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Ford Focus CC

Date: 22 September 2006

Ford Focus CC - roof down
Category: Coupe Cabriolet
Prices: £16,795-£20,270
Key rival: VW Eos

Back in 1996, the sight of a metal roof folding into a boot at the touch of a button was a traffic-stopping event - the first generation Merc SLK did it for me in Luton high street.

Since then, electrically retractable tin tops - coupe cabriolets or CCs - have been plying their magic metallic origami tricks for more mainstream marques such as Peugeot (206, 307CC), Renault (Megane CC) and VW (Eos).

Late to the party - again - is Ford with its Focus CC, but fortunately for the globally suffering brand, the car they've launched goes straight to the top of its class in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps most crucially - in this market at least - it looks the best. Due to a limited number of suppliers of CC roofs with similar mechanisms and similar space needed to stow them, there are only so many ways to make CC rear ends distinctive. Arguably, Vauxhall, Renault, Peugeot, VW and even Volvo's C70 suffer sawn-off rear ends, which seem just to stop, often with the belt line still rising. Top up or down it results in an odd, toy car-like look.

By comparison, the Focus's Pininfarina-designed CC profile manages to taper downwards more strongly behind the rear seats, lending the car a better sense of being grounded - especially top down. It's a subtlety that becomes more apparent each time you look at it.

Get inside and it is all pretty much standard Focus bar the more raked A-pillar and posher interior trimming, including chrome around the door window switches and gearbox gaiter.

Driver and front passenger space is good, but rear leg and headroom when sitting behind six-footers, with the top up, is a struggle. Restrict tall people to short trips in the back or move to a 'short friends in rear seats only' policy.

The fold-down process is the usual 30-second affair but lacks the pleasing mechanical choreography of the rival Astra Twintop 'bat ear fold-in' routine - where a small part of the Vauxhall roof seems to want a dance with the camp robot from the Citroen C4 TV advert. The Focus's lid drops into the boot with a bit of clunk, too, but it's still neat when fully stowed.

The Focus CC also has best-in-class boot space due, say Ford's boffins, to a longer body and better packaging than most rivals: its min/max 234/534 litres beats the 307CC (203/351), Eos (205/380), Twintop (205/439) and Megane (190/490). Indeed with top up, its max space is more than a Ford Mondeo or VW Jetta saloon.

However, any overnight missions for the target "42 year-old man with a small family who can't afford two cars" will have to be completed with the roof firmly up to cope with the luggage most small families generate for a trip to the shops let alone anywhere else. And a lot of baggage will have to be jettisoned at the holiday home before any top-down venturing can be done.

Ford's target for best-in-CC-class handling is far less contentious. The Focus is simply fantastic to drive on twisty A-roads or cruising on motorways - wind noise is acceptably low top down and barely registers top up.

Of the two engines available to test, the 136PS 2.0 TDCi diesel is once again the pick over the 145PS 2.0 petrol (there is also an entry-level 100PS 1.6). The petrol is obviously less noisy at low speed and tickover, and cruises nicely, but it lacks power when quick overtaking is needed on small inclines and needs too many gear changes. The five-speed diesel manual by comparison is more punchy and assured in all the gears, and its din doesn't intrude half as much as I feared it might with the top dropped.

The UK will be Ford's biggest market for the CC with 8000 of its 20,000 annual European production set for these shores. In diesel guise, with competitive economy and emissions (47.9mpg and 156g/km CO2) it really does make remarkable sense for business in a way the old rag-top Escort convertible could only have dreamed of. Whole-life costs are right on the money too - its 28.2 pence per mile trumps the Eos (29.2p), Megane (29.4p) and 307 (33.6p) with ease. According to Topcalc it is only beaten by a tenth of a penny by the Vauxhall Twintop's 28.1p and even then that's due to £420 pricier servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR), not worse depreciation or fuel costs. Factor in the Ford's better lease, tax band and P11D, plus looks and driving fun (and thus its aid to staff retention), and the Focus CC, which can be ordered from October 1, is definitely 'our pick'. Meanwhile, maybe it could have a look at tweaking those SMR costs. Mind you, a metal folding roof is only cool if it works, so maybe it is money well spent.