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Ford Focus: Test Drive Review

Date: 03 February 2011   |   Author:

Focus on the road
Category: Lower medium
P11D price: £22,690
Key rival: Vauxhall Astra

We're only in early February and 2011's most important new model is already here. The long-standing king of the fleet market is dead. Long live the new king.

Although it's not exactly true to say the Ford Focus is the best-selling business car - leading up to the old model's demise, Vauxhall's Astra beat it in the 2010 sales chart by a measly 568, or just over 1% - the Focus has perennially been the most stereotypical of fleet vehicles.

But Ford is trying to turn its lower medium challenger into something that's much more than a job car for the fleet market. A pledge to cut right back on short-cycle business is aimed at improving the Focus's fortunes in both retail and as a user-chooser model, with residual values to match the VW Golf being the main target.

Which is why the main message at the launch event was the amount of technology now available on the car. Although most of what's on offer are optional extras, Ford has managed to equip the car with lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, low-speed crash prevention, blind-spot assist, a system that reads roadsigns to show the speed limit on the dashboard, driver fatigue detection, high beam assist that switches off the main beams when it detects oncoming traffic, adaptive cruise control, and the park assist programme that helps drivers park in tight spaces.

None of that list can be found as standard on any model except the top Titanium X trim, and even then most of it is still only optional. The Driver Assistance Pack, which bundles most of the safety systems together, is priced at a very reasonable £750, but Ford admits take-up will be low, although companies with a particular duty of care priority may find a way of adding it.

Ford claims the new Focus is styled as a more sporty five-door hatchback than its predecessor, hence the dropping of the three-door, whose sales were virtually non-existent outside of the performance ST and RS models. The growth of the C-max mini-MPV range to five- and seven-seat versions will also nibble away at Focus volumes, with Ford admitting that transaction prices between the Focus and five-seat C-max will be very close, so those buyers looking for greater practicality are expected to move up to the mini-MPV.

The new Focus is certainly nowhere near as radical as the first generation model, which shocked the world when it was revealed in 1999, but it is a more dramatic styling change than the second generation car that went on sale in 2004. But the styling isn't flawless, with the rear side angle the least resolved. Were one positioned to be unkind, it could be seen to combine elements from the Dodge Caliber and Citroen C4, with the big wrap-around tail lights giving it a slightly out-of-proportion look. It's also a lot rounder, following the Fiesta's lead, rather than embracing the more cutting, linear design of the previous Focus. The front is at the bland end of the market - safe rather than exciting.

Inside, the cabin is focussed towards the driver, giving a pleasant cockpit-style feel, and material quality and layout is good. The test car was fitted with the full array of new technology, which meant a mind-boggling 22 buttons on the steering wheel alone, which will take some getting used to in order to seamlessly set the cruise control rather than changing the stereo volume, for example. There are two five-button pads on the steering wheel, one controlling the screen in the dashboard, the other the central screen for audio systems.

Rear headroom is good, and there's plenty of boot space in a 316-litre luggage compartment that, while a useful square shape, doesn't offer a lot by way of innovation, outside of four bag hooks. It's also significantly smaller than the outgoing Focus, and at least 34 litres shy of its major rivals.

Our car was fitted with the 2.0-litre 163hp diesel engine, which emits 129g/km in manual form and offers fuel consumption of 56.5mpg. On the road, the new Focus feels more grown-up, with very impressive refinement and a chassis that maintains Ford's reputation for great-handling cars. But that doesn't mean it's too sporty, with a ride quality that's won't cause trouble for high-mileage drivers. The only slight let-down is the steering feel. While most drivers won't notice, let alone mind necessarily, those that pick the Focus for its status as the best-driving car in the class will find the new, and more fuel-efficient, electric power-assisted steering system isn't as focussed, or provide the same level of feedback, as its predecessor. It's a step backwards in terms of steering feel, although it is good for an electric system, which generally disappoint compared with their hydraulic predecessors.

As for rivals (see 'Rivals' table above), there isn't a direct Volkswagen Golf competitor for the 163hp diesel Focus, with the 170hp Golf being the more sporty GTD model. As a result, we've used the cheaper 140hp GT variant, alongside the Vauxhall Astra, plus a curveball in the form of Alfa's Guilietta, which was a significant step forward in quality for the brand last year.

The new Focus is a slightly more grown-up and mature vehicle than its predecessor. The technological advances are impressive, but a bit of a red herring because they're optional rather than standard, and so will be fitted to so few cars.

In fact, the biggest factor in the car's future success or failure is probably not the car itself. While the new Focus is good enough to keep it at the front of the pack in terms of an all-round package, Ford's behaviour in how it moves on pricing in the future, and how it behaves in discounting and on short-cycle business, will decide whether residual values can increase enough to make contract hire rates appealing. Should Ford manage to improve the RV situation sufficiently, and it's aiming to make the Focus best-in-class, then there's a car waiting in the wings that's good enough to take on any of its rivals.

Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi 163hp Titanium 5dr
P11D price£22,690
Model price range£15,995-£25,095
Fuel consumption56.5mpg
CO2 (tax) 129g/km (18%)
BIK 20/40% per month£68/£136
Service interval12,500 miles
Insurance (1-50)group 19
Boot space min/max316/1101 litres
Engine size/power1997cc/163hp
Top speed/0-62mph135mph/8.6secs
On sale March
VerdictShould Ford improve RVs
sufficiently then the Focus
is good enough to take on
any of its rivals.


Should Ford improve RVs sufficiently then the Focus is good enough to take on any of its rivals.