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Richard Bush takes the fleet favourite Ford Focus for a test drive and finds out if it should be on your company car list.
Other cars might be more aspirational for company car drivers, but the Ford Focus has long held the title of best-selling family hatchback. So, with the new 2018 Focus, Ford has the difficult task of ensuring tweaks are made to keep it up to date, but at the same time avoid jeopardising an already proven winning formula.
The most significant change on paper for the 2018 mk4 model is the new platform, which serves up a longer wheelbase than the previous model, resulting in greater practicality - but we'll get to that later.
The most obvious change, at a glance, is the new exterior design, which with its slightly longer nose, prominent slash lines on its flanks and more angular front-end, has been described as everything from 'messy' to 'conservative'.
A streamlined, if dull, interior
The interior of the mk3 Focus became somewhat infamous for its dated feel, with emphasis on its cluttered dash layout and heavy use of hard plastics. Thankfully, Ford has taken this on board and completely overhauled the Focus' interior with a new, stripped-back, logical layout finished in some higher-quality, soft touch materials.
While the interior is a huge improvement over the previous-gen Focus, it's still rather dark, with the only respite being the faux carbon fibre inserts above the glovebox. This is purely aesthetic, although VW-group rivals - with their dark plastic-eliminating chrome strips - manage to offer a more rounded package.
When it comes equipment levels, your main consideration should be whether you go for Zetec or above, as Zetec gives a significant boost in kit, mainly the Sync 3-enabled dashboard-mounted touchscreen. This system does take some getting used to, mainly due to the specific voice commands required, but overall, it's a user-friendly system that's almost instantly responsive upon touch.
Other equipment levels include Ford's popular Titanium, Titanium X and ST-Line grades, with the latter offering a slightly sportier body kit and also coming available with the luxuries of the Titanium X trim in the form of ST-Line X. Given, the trims can be a little convoluted, but offer great flexibility.
More leg-room than before
Like most other hatchbacks, legroom in the Focus used to be so-so, but thanks to its longer wheelbase, it is now more in-line with saloon competitors. The extra 50mm added to the wheelbase has paid off massively, and when added to its generous headroom, the Focus is a well-rounded package when it comes to rear practicality. Three adults can sit side-by-side comfortably, and although the middle seat is slightly raised, the omission of a large transmission tunnel means there's plenty of leg room between each passenger.
Unfortunately, the new wheelbase doesn't result in a big boost in boot capacity. But the Focus still offers 375 litres with the seats in place and 1,354 litres with the seats down - with the latter figure being bigger than the VW Golf's respective boot size.
At home on country roads
It's no secret that there have been whispers that Ford has lost its mojo a little when it comes to fun-factor behind the wheel, with a greater emphasis seemingly being put on comfort and efficiency. But how does the new Focus measure up?
When cruising around town, the Focus acts accordingly, with a supple suspension (although a tad stiffer in the ST-Line model) that handles the majority of bumps with ease and responsive steering that allows for effortless maneuvering.
Get it up to speed on a twisty road however, and the Focus sheds its orthodox character almost instantly. The steering is sharp, grip is excellent and the chassis handles every lean, bump and turn with finesse. It may be a family hatchback, but if driven with just the right amount of enthusiasm, it becomes so much more.
There are a fair few petrol and diesel engines to choose from, but the 120hp 1.5-litre EcoBlue we tested does a great job of delivering impressive fuel economy and decent performance in equal measure. If you're likely to do a fair amount of motorway driving, then 50-60mpg should be very achievable. And the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox available is a great companion for totting up motorway miles too.
Ford Focus 1.5 Ecoblue ST-Line auto P11D £25,140 CO2 116g/km MPG 67.3 Running cost (3yr/60k) 41.13ppm Key rivals Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic