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Ford Focus
8/10

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Road Test

Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi Titanium

Driven January 2008

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We are a canny lot. The Ford Focus is the best-selling car in Britain, and is, frankly, brilliant. This is a noteworthy combination because in the past Britons have taken to their hearts some right dogs. Cortina, Cavalier, the Fiesta in some of its crappier incarnations, the Nissan Bluebird, the lousy original Corsa: at one time or another you’ve been able to find them all – to fall into Radio 1-speak – riding high in the charts.

At the risk of sounding like some sort of wayside proselytiser for the FoMoCo, I really do think today’s Focus makes you feel glad to be alive and driving. For a start, it’s all the car you could likely need or want. But also it sits neatly at that defining point where the new-car price graph takes a steep upward turn. If you want anything even slightly better than this, you’re going to have to pay a lot more. Especially once you’ve negotiated your Ford-typical discount.

Of course, other cars could claim this argument. The competing Peugeot or VW, say, or Hyundai or Kia. But it applies just that little bit more to the Focus.

I’m in a 2.0 TDCi. It’s great to drive and fast enough, but can do a real-world 40-plus mpg. It’s quiet and comfy enough for long distances. Safe too. If you’ve been blessed with offspring, the little blighters and all their paraphernalia will fit the back seat and the boot.  You might think your grown-up friends will admire you if you bought a BMW 1-Series, but that admiration would drain away the instant you gave them a lift in the 1-Series’ cramped rear quarters. If you’d bought the Focus your social standing would remain undiminished.

As for this new Focus, the changes are mainly what you see in these photos. The design has come over all ‘Kinetic’. Ford did it because the Mondeo and next year’s Ka and Fiesta have that look, and they wanted the big-selling Focus to align. That’s a costly job to do, but on the other hand they didn’t spend much on engines or chassis or roominess this time. Fair enough: there’s still nothing to beat a Focus in those departments.

Sure enough, the decision to go over the looks while leaving the underneath alone has since been vindicated as none of this year’s hatches (the Koreans, the 308, the Auris, the Qashqai) can match the Focus for driving quality. And because there’s so much intel leaking between car companies, Ford also knew next year’s ‘new’ Golf would also be a largely visual makeover, retaining the structure and glass. So Ford got its retaliation in first.

Yup, every external panel on this Focus is new except the roof and the glass. The front end so faithfully resembles the Mondeo that there’s an initial sense of a mismatched scale, of a big head on small shoulders. There are more prominent wheelarches front and back, more contoured sides and a deeper, slightly hexagonal rear screen. The tailgate and bumper have more horizontals now so the car looks wider, and top versions get spangly LED tail lamps.

The cabin has had a bit of a makeover too. Most noticeably the dial pack is more Mondeo-like: sharp red-and-white backlighting instead of the dreary old green, and some slightly brash silvery porthole surrounds for the dials. There’s a smarter console for any version that’s scaled more than half-way up the spec tree, and softer material on the door tops. But as the Ford giveth, the Ford taketh away. These plush bits contrast painfully with the hard stuff elsewhere around the lower half of the doors and dash. Live with it, people: it’s why you aren’t paying VW prices. And it’s all mock-aluminium now: the fusty suburban fake-wood Ghia trim level has been put out of its misery.

The options list for navigation, communication and entertainment matches big cars, though they make you pay for it. On the standard kit list, there’s Ford’s clever fuelling system, a cap-less orifice that prevents you putting in a petrol nozzle if you have a diesel engine, and vice-versa. Also standard is ESP, a system subtly calibrated so it doesn’t stop you having fun.

Another new option is PowerShift, the first real rival to VW’s brilliant DSG. It arrives next year, so at the moment Ford can’t field a test car. We’ll let you know when they do.

All the engines are the same (so the ST lives on – yay), but there are small changes. The diesels have a new soundproofing kit that keeps things quieter without costing any weight. Every 1.6 diesel comes under 120g/km, and there’s a 115g/km low-CO2 model called ECOnetic, which might be worth having because it still has the full 110bhp and the same gear ratios as normal so it shouldn’t be hobbled. One of the changes to improve economy is new gearbox oil – sounds boring, but it has the effect of making the change slicker, so they rolled it out across the range.

Sure enough this 2.0 TDCi is properly quiet and has a sweet six-speed box so you can use the torque any way you choose, for relaxed schmoozing or a pretty spirited dash. The Focus’s steering is as progressive as ever and it’s remarkable fun to chuck about. Honestly, it handles like a sports car. Trouble is, as with any car with this modish blowsy surfacing (Audis and BMWs have the same issues), the metalwork needs big wheels to set it off. This meant I was on 17s, and they tramlined and upset the small-bump ride, sending slight shivers up the steering column. Otherwise the suspension breathes well, especially at motorway speed where you’ve got big-car comfort and quietness. Only a little wind noise disturbs things.

Given the Focus’s Mondeo-alike looks, it’s interesting to see how the two Fords now square up to each other. Thing is, the new Mondeo is actually a very big car – the estate is Volvo V70-sized. All that bloat and weight means in the countryside it can feel sluggish and in town a bit cumbersome. The Focus dances well clear of those traps, but now more than ever has big-car benefits. Why pay more?

Paul Horrell

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