Ford sharpens its focus
This is one of the toughest test drives I've had for a long time. I'll explain in a moment, but first I'll fill in the car's background. I had the new Ford Focus saloon but, as you are probably aware, there is a hatchback and an estate as well, so they cover a lot of ground with it.
You are talking about a truly global car here as the same basic platform underpins all markets. These are all important points to remember because you are dealing with a modern production phenomenon. In other words, the world at your fingertips.
Just how good is it? That's where the hard part came for me, day after day after day.
The saloon I took on test looked quite different and larger than I expected -- it is pushing into Mondeo territory now. The cabin was bigger than nearly anything else I can remember in this small-family class. But they completely wrecked the looks by having tinted rear windows on my top-of-range titanium spec model. That made it look like a car-avan, I am sorry to say.
The boot was disappointing with a narrow aperture and not a great deal of depth. A few bags of stuff destined for down the country had to postpone their journey until a more capacious trunk became available.
Have you noticed how negative I am being? Well I'm doing that on purpose because I could find little else to whinge about and wanted to get it out of the way.
I worked hard on this because, you see, its predecessors set the bar so high it really had a lot to live up to. I expected it to be a brilliant driver with handling and ride to beat everything else out of sight. It did.
I expected it to look really well. It did -- except for that blinking tinted rear.
I expected plenty of pep from the 1.6-litre diesel engine. I got it.
Maybe the electric power steering was a bit too sensitive, but it was only a smidge.
I think the 5dr hatch is the best looking of the three variants, but there is no doubt this saloon has serious family appeal now. More so altogether than the old one.
So you see if you really go nitpicking you will find things wrong with the new Focus. That is as it should be.
But behind all the panels and under all the smartly bedecked plastic coverings lie myriad technological backups the likes of which have not been gathered in one place before, I think it is fair to say.
The chassis and suspension are noticeably tauter, the car is far more forgiving of small errors, there are so many airbags and you never really think about how easy it is to drive.
My test car had a lane-exit warning and a driver-alert system that suggested a rest and cup of coffee because I, purposely and safely, let it meander a bit. That's the sort of stuff the salesperson will talk to you about because really and truly there are two distinct elements to the car: the bits we already know and take for granted almost, and the new techno stuff that we all love to hear about and have if we can afford it.
But, you know, someone said something to me that in a way sums up the car. This person said they would never buy a Ford -- I hear that said about nearly every marque from time to time -- but when they sat in to this they felt quite at home.
Isn't that what it is all about -- decent, comfortable cabin with everything at your fingertips, where you have good visibility and plenty of protection?
Improved handling and ride are more important for safety -- because the car stays under your control more -- than for the legitimate buzz of sensing dynamics kicking in for fun. So it's good to have on two fronts.
Put the two together and you have an exceptional car at your disposal.
As I say, it was one of the toughest tests I've had for a while -- for me and for the car. Improving on something that has already scaled heights is a massively difficult thing to do. I don't think anyone will disagree that Ford have managed to go the extra mile with this.
Improving on excellence is a tough, tough task.