Wednesday 17 January 2018

Cars: Focus on tomorrow as hatch battles crossovers

Family cars are facing big challenges

Recent facelift: Ford Focus
Recent facelift: Ford Focus
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

My drive in the revised Ford Focus raised more questions than it answered. Not necessarily of the car, but of where our increasingly diverse tastes are leading us.

Can the Focus, and other such stalwarts of the family-car market, fend off the tidal wave of modern crossovers/SUVs?

The Focus was recently given a facelift which, in the overall scheme of things, amounts to little more than a quick, light dab of make-up in the middle of a busy day. It looks a bit better inside; they have added equipment and generally spruced it up.

It helps, for now, to keep the Focus among the big sellers on a consistent basis. There is a reason for its success to date: it's a fine car.

I always think the first one, way back in the late 90s, changed how we thought about family motors. It was radical. Now crossovers are stretching horizons with similar impact.

We need an equally radical response from cars such as the Focus. Will we get it?

I think that's vital for those of us who like our cars lively and 'driveable'. There's nothing to touch the Focus for handling and ride. Certainly no crossover/SUV. Driving it again reinforced that.

But will we continue to opt for family saloons and hatches on that basis or increasingly cast envious eyes towards a smart compact crossover?

The evidence suggests huge numbers are succumbing to the allure of the new kids on the block.

I have to say it would be a real pity if that undermined the family car. But it's happening to an extent with larger saloons, so I need to ask: where does it leave the likes of the Focus and others? Will you, for example, be driving one next time around? I ask because, despite what was an attractive cabin, well set out and with loads of interactivity, I found myself taking it a bit for granted.

There wasn't that novelty, that sense of change, the buzz of doing something different, that comes with your new crossover.

Maybe, like the Toyota Corolla (your quintessential family saloon), I didn't value the quality until I sat into something else.

Maybe, too, I didn't really value being able to tell a family car what to do (the Sync2 system has voice control for audio, sat nav, climate control and mobile phones), or the ease of working the hi-res 8ins colour touch screen. Or getting excellent MPG from the 1.6 litre diesel. Indeed, bulkier crossovers may not be as economical - or as roomy, when all is said and done.

Crucially, however, they do have most, if not all, the elements of the family car in some shape or form. As well as being so flexible and 'fashionable'.

I was torn. And I think, judging from the queries I get on a consistent basis, that many in the car-buying public are in similar dilemmas.

And yet . . . give me a crossover that is as handy to park, to access and exit as a Focus.

Give me a crossover that can muster that road-feel of engagement thanks to an exceptional chassis and well-judged damping.

There remains something fundamentally reassuring about cars like this. Just as there is something really re-affirmative in the likes of a Corolla or Volkswagen Golf.

And that is such an important element for so many buyers who are paying with their own, or borrowed, money - unlike so many in business cars.

I believe/hope there is still a big future for the family car genre. We're told the cars of tomorrow will encompass myriad varieties of shapes and abilities.

In its own way, that throws down a challenge to makers of family hatches and saloons.

I enjoyed my drive in the Focus. It is of its time and a fine exponent of the genre. It would be such a pity if form overtook substance in 'Crossover time'.

But there is no doubt we are seeing the dawn of a new era in motoring.

Crossover or hatch? Your choice.

Facts & figures

Ford Focus Zetec 5dr, 1.6 TDCi, 115bhp, €190 road tax

Standard equipment includes air con, front fogs, auto stop/start, sports suspension, sport-style front seats, passive and active safety systems

Extras on test car include: automated parking system (€660), LED daytime running lights (€250), 17ins 5x2 alloys (€200), Sync generation 2 (€500), full body kit (€2,100)

Focus prices start at €20,295. Zetec tested from €25,045. Price with options: €28,755. Delivery/related charges extra.

My side of the road

It is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in summer: stop for an ice-cream or a 99.

But, as a reader validly points out, innocence can turn to danger if you drive off with a distractingly tasteful 99 in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. When you think of it, that makes it difficult to drive safely.

Much, much safer - and less likely to have it dripping onto your clothes - to savour that luscious treat in full before taking off.

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