What is it?
The latest incarnation of Ford’s family hatchback, the Focus. Since it was first introduced in 1997, bringing with it a new age of Ford dynamic excellence, there hasn’t been much wrong with the way the Focus has driven.
But, in this mid-life facelift, prompted by the car’s three year age and necessitated by the bruising competence of the Volkswagen Golf, the Focus’s dynamics have been tweaked anyway. We’ll come back to those.
More notable, though, are a raft of interior amendments, including more storage cubbies, softer-touch plastics with tasteful chrome-effect highlights and a cleaner, easier-to-operate set of centre console workings.
Also different are the powertrains; the 1.6-litre turbo, in either petrol or diesel flavour, has become a 1.5-litre turbo. Our test car’s an EcoBoost 150 petrol with 148bhp, but there’s also a 180bhp variant. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder, with 124bhp, stays.
The downsized diesels can be had with either 94bhp or 119bhp, giving a 10 per cent improvement in economy over the ones they replace. The 2.0-litre TDCi , also with 148bhp, now makes 10bhp more while emitting 15 per cent less.
What’s it like?
The new cabin’s pleasing. I’m still not convinced the controls for the entertainment and information systems are quite as intuitive as, say, Audi’s MMI or BMW’s iDrive, but they – and the graphics they use – are a big improvement.
Left largely unchanged is cabin space and a driving position that some drivers will find is set too high. Rear accommodation is fine, mind, as is the boot. Same as before.
In a while, the 1.5-litre petrol will be offered mated to an auto gearbox, but for now the unit, which is acceptably quiet and reasonably brisk, comes with the six-speed manual we’ve got here.
It changes slickly, with little bump and lots of positivity. And Ford doesn’t mind asking that you put in a bit more effort moving it around the gate than some rivals would. Likewise with pedal feel. Not so much though with steering weight, which is reduced this time around.
Reduced steering effort is an increasing customer demand – especially given that Ford isn’t only selling this car for European consumption. But at 2.6 turns between locks it’s still quick, and is also responsive and accurate. Still the most pleasing and engaging in the class, in fact.
Ditto the rest of the ride and handling – away from warm/hot variants. Ford accepts a tighter, slightly firmer ride over high-frequency bumps, surface imperfections and the like, than most of its rivals would – that means that the body remains better tied-down over longer undulations.
Consistently – and it’s true here – the trade-off is worth it. Bump absorption is still good, with deft wheel control meaning most lumps are cast aside easily. And the flipside is a car in which you don’t mind taking the longer route home.
It’s agile, responsive, and retains the trademark tuck of its nose if you lift into a corner. Ford values the fact that customers appreciate a car that’s pleasant to drive; that does what they ask of it, tells them what it’s up to, and is quicker to respond than the norm.
Should I buy one?
The Focus still makes an extremely strong case for itself; particularly dynamically, as you’d expect.
The rest brings it closer to the Volkswagen. A back-to-back test with a Golf awaits, but my bet is that the material improvements mean you won’t have to prioritise dynamics quite so highly as before to pick the Ford over the Volkswagen.
Ford Focus 1.5 150 EcoBoost Titanium
Price £20,795; 0-62mph 8.2sec; Top speed 131mph; Economy 51.4mpg; CO2 127g/km; Kerb weight 1325kg; Engine 4cyls in line, 1499cc, turbo petrol; Power 148bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 177lb ft at 1600-4000rpm; Gearbox six-speed manual