ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: FORD FOCUS
There may have been rain in Spain, but during its European launch, it was Ford’s new Focus which shone. DAVID HOOPER, editor of wheelworldreviews.co.uk, reports from Jerez.
WHEN Ford launched its new Focus to the international media in 1998 it caused a reaction among the assembled British journalists that I have not witnessed before or since.
I was on that launch and remember clearly how even the most cynical and critical of motoring writers could not find a bad word to say about it. The reason was simple – it was a new mass market car which most families would be able to afford, yet one which drove so brilliantly it raised the bar in its class beyond the reach of its main Astra and Golf rivals of the time, and in so doing, helped by a tidal wave of high praise from the press, was an instant success for Ford Motor Company.
Now, 13 years and 10-million cars later, there is a brand new Ford Focus being launched. Going on sale in the UK in March, Ford is heralding it as the company’s first truly world car, which means it will be sold around the world with very few modifications. It is also built on an entirely new C-segment platform, which in the next few years, will underpin at least 10 other models, so like its predecessor, it is another hugely important car.
I have just got back from the international European launch for this model, a massive six-week operation to introduce the new Focus to the world’s motoring press in what many pundits are saying is the most important launch of the year. Based in Jerez, in Southern Spain near the Portuguese border, Tim Holmes, who was schooled not far away in York, before becoming Ford’s executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, reminded us that this is also an important year for Ford itself as the company is marking its centenary in Britain, as it was in October 1911, that the first Model T rolled off the production line in Trafford Park, Manchester.
There is no doubt that this new Focus is very good, but unlike its predecessor, it’s not going to have it all its own way this time. Its main rivals are also much improved, most notably Vauxhall’s Astra, an all-new version of which went on sale last year. The new Focus, however, in my opinion, is at least a match for the Astra and I think the Ford is still the better driver’s car.
At this time of year, there was very little Spanish sunshine and we were treated to a mix of wet, muddy, greasy roads and heavy rain. We had a choice of petrol and diesel models to drive. Our first car was the 163PS diesel model which we drove from the airport to a coffee stop. The interior is very smart, but the thing that was immediately noticeable was how quiet the diesel engine was, It could hardly be heard inside the car on tick-over, and even on the move it is far quieter than the current Focus models, which will continue to be sold alongside the new car until the autumn of this year, in 1.6 Sport guise.
All the cars we were driving were five-door hatchbacks, but buyers will have a choice of a four-door saloon, or five-door estate versions. A simplified range will consist of four trim levels, Edge, Zetec (predicted to get 55% of sales), Titanium and Titanium X, powered by three petrol and four diesel engines at launch, with more variants to follow in due course. Start-Stop technology is standard on 1.6-litre EcoBoost and TDCi derivatives, cutting C02 by up to 10 per cent.
Prices will start from £15,995, which to me seems a lot of money for an entry level Focus, but it is comparable to its rivals. Ford reckoned that you will get an extra £1,000 of kit for a price premium of around £500 over the old models. There will also be seven option packs to pick from.
For performance fans, there will be an ST version later this year, and although there has been no formal announcement on a future RS model, Mr Holmes told me that the company was pleased with the reception its last model received from enthusiasts and they could have sold far more than they produced. Although there was no official confirmation, reading between the lines, I think the signs are promising that we will see a return of the RS.
Nigel Sharp, the managing director of Ford of Britain said the company is aiming to strengthen residual values over the 3 year/60,000 mile cycle, by at least 6% by balancing production and demand.
The second model we tested was powered by a 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine developing 180PS. We will not be seeing this in the UK until much later in the year, but at least we can look forward to its introduction in a sportier model in the coming months. Instead, we get a 150PS version of the engine at launch. The 180PS makes an excellent package, with engaging performance combined with a good engine note and precise handling, which will please most buyers. I think chatter from some pundits that the new car has in some way been “dumbed down” is unjustified, and makes me wonder if the people making those claims really know what they are talking about, or whether they have driven the car on race tracks, which let’s face it, most owners will not be doing. This, after all, is a family car, and I drove it harder and faster on slippery roads than most owners will ever do, and had no complaints. It’s comfortable, safe, and fun to drive. The new electric power steering is spot on, and the well-behaved car handles in a predictable, safe way.
On the high spec Titanium models we were driving, the steering wheel took a bit of getting used to, laden as it was with loads of multi-function buttons.
The technology available on the new Focus is impressive. Lane Departure Warning monitors the road ahead with a front view camera. If it detects the car is drifting out of its lane, the steering wheel will vibrate to alert the driver. The Lane Keeping Aid takes things a step further, by actively steering the car back into its lane, which is quite strange to experience, while Driver Alert detects when a driver is getting tired, or nodding off.
Auto High Beam is another useful gadget, which automatically switches the lights between high and dipped beam, while Traffic Sign Recognition uses a camera to identify traffic signs on either side of the road and on bridges providing information on the latest speed limit, cancellation signs or overtaking rules.
Finally, Ford’s Active Park Assist will automatically steer the vehicle into parallel parking spaces, a Blind Spot monitor signals if another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot, and adaptive cruise control and forward alert should stop you running into things.
The new Focus has a lot to offer and brings technology which until now has been the reserve of luxury cars into the mass market. Will it be a hit for Ford? You can bet your bottom dollar it will be.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Ford Focus range
BODY STYLES: 5dr hatch, 5dr estate, 4dr saloon
TRIM GRADES: Edge, Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X
PRICES: From £15,995
IN THE SHOWROOM: Now