What is it?
Meet the fourth-incarnation of the world’s best selling car, the Ford Focus. It’s the first Focus to wear the global (squint and it looks like an Aston) ‘One Ford’ design language, so earns a new exterior to match the Fiesta and Mondeo and a de-cluttered dash. Succeeding a car that outsold the mighty VW Golf and Audi A3, it’s tighter, more efficient and more refined than ever.
With an all-new car due in 2017, this Mk4 represents an evolution of the Mk3. But as confirmed by the 1 million Focuses that are sold globally each year, the C1 platform (that has underpinned every Focus since the first 1998 model) has managed to remain competitive.
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In fact, that platform has produced some of the best handling hatchbacks in class, so Ford’s promise for a more agile Mk4 gives it great potential to take on its rivals’ best offerings.
The new Focus is available with the latest from Ford’s EcoBoost engine family, ranging from the award winning 123bhp 1-litre three-cylinder to the new 179bhp 1.5-litre four. These turbocharged engines are as much as 25 per cent more powerful and 15 per cent more efficient than the units they replace, and are accompanied by a naturally aspirated 123bhp 1.6-litre in the petrol line-up.
Three diesel options, a 1.5-, 1.6- and 2-litre TDCi, come in five states of tune with between 94bhp and 148bhp. These offer the most grunt – up to 272lb ft of torque – and best fuel economy with as much as 64mpg combined possible.
Start/stop technology and the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed Powershift auto are available for both petrol and diesel engines, and added safety features including incident predicting anti-skid technology have also been integrated into the ESC.
Inside, the new Focus is the first to receive Ford’s latest SYNC 2 technology with an eight-inch touch screen and voice recognition. This provides access to audio, navigation, climate control and mobile phones on the go. The car also comes with Ford's latest Active Park Assist, which self-drives into and out of parking spaces if parking's not your thing.
What’s it like to drive?
In short, pretty good. The seat and steering wheel have plenty of room for adjustment so getting comfortable is easy, and once rolling, the new car’s firmer bushes and tighter setup are immediately obvious. The car feels taut but compliant over the cracks of our greasy Kent test route.
When pressing on, the suspension does a good job of flattening out uneven surfaces but avoids going so far as becoming wallowy, instead allowing a communicative amount of body roll. Naturally the car pushes into understeer, and takes a safe, predictable line through corners.
A welcome arrival is more responsive steering, the EPAS having been finely tuned so the wheels react more rapidly to input, and the result is a feeling of added agility. Whilst the electric system lacks in the way of feel, it’s consistent and precise enough to effectively combine with that sure-footed chassis.
The stuff under the bonnet does a good job of matching this agility, with our test in the 123bhp 1-litre three-pot confirming the positive remarks we made after our first go with it in the Fiesta. It’s quiet, remarkably smooth for a three-potter and silent on tick-over, and even offers a decent amount of performance considering its size.
The Focus’ added weight only shows when really wringing the three-pot’s neck, with the lower ends of the rev band feeling unsurprisingly laggy and the engine feeling a little breathless up top. The mid-range is where the 1-litre impresses, offering usable performance through town and semi-urban environments.
Take the car onto the motorway however, and you’ll want one of the larger offerings from the engine range. We sampled the 1.5-litre TDCi diesel in 118bhp spec, and it proved to be refined, smooth and consistent through the rev-range, but our pick of the bunch would be the 179bhp EcoBoost 1.5-litre.
With a 0-62 time of 8.6sec, it’s the pokiest Focus outside of the ST range (set to arrive early 2015). It’s also the best all rounder, with enough power to get the front wheels scrabbling for grip through quick changes into second.
Most performance is held within the mid-range, but the engine is still free-revving up top. It also possesses just enough of a bottom-end to allow you to be lazy with the lightly weighted six-speed ‘box.
We weren’t able to drive the PowerShift auto (now equipped with steering wheel paddles), but the manual featured a smooth change and offered no surprises, which is no bad thing on a Focus. A longer sixth ratio enables fairly good economy, although Ford’s promise of 51.4mpg combined seemed a little optimistic on our test. If you want economy, the diesel makes more sense.
How does it compare?
While the Focus’ new lines and cleaned up dash mean it’s more attractive than ever, it’s impossible to ignore the desirability of VW’s Golf and Audi’s A3. Where the Focus trumps the pair is on value for money, because a top spec Titanium X 1.5 EcoBoost commands £23,520, where as the equivalent Golf would set you back several thousand more.
Examples include the Golf GT TSI (the latest of which comes with 158bhp and can hit 62 in 8.4sec), which is priced at £26,715, and the similarly specced 1.8 TFSI Sport Audi A3 commands around £24,000.
More closely matched to the Focus is the Vauxhall Astra. Though the Vauxhall lags behind the Ford with a less punchy engine range and less dynamic chassis, it does at least offer equal levels of value and day-to-day practicality. It's ever-so-slightly less common too.
Anything else I need to know?
Keep an eye out for the next hot Focus ST, set to arrive in the UK in early 2015. It'll be available with a five-door body in both petrol and diesel variants for the first time. If you’re looking for practical performance motoring, the new ST will no doubt be an incredibly attractive arrival.
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 1499cc, turbocharged|
|Power||179bhp @ 6000rpm|
|Torque (with overboost)||177lb ft @ 1600 - 5000rpm|
|Top speed (claimed)||139mph|