A facelifted Ford Focus diesel? Is it still fun?
In a word, yes. Britain’s bestseller has been under Martin Smith’s scalpel to bring it in line with his ‘kinetic design’. Gone is the slightly mundane look of the current car to be replaced by rakish headlights, little and large opposing trapezoid intakes, and botox-injected sides. This is where the money has been spent.
Dynamically it’s untouched, but it's interior has been given a visual polish, and particular attention has been paid to boosting refinement levels and reducing noise levels.
All Focuses now get ESP, and we tested the (pricey) £18,345 Titanium spec model. Your money's better spent on the Zetec trim - you’ll save around £800, end up with all the kit you need, and be spared the privacy glass that made the rear of our car quite depressing.
So is it even better to drive than before?
Yes and no. Yes, because the Focus can now gobble miles with even more ease, and no because we’re still reminiscing about the wonderful steering on the Mk1 Focus. The current car lacks the wonderful tactility of that car, or of the current Mondeo. Relatively speaking though, it’s still very good - it's light when manoeuvring around town and there's no slack when you hustle it along. By comparison, the Golf is overly light and the Megane plain stodgy.
And not only is the steering better than any other car in its class, but the Focus still out handles its rivals, too. It has typical Ford damping: firm, but not overly stiff and definitely expensive. Even on our test car’s 17-inch wheels the ride never fidgeted. Few cars below £18k are as dynamically competent as the Focus - impressive for a range that actually starts from £11,695.
So what about the mile munching then?
It’s nigh on perfect. The Focus offers more front and rear room than a Mondeo from a generation ago. The cabin is quiet, refined, and crossing five countries and covering 600 miles in one day was, well, all in a day’s work for the Ford. Cruise control should be standard though, especially on a car wearing an £18k pricetag.
The seats are supportive, though perhaps too tight around the kidneys, but caused no aches and pains, and the only stops on the journey were to refuel the driver, not the car. Motorway miles for reps will be a breeze, and you know that once you turn off onto a B-road, it’ll get even better.
What’s the diesel powerplant like?
It’s not class best in refinement, economy or emissions, but it’s still a good engine. The 2.0 TDCi common rail unit delivers 134bhp, 251lb ft, 50.4mpg and 148g/km.
The engine and gearbox are well matched, so you need never drop below fifth on a motorway, even for steep hills, and sixth still allows for good economy and some overtaking pull.
On our fast continent-crossing journey it managed 40.5mpg, which means over 600 miles on one tank, which means the new standard-fit Easyfuel capless system will be rarely used.
And the interior?
This is where Ford made the biggest leap with the switch from Mk1 to Mk2 and started to give Volkswagen a few worries. But even with the latest soft-touch plastics and silver highlights the Focus’ cabin is starting to feel its age - a Peugeot 308 is more airy, spacious and has higher quality materials inside.
There are hard surfaces around your knees, and the Sony-branded stereo looks out of place. The keyless-go is a mere gimmick, leaving you with an unsightly blanking plate where the key hole used to be.
Is the cabin that bad?
Don't get us wrong - the cabin is a fine place to be. The dark leather with white stitching and the silvered highlights make it feel pretty special. It's not as classy or elegant as a Golf, but then every time you turn the wheel you know you're driving a better car, and one with the dynamics to make you forget about the foibles.
Our (left-hand drive) car also had a two-point plug so you can have your iPod and sat-nav plugged in at the same time, but the iPod aux port is in the glovebox, which you can’t close without crushing the cable if your MP3 player is plugged in. Another sign that the Focus is showing its age...
It's rather telling that two CAR staffers own Mk1 Focuses. Why haven’t they switched to Mk2 cars? Because the Mk1 Focus still does an unimpeachable job.
The Mk2 Focus improved on the Mk1 car in every area bar the steering, and the facelifted car has tweaked and improved the refinement and quality of the car. It’s still the best hatch on the market until the next-gen Golf and Megane arrive next year, and as a practical everyday car still has what it takes to hold its own against the huge number of niche products available for the same money.
To see how the latest Focus stacks up against the Kia Ceed, Peugeot 308, Nissan Qashqai, Mini Clubman and Skoda Roomster make sure you buy the January 2008 issue of CAR Magazine, on sale now.