First Drive: Ford Focus
Sector: Lower Medium Price: £13,995–£25,585 Fuel: 44.8–74.3mpg CO2: 98–146g/km
Mid-life refreshes don’t come much more important than this. Now sold in 140 global markets, the Ford Focus is the world’s best-selling car, and only outsold in the UK by the Fiesta. To give you some idea of perspective, UK year-to-date sales of this one model are larger than Citroën's entire range.
It's also worth noting that this is a major update. Just under four years after the launch of the outgoing car, it hopes to answer criticisms pitched at its predecessor, which had the hard task of catering for diverse global tastes under Ford’s “World Car” strategy. It feels like this newcomer has taken its lead from European customer feedback, and that’s a good thing.
Simplicity is the keyword here. It’s a predictable transition to the chrome-barred grille from the Fiesta and forthcoming Mondeo at the front, while the rear lights which used to melt over the bodywork like a Salvadore Dali clock are now smaller and neater too. This is a much more coherent, less fussy-looking car than its predecessor.
But it’s the interior which has changed the most. The awkwardly large Z-shaped handbrake ratchet of old is now shorter and tucked in beside a new centre console, featuring clever cupholders with moving dividers capable of holding a large water bottle, and there’s a consistent use of satin aluminium accents throughout which all helps it feel more upmarket.
That mosaic of unncessary buttons has also gone. Ford has cut physical buttons down to basic climate control and audio functions and, on the 94% of UK cars which take Zetec trim levels or higher, relocated most controls to an eight-inch touch screen.
For a small premium, drivers can also add Ford’s latest SYNC 2 voice controls. This can decipher accents, recognises even the fastest instructions with incredible accuracy and is more conversational than most similar systems. It’s an actual driver aid, rather than something to swear at a few times and never use again.
Beneath the aesthetic updates, Ford has added rigidity to the front end, in turn enabling the suspension and steering setup to be re-tuned. The Focus lives up to lofty ride quality claims, even on rough roads, yet it corners with the agility of a smaller car and responds quickly and naturally to steering inputs, aided by a new traction control system which can anticipate and correct skids. A little extra steering feedback and weight would’ve made it more involving, though.
Diesel engines now follow the Fiesta and B-Max, shedding the 1.6-litre TDCi engines for a pair of new 1.5-litre low-friction units with 89bhp and 118bhp. Both emit 98g/km and return 74.3mpg, but were unavailable to drive on the launch.
Instead, we tested the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDCi, now 15% more fuel efficient than its 138bhp predecessor, and significantly more refined than before thanks to improved noise suppression up front. All diesel engines are Euro 6 compliant, and feature a maintenance-free NOx trap rather than an additive, to keep a lid on servicing costs.
The perky 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which takes up 45% of UK volume, is unchanged but will soon enable the Focus to become the UK’s first sub-100g/km non-hybrid petrol in this sector. User-choosers with more of a need for speed will also enjoy the new 1.5-litre EcoBoost, again downsized against its predecessor, which offers a wide spread of torque and 180bhp, with CO2 emissions of 127g/km.
With CAP indicating residual values said to be close to the benchmark Golf, and improvements to the driver assistance systems likely to shave a little off fleets’ running costs, the Focus has all the right ingredients to set an example for the rest of the segment.
Ford has systematically addressed all of the old car’s weakest points, introducing more coherent styling, an improved driving experience and simpler controls to its best-seller. It’s a refinement of a successful formula, which has tuned it back to European tastes.