The new Ford Focus aims for the middle ground between the groundbreaking, sharp-steering first-generation Focus and the duller but smarter Mk2. In theory, if it can match the fun of the first with the quality of the second, it could be on to a good thing.
The new 2011-spec Ford Focus has already – by a whisker – seen off the VW Golf Mk6 in our twin test in the February 2011 issue but that was in unseemly £24,000 high-powered diesel guise. I mean, who pays twenty-four big ones for a Focus?
Read our new Ford Focus review: we drive the latest hatchback
So you’ve picked a more mainstream Ford Focus to review?
Well, sort of. Here we drive the lower-powered 2.0-litre diesel, mustering 140ps, or 138bhp. It’s enough to bring the price tumbling to £20,745 in Titanium spec, but I still consider that steep for a Blue Oval hatch. We’re testing the 1.6 diesel soon and you can read our review of the new Ford Focus 1.6 petrol here.
Press offices inevitably stack media demonstrators with optional toys and gizmos to a) show their cars in the best light and b) let us try out all the new gadgets (which they're desperate to market and reap those margins). Which is why our 2.0-litre diesel topped out at £23,415.
Go on. Tell us about the gadgets on the new Focus…
Our Focus 2.0 TDCI Titanium came with:
• Candy Red paint (£745, very eye-catching if you like deep reds)
• 18in alloys (£400 for an occasionally choppy ride; look great, but we’d downsize)
• Audio navigation system with six speakers (£550, works well)
• Self-parking system (£525, includes power-fold mirrors – but we’d recommend the less lazy option of parking yourself)
• Driver Assistance Pack (£750 to have road signs read for you and white lines adhered to)
The latter is a demonstration of just how clever the new Focus is. It’ll tug the steering wheel to warn you if you’re wandering out of lane or, in active mode, nudge the car back into lane for you. It’ll alert you if your blindspot is full of menacing car and pop your lights up automatically saving you from that tiring flick of finger to put your headlamps on full beam.
Extraordinary really. Every single system works seamlessly and I applaud the safety benefits of some of the cleverer gadgets available on the new Focus. I just worry that we’re inching ever closer to the stage where the driver becomes redundant. Presumably the road sign reader could send a jolt when you break the limit, and then ease off the power and apply the brakes for you. It’s not that far off.
And how will these optional extras stack up in 10 years' time? I'd rather own a more basic model with less stuff to go wrong.
Tell us about how the new Ford Focus diesel drives
All that kit must add plenty to the kerbweight, because our 2.0 TDCI doesn’t feel as quick as those performance figures suggest. The engine is quiet and refined most of the time, but you do have to rev it hard to make decent progress. Which doesn't bode well for the 1.6 TDCI due at CAR Towers next week.
But sling the new Focus through some corners and you’ll come away impressed. On the chunky 235/40 ZR18s of our test car, you just can’t unstick it. Only in very tight corners could we feel the torque vectoring system pulling the car deeper into the apex. The fact is, there’s so much mechanical grip that the electro-nannies are rarely called into play. The steering is well judged: enough heft to reassure you, a directness to give you a connection with the front wheels, and a sliver of feel missing from many mainstream hatchbacks.
Those massive wheels do seem to hinder the turning circle though. ‘The lock’s so poor, I missed my driveway,’ says managing ed Greg Fountain, without a hint of a irony. It’s that bad. There’s a typically precise Ford gearchange and the ‘integrated’ handbrake works well, with none of the pinch you’ll find in a Saab 9-3.
The Focus is a quiet cruiser, with sixth a long legged affair and the shape is quiet and avoids wind rustle. The Focus rides surprisingly well on those big rims unless you’re on really unsettled Tarmac.
And the feelgood factor of the new Focus?
We like the way it looks. On big wheels in smart red tri-coat paint, ours looks smart, although those runny-egg rear lights are a bit like a 911 in reverse.
It’s also well built. We should point out our Focus came in Titanium spec, so we wait to see how a more humble Edge model would feel inside with less plush materials and manual heating controls.
It’s practical too. There’s a bit of a boot lip on the five-door Focus, but the boot itself is a good square shape and there are no turret intrusions. There’s good space in the rear seats, even behind a tall driver, although you notice the identical looking door casings are in fact cheap knocky plastic back there, as opposed to the slush mouldings up front.
Nit picking? I have never really got on with the mobile phone-inspired stereo buttons in post-Fiesta Fords and the centre console is a busy place. Our steering wheel had 20 buttons and controls, while those windscreen mounted cameras for all the safety systems stretches halfway down the window, bisecting the view forwards. Not very safe, ironically!
I reckon it’s job done on the new Focus. They’ve kept the sharp dynamics intact, but the Focus has now matured into a sensible, high quality product. If that’s what the Golf has done so successfully, then I think it’s fair to say that Ford has now got a product that appeals to the head and the heart.
I’m just not sure this engine and spec show off the Focus in the best light. We’ll try some more variants to find the sweet spot. While we may regret the loss of the purity and braveness of the Mk1 Focus, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Mk3 model.
Just wait until you try one as a rental car next time you’re on holiday. Stripped of all the fripperies on our test car, I reckon there’s an inherently decent car lurking beneath.