► Facelift time for Ford’s sales champion
► Updated interior, engines and chassis
► Now a much better-rounded family hatch
Incremental change can be a good thing. Take this, the facelifted ‘Mk 3.5’ Ford Focus. It’s undergone a series of step changes rather than a radical overhaul, but the sum total is a car that’s greatly improved. The Focus is back on form.
What kind of changes are we talking about here?
A few deft exterior alterations to make it look better, some well-chosen chassis tweaks to make it handle better, and an overhauled engine range that manage their thirst and hydrocarbons better. Not to mention a centre console that’s no longer based on a mobile phone from half a decade ago.
Read our new Ford Focus review: we drive the latest hatchback
Let’s start on the outside; that Aston-esque grille aside, it’s a subtle revamp but a successful one. Filing the headlights into slimmer fillets and losing the jarring triangular nostril grilles has helped the Focus discover its handsome side. As before, it’s a five-door-only bodyshell for the hatch. There’s still an estate version too, which has undergone a similar round of updates.
Chassis-wise, that includes a rethink on the suspension geometry and damper settings, along with altogether stiffer front suspension bushes. The latter have had a direct effect on steering response and feel, amplified by a retune for the power steering.
Can you feel those changes on the road?
You really can, and in a good way. There’s more weight to the steering either side of the straight ahead, which makes for a reassuring feel of solidity, and once the car’s loaded up in a corner there’s far more feel through the wheel than most – in fact, more or less all – family hatches.
It’s really quite playful, too. The back end’s surprisingly mobile, although it’s quickly reined in by the updated stability control system, which Ford says actively pre-empts when the car’s about to lose grip by constantly monitoring steering traces and speed.
Ride and body control on bumpy roads is straight from the top drawer, right in the narrow sweet spot between harsh and wallowy. It feels more together than the pre-facelift Focus, and more fun too.
What about engines?
There’s a brand-new 1.5-litre Ecoboost four-cylinder turbo petrol unit – the engine we’re testing here. It replaces the old 1.6 Ecoboost and packs similar power but lesser CO2 and greater fuel economy. The usual downsizing drill.
Ford offers the same engine with two power outputs – 148bhp or 180bhp – and we’re testing the more powerful variant. It has a slightly diesel-y power delivery in that there’s a pronounced lagginess from very base revs and then a generous swell of torque in the low to mid-range, although its delivery’s nicely cushioned and doesn’t come in a big lump. It’s refined enough, making a muted, vaguely warbly note as it goes about its business. Part of the update roster for Focus 3.5 was improved sound-proofing courtesy of thicker carpets, glass and insulation under the bonnet, and they seem to have done the trick.
The rest of the existing engine range has been fettled for improved fuel economy and CO2. Ford now claims more than 60mpg for its rorty little 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost but experience suggests that in the real world, over longer journeys especially, the 1.5’s probably no less efficient. Likewise, although the four-cylinder Ecoboost’s economy stats are some way behind the various Focus diesels’, unless you live on the motorway this could actually be the pick of the range.
What else is new on the facelifted Ford Focus?
A vastly improved centre console. It’s far tidier and more logically laid out than the scattergun effort of before, and top Titanium trim grades now sport a generously sized eight-inch colour touchscreen to replace the monochrome porthole the pre-update car was afflicted with.
It’s a smart, modern-looking display packed with handy functions, although it’s not perfect. Some of the bits you need to prod to access certain functions are really quite tiny, and need both a smooth road and an accurate aim to get right. Attractive as the minimal button count on the new-look console is, a clickwheel or similar secondary control for the screen might have helped ease the strain on the driver’s concentration. There’s something about the screen’s reflective properties and knack for accumulating fingerprints that makes it tricky to see the display clearly on bright sunny days, too.
It’s worth mentioning that interior fit, finish and material quality felt very good indeed on the top Titanium X model we tested. Granted, it doesn’t quite have the bank-vault feel of solidity of a Golf, nor the ultra-minimal, loft-conversion desirability of an Audi A3, but it’s good nevertheless.
Better to look at, nicer to sit in, cheaper to run and genuinely rewarding to drive, the updated Focus is a far better ownership proposition than the pre-facelift car. It’s well worth a look.
Incidentally, the car tested here was in range-topping Titanium X trim, which means it’s a relatively expensive proposition: with the 1.5 Ecoboost engine, you’re looking at a not-insubstantial £23,520 before options. But from heated seats to a reversing camera, it has every bit of kit you could ever realistically want or need, and probably a few bits you wouldn’t. If you’re a fan of the big touchscreen you’ll have to shell out for one of the top Titanium or Titanium X models – the rest of the range get smaller, button-operated displays.