Ford has one of the strongest line-ups of any car manufacturer. With maybe one or two exceptions, every car it makes is either at or very near the top of its class.
And yet that fact seems to fly under the radar. Perhaps it’s their omnipresence on our roads, a case of familiarity breeding indifference. I don’t doubt that the hundreds of thousands of people who buy/are given a new Ford every year recognise they are good cars. It’s just easy to take that fact for granted.
Take the Focus. It completely revolutionised the mid-size hatchback sector when it was launched back in 1998, offering a combination of space, design, quality and a genuinely fun driving experience. In doing so, it forced the lacklustre competition to play catch up. But how many of the millions of people who have owned and driven a Focus since realise what a landmark it was…?
Some of the sparkle was lost from the handling when the current third generation Focus arrived in 2011. But that has been rectified for this latest, facelift version. There is real precision and engagement, here.
The electric power steering doesn’t give any real feel, but is well weighted and accurate. The chassis imparts clear, concise information about the road surface, and the ride is composed and crash free, if a little on the firm side.
It adds up to a car that you can fling down the road with a vigour you wouldn’t expect of something so apparently humdrum. Of course, not every (non-ST) Focus driver belts around like their hair is on fire. But that same set of qualities makes it a calm and comfortable cruiser.
And that’s what the drivetrain tested here is best at: cruising. The 1.5-litre, turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engine serves up 148bhp and 177lb/ft of torque (on overboost), pretty much all of which is in the mid-range. In our car it came attached to a 6-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic gearbox which really likes changing gear, even when it isn’t actually necessary. (We had optional flappy paddles as well, which seem to send signals by post). But shifts are very smooth. In fact, refinement generally is excellent. Just a shame it resolutely refused to return more than 30mpg.
The facelift cleaned up the aesthetics both inside and out. The front end has been given an Aston Martin-ish grille, the rear a more sculpted tailgate. Inside, the dashboard layout has been simplified, the materials are better and there is a new touchscreen infotainment system (the old one had graphics from a 1990 Atari and was impossible to navigate through).
As ever, space is generous front and rear, there’s a decent boot and loads of little storage trays and cubbies. It’s thoughtfully designed, with lots of little details that make life easier. The adjustable cupholder, for instance. Or the power socket and USB port sited next to each other. Or the pop-out door protectors (an £85 option).
Competition is very close at the top of this sector. Some will tell the VW Golf shades the Focus, but we’re dealing with fractional margins, here. When it’s cash on the line, a decision could could down to which dealer’s coffee you prefer.
Personally, I’m drawn more to the Focus than the Golf. I wouldn’t recommend you buy this specific Focus, but that the drivetrain doesn’t ruin it shows just how brilliant a car it is.
Ford Focus 1.5T EcoBoost Titanium PowerShift
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch; front-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 148bhp; 177lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 46.3mpg; 140g/km
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 129mph
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By Only Motors