Test drive: Ford Focus

In 1998, people were tripping over each other to drive the family car that handled like a two-seater sports coupé. More than a decade on, how will the new one measure up?

Test drive: Ford Focus

In 1998, people were tripping over each other to drive the family car that handled like a two-seater sports coup�. More than a decade on, how will the new one measure up?

There are few cars that have revived the fortunes of a company quite like the Ford Focus. Launched in 1998, the Focus bid the ageing Escort farewell to the sound of applause from everyone in the civilised world, and the company hasn’t looked back since.

A class-leader since its inception, the Focus swept through the car industry instantly making every other mid-range family car look daft, ungainly, old-fashioned and generally lacking in all areas. It was time for everyone else to play catch-up – Ford was back on form.

There have been several tweaks to the original since then – the styling has become more conservative, it’s grown up a little (save for the odd hot RS version) and it’s become a trifle larger, but now there’s a new one. It’d better be good.

At a first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an overgrown Fiesta. You’d be right. It does look a lot like its stable mate, incorporating Ford’s latest ‘kinetic’ styling ethos; a far cry from the original’s ‘new edge’ look, but still enough to set it apart from more sedate rivals. The sloping roofline in particular gives the car a smooth coupe look, and the whole effort is an enthusiastic step forward from the previous version’s rather bland looks.

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Jump inside, and it’s more spacious than you’d think initially. The dashboard is refreshing and modern – not as startling as the original’s but again, a huge leap forward from the last model – and while it’s verging on feeling cluttered with buttons, it just about gets away without needing a full in-car computer system. Boot space is respectable, the front seats are supportive and comfy and the thick doors and chunky trim offer an air of solidity.

More importantly though – how does it drive? What really made the original car special was the way it handled. Nothing so cheap, so economical and so practical had ever been as fun to drive – you could throw a Focus into any corner, at pretty much any speed, and the result would be both massively entertaining and impressive in equal measure.

The trouble is, this new Focus has been designed to sell in significantly more markets than previous models, and so the razor-sharp handling is gone, replaced by a grown up, more sedate set of characteristics. There’s an astonishing array of trickery going into the handling - torque-vectoring to brake the inside wheel and sensors that apportion engine torque for extra stability in hard cornering, for instance, but it’s just not as fun as it used to be. There’s nothing wrong with the handling; the body control is spot on, it turns in quickly and hangs on gamely, but it’s just mildly disappointing after the original’s flair and sheer chuckability.

However, the handling’s loss is the ride quality’s gain; hardly anything gets past the neat suspension. Tyre roar – which seriously blighted the old car – is virtually non-existent and finally, it’s a car you’d be happy about doing some serious miles in.

With two petrol and two diesel engines available, from 94bhp to 179bhp, there’s a Focus for every budget, and if you wait a year or so there’ll be a hot RS version to play with.

It might not be as cheerfully sporty as it used to be, but with grown-up handling, a solid feel and smart new looks, the Volkswagen’s Golf should be worried. As a package, Ford has quietly moved the Focus to the next level. It’s catch-up time for everyone else. Again.

Ford Focus 1.6 Ecoboost

Price: from �15,995

Performance: 0-62mph: 7.9 sec

Economy: 47.1mpg

CO2: 139g/km

Engine: 1.6 litre turbo

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Contact details: 01892 515 666

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