First Drive: Ford Focus

The best just got better – Ford’s new Focus raises the bar again

Even if you don’t claim to be a car enthusiast, it would be hard to ignore that the Focus has been a huge hit for Ford. It’s been an almost permanent fixture at the top of the sales charts since its original launch, and been the benchmark others have been judged by ever since.

So what’s new? In a nutshell, everything. Now positioned as a ‘world car’ within Ford, this Focus will be sold around the world. That brings economies of scale, and is one reason why the car can be had with a range of good value optional equipment packages such as an impressive safety kit bundle.

There’s also a greater emphasis on economy and emissions, with the range kicking off with a 109g/km diesel and the promise of more to more to come in the future. Engine stop-start technology plus the use of Ford’s new EcoBoost petrol engines and fuel-sipping DSG Powershift gearboxes add to Ford’s frugal approach to motoring.

It’s not a hair shirt experience, though. In keeping with other recent new Fords, the Fo-cus is a polished performer inside and out. Visually this third generation car boasts a more streamlined and slippery profile. Inside, there’s an equally high quality approach to fixtures and fittings.

The cabin is noticeably driver-centric, with the car’s major controls close to hand. There’s also no shortage of information available to the driver, what with a pair of su-perbly clear electronic displays – one for the audio unit and one between the main dials.

Fans of the old car will feel right at home thanks to a familiar feel to the various types of switchgear. Newcomers will be faced by a more upbeat and engaging experience than what’s available in some rivals, as the overall cabin ambience is lighter and brighter than the traditional German opposition.

It takes more than a cursory glance around the cabin to fully appreciate the lengths Ford has gone to in order to, hopefully, maintain its class-leading status. The same is true out on the road as, initially, the experience appears to have shifted considerably more to-wards comfort. What has Ford done with the car’s sporty and engaging character?

In truth it never left, only this time it’s been cleverly contained in a more refined and composed wrapper. Push a little harder in a corner and you’ll soon experience some of the old Focus magic. Everything is so darn polished now – Volkswagen and the like should be worried.

Considerable praise should also be directed towards the engine department. Ford is of-fering 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines in both petrol and diesel form, in a range of power out-puts. In petrol guise there’s a choice of 105, 125 and 150 horsepower, while diesels run from 115 to 140 and 163 horsepower.

Predictably, the highest output diesel motor scores well if you plan on racking up the miles. Its flexible nature makes light work of long distances, and its six-speed manual gearbox can be swapped for a DSG-style auto if you wish.

Ford’s petrol motors have improved beyond all recognition in recent years. As a willing, free-revving alternative to the more frugal diesel units, such engines prove ideal for shorter, stop-start journeys and boast less weight, which further enhances the car’s agil-ity.

As the old saying goes, power is nothing without control, and the Focus isn’t short of systems to keep you and the car in check. Apart from the predictable abundance of air-bags this Focus can be had with some interesting Volvo-esque features, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the two were once very close.

Packaged as a bundle of features, you get a blind spot warning, lane departure alert, city speed auto braking function and a speed limit sign reader that displays the relevant information in the electronic fascia readout. It was only a few short years ago that such technology was the preserve of expensive luxury cars, and makes the inclusion in a ‘regular’ family hatch a big deal. You can thank Ford’s economies of scale approach for the decision, and look forward to more of the same in the years to come with other new Fords.

Make no mistake; this Focus is a supremely competent and attractive car. It might take a few minutes – and a few miles behind the wheel – to fully appreciate the progress made by Ford’s engineers, but when you do you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what’s been achieved.

The combination of big-car refinement and equipment levels, a rounded and polished driving experience and an engine range offering real world savings are just a few of the many highlights. Even in uncertain times, if its performance is anything to go by this Fo-cus is destined to be another chart topper.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi 163 Titanium X 5dr from £22,745. Range from £15,995.
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 163bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 135mph, 0-62mph 8.6 seconds.
Economy: 56.5mpg.
CO2 Rating: 129g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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