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Ford Focus

9/10
Overall verdict

The Top Gear car review:Ford Focus

£16,260£31,625

Driving

What is it like on the road?

The 125bhp three-cylinder is a game little engine, not too laggy even below 2,500rpm, and happy-sounding as it revs to 6,500. So you’ve got a lot of flexibility, even though its best work is in the 3,500-5,500 range. It’s smooth and quiet too.

That’s bolted to a six-speed manual transmission that has a bit of stickiness in its shift, and a rather big gap between second and third. But the clutch and throttle are smooth to use, so it doesn’t get on your nerves.

Cornering is also an entirely sanitary affair. The steering has well-mapped answers to the movement of your hands, and the car steers through any bend with superb reassurance. It simply follows the front wheels, all the way up to the limit.

But it’s a little on the dull side. It doesn’t really leap ahead of the best rivals. This frankly is not what we want from a Ford.

Well there’s an answer. The 1.0 petrol and 1.6 diesel engines get this torsion beam suspension. The 1.5 petrol and 2.0 diesel have the short and long arm suspension. Get into one with that system and you’ll know the difference the first time you turn the wheel a quarter-turn.

The steering’s weight and gearing and progression haven’t changed. But there’s now an immediacy and precision, a sense of connection that wasn’t there in the torsion setup. It’s as if you’ve taken off a thick pair of gloves. Push this Focus, especially the one we tested with the lowered ST-line suspension (the car pictured here), and you can sense its efforts, feel the road, play little games with its angles.

After we’d tested it, The chief engineer told us much of the improvement is due to the ST-Line suspension tuning, not just the SLA suspension. he claims the ST-Line, even with the torsion-beam chassis, also steers very well. Unfortunately there wasn’t a car of that spec to test, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The ST-Line’s extra firmness doesn’t harm the ride. Both suspensions ride tautly, but are brilliant at easing away any sharp edges. The damping too, is terrific, allowing the wheels to breathe over small bumps but keeping the body in check over big crests and dips – especially the ST-Line. We can’t see why you’d need to splash out on adaptive damping. There’s more chassis noise from the torsion-beam setup.

The 1.5, by the way, is a really sweet engine. We tried the 182bhp version, which has slightly less power than when it’s in the Fiesta ST and is quieter with it, but still has the same engaging and sparky nature. Because it’s also just three cylinders, it doesn’t make the car feel nose-heavy.

The 1.5 diesel – we tried the 120bhp - is a decent enough example of a modern diesel engine, delivering the goods over a comparatively broad spectrum of revs. It makes a drumming rather than a rattling sound, but the noise never really goes away, and there’s an annoying resonance at about 2,800rpm.

If you want that SLA suspension (you do) but a 1.0 petrol or 1.5 diesel engine, look at the estates as they all have it.

Sink onto a motorway and the Focus relaxes, the strongly self-centring steering keeping you in line. Might as well turn on the lane assist too (it’s a button on the end of a stalk, so no need to drop your eyes), and it’ll smoothy nudge you away from any white-line whoopsies. That’s standard on all cars.

The standard emergency auto-braking system is coupled with ‘evasive steering assist’ which nudges the wheel to help you steer in towards an open gap, rather than plough catastrophically into something solid. I didn’t test it. But neither did I get any false positives, which is good.

At the top of the Focus’s assistance tree, the lane-assist system will actually aim to hold the centre of the lane and the radar cruise system that operates – in autobox models anyway – from stop-go traffic up to motorway speed. That’s SAE Level 2 automation, if you’re counting. It’s as effective as the system on Volvos and Mercedes.

Active masking for the LED headlights is also available, which don’t only blank the area around oncoming traffic so’s not to dazzle, but also use navigation info to aim around upcoming bends and roundabouts.

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

8/10

Peugeot 308

£16,320£29,150
Peugeot hasn't been competitive here since the late 90s, but the new 308 is, surprisingly, a great car
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