The Ford Focus redefined that family hatch when it appeared in 1998. Now there’s a new one, the first significant change to the model in seven years.
Can the new 2011 Ford Focus Mk3 move the goalposts again? Read CAR Online's first drive review here - and make sure you read the new February 2011 issue of CAR Magazine, out on 19 January, for our twin test with class benchmark the VW Golf.
Read our new Ford Focus review: we drive the latest hatchback
The new 2011 Ford Focus: the headlines please
Okay, how about a new platform, class-leading safety kit including Honda-style self-steering, green tech like stop-start and active grille shuttering, a massive jump in refinement, dual-clutch gearboxes, five doors as standard and a new range of Ecoboost engines?
Ecoboost? Is that some kind of economy model?
No, you’re thinking of Ford’s miserly Econetic models. Ecoboost refers to Ford’s new super-frugal turbocharged 1.6 petrol engines that cover ground that would have been naturally aspirated 2.0 turf a few years ago. There are two versions, both fielding 177lb ft of torque (and up to 199lb ft via an overboost function for brief overtaking manoeuvres). Both also return an almost diesel-like 47mpg on the combined cycle and emit just 139g/km. But while one has 148bhp and takes 8.6sec to reach 62mph, the other has 180bhp and takes seven tenths less.
The only version available to try at the media launch was the higher-powered car, a shame as it’s a model Ford has elected not to sell in the UK. It’s not a particularly charismatic engine but, like Alfa’s 1750 Multiair, it’s usefully punchy in the mid range and the Ecoboost definitely has the edge at the top end where it gets a second wind. Read the new February issue of CAR Magazine for our key test of the new Focus diesel and see how it compares with the VW Golf.
The Focus's manual gearshift is positive and the six speeds give a decent spread of ratios with top offering quiet cruising and helping net that impressive mpg figure. But if you were thinking this is some sort of ST replacement, it’s not. It’s a solid performer but it’s not quite a hot hatch. It is nearly hot hatch money though - because the Ecoboost comes only in posh Tinamium or Titanium X trims, meaning a starting price of £19,745 (£20,845) if you go for the estate. Phew.
What about the other engines and the dual-clutch gearbox you mentioned?
The 104bhp naturally aspirated 1.6 petrol and 94bhp 1.6 turbodiesel sound like they’re going to be about as energetic as a morphine addict after a fresh hit of junk. The 113bhp 1.6 and 138bhp 2.0 turbodiesels are more appealing, while speed junkies can now opt for the 161bhp 2.0 diesel from the Mondeo, which you can read about in our Focus-Golf twin test in the February 2011 issue of Car.
The 2.0 diesels are the only models available with Ford’s new dual-clutch gearbox, but as Ford has bizarrely chosen to fit a gearstick mounted rocker switch instead of steering wheel paddles, you might not want it anyway.
Tell us about the cabin? Driver’s seats still as lofty as the umpire’s chair at Wimbledon? Plastics as soft to the touch as four days’ beard growth?
No, no, no. That was the old Focus. The seat on the new one offers a much better range of adjustment and the cabin quality is significantly improved, if not quite to Golf levels. Cabin room is good too, although while that sporty sloping roofline doesn’t massively impinge on headroom, rear passengers will feel more claustrophobic than they would in its VW rival. And the sloping A-pillars don’t do any favours for forward visibility.
Like the cabin of the original Focus, but unlike the departing car’s, the new Focus cockpit is fresh, vibrant and just a little bit busy with buttons everywhere. But then there is plenty of equipment to operate: Bluetooth, voice activation, torque-vectoring ESP and a DAB digital radio are all standard, even on the lowly £16k Edge. Options include a self-steering lane guidance system and adaptive cruise control.
Come on then, don’t keep us in suspense. What’s the new 2011 Focus like to drive?
The first thing that strikes is the incredible refinement. For all its dynamic prowess, the Focus has never been a relaxing car to drive, blighted by horrific road noise and a firmish ride that we always considered ample pay-off for the excellent body control but not everyone likes.
The body control on the new Ford Focus is still great, but now the suspension transmits far fewer thumps and vibrations to your backside; the tyres less roar to your ears. ‘Comfort and refinement, that’s what buyers in this sector want,’ Ford’s vehicle engineering manager Volker Weinhold told us at the launch.
But tell me it’s as fun to drive as it ever was. Please.
Well if you loved the mischievous throttle adjustability of the old cars, particularly the Mk1, whose humblest versions danced on their tyres like hot hatches, then the new car’s undeniably planted feel might disappoint. You can’t switch the ESP off, in fact. But as Weinhold says, that’s not going to be relevant to 95% of buyers.
It’s still fun though, just a different sort of fun. Driving Focus 3, it’s mostly about the front end, the super-quick turn-in from the impressively realistic electric-power steering system that cuts fuel consumption, allows Ford to offer a VW-style automatic parking option and even compensates for cambers.
And the Focus doesn’t just turn in to bends quickly, it gets through them fast too thanks to a torque vectoring differential. It’s not a real torque vectoring diff, it’s a simple ESP-based system that nips up the brake on the inside wheel during cornering, but the result is undeniably effective. Pin the right pedal through a corner and it hangs on long after rivals would be drifting into the scenery.
What about something a little warmer?
Ford has already revealed its GTi rival, the new Focus ST, but it won’t be on sale until early 2012. There’ll be no five-pot warble this time though – the ST will use a 247bhp version of the 2.0 Ecoboost four and cost just under £25k. No three-door either as like every other Focus, the ST will come in five-door form only.
The Focus is another fine Ford, one that’s made great strides in terms of comfort and refinement, is good value for money and has some interesting new tech features. But it definitely feels like Ford is gunning for the Golf, resulting in a very mature car.
Has it gone a little too sensible? Can it beat our class favourite, the Mk6 Volkswagen Golf? You’ll have to buy the February 2011 issue of CAR Magazine and read our twin test to find out. It’s on sale Wednesday 19 February 2011, although UK subscribers should get their issue this weekend.