot. As always, check for service history. A neglected example will almost certainly be ripe for problems. Regular oil and filter changes will keep these engines on song for very high mileages. As with most cars of the era, it's the electronics/computer controlled things that tend to give the most issues. Make sure there are no warning lights on!
The interior in the Focus is a really nice place to be. The seats are comfortable, and available in a wide variety of coverings including leather. The interior also appears to wear well, hinting at the better quality of plastics/materials used on the Focus. There will however be the usual creaks and rattles as most fittings were just the usual plastic clips/push fittings that have become the norm throughout the car industry. Great when they're new, but loosen off through time causing annoying squeaks!
Equipment wise, Ford offered a fair bit more as standard compared to it's rivals. Electric windows on all but the most basic models, air con, heated front screens (usually part of the "climate" pack), electric mirrors, central locking etc. Mostly the electrics are fine and most faults tend to be from bad earth connections. Check all the electric gizmos work though as tracing/finding a fault can be a pain.
As it's a medium family car, practicality is built into it's DNA. With room for 5 adults, safety features such as driver/passenger airbags, decent equipment levels, a good sized boot (especially the estate!) plus storage in the cabin, decent power and great handling, it's a great all round car and a great modern classic. Bag an RS/ST and you can do the school run, the weekly shopping, a trip to the local B&Q and have a weekend blast/track day all in one great car. Prices for the normal models is still cheap as chips, but the RS models have already rocketed out of reach for some, with the ST's closely behind. Another one to buy now or regret it later.