It seems like everyone wants an SUV, these days. But not everyone that wants an SUV actually wants an SUV. Perhaps they’re too tall, too bulky, too thirsty or too expensive. In that case, there’s a growing band of normal cars that have been ‘ruggedised’ with extra body cladding and raised suspension. Most manufacturers that build such cars refer to them as crossovers, though we reckon a true crossover looks more overtly SUV-ish. But let’s not bogged down in definitions. Instead, let’s focus on the Ford Focus Active we have here, one of the latest of these ruggedised crossover things.
It looks like any other Focus, just with a load of black plastic cladding and silver ‘skidplates’ running across the bottom of the bumpers and along the sills. The suspension is raised by 30mm and there are two extra drive modes to make driving across slippery surfaces easier.
But this isn’t really an off-roader. Better, instead, to think of it as a Focus that’s better able to stand up to the rigours of the urban jungle and is slightly easier to get into.
Choose between the five-door hatchback or this estate.
Inside, it’s much like any other Focus – which is to say fantastic. It’s a bit grey in there, but the design, ergonomics and material quality are just about up to Volkswagen Golf levels. It comes pretty generously equipped, with an 8in touchscreen infotainment system.
There’s plenty of space front and back, the seats are comfortable and the boot is plenty big enough.
The car tested here had the 1.5-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine and it’s a bit of a peach. 150hp and 177lb/ft of torque are more than enough to make swift progress, with that torque thickly spread where you need it in the mid-range. And the six-speed manual gearbox shifts like a hot knife through butter. Other engine options include a 1.0-litre EcoBoost (125hp) and 1.5-litre (120hp) and 2.0-litre (150hp) EcoBlue diesels. All engines come with a manual gearbox gearbox or optional auto.
You might expect the raised suspension – which necessitated different geometry to the regular Focus – to have a noticeable effect on the handling but that’s simply not the case. The steering is accurate and feelsome, body movements are tightly controlled, the chassis is talkative and you can adjust your line through corners with the throttle. It’s a proper giggle and leagues better than any ‘proper’ SUV.
Where you can feel the extra suspension travel is in the plush ride quality. It doesn’t quite float down the road, but if comfort is your main priority, the Active would be a better bet than the conventional Focus.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that this writer owned a previous-generation Mk.3 Focus for over two years. I was expecting this Mk.4 Focus to feel like merely an evolution of its predecessor. But in the driving experience and especially the interior it is, in fact, a massive leap forward.
The Focus Active is easily the best car in its niche. We think the Focus generally is the best small hatchback/estate there is, as well. And, since there’s no real penalty in economy, performance or handling, the Active is our pick of the bunch.
Model tested: Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost Active X estate Type: Small ruggedised estate crossover Price: £26,005 (28,805 as tested) Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol Power: 150hp Torque: 177lb/ft Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel-drive Performance: 0-62mph in 9.3secs, top speed 127mph Economy: 46.3 mpg combined (WLTP), Co2 emissions 127g/km (NEDC) Length: 4,693mm Width: 1.844mm Height: 1,532mm Weight: 1,408kg Boot capacity: 575l seats up, 1,620l seats down Towing weight: 1,500kg
By Graham King