Ford still has star in Focus
Twenty years and 16 million sales later, the fourth-generation Ford Focus is another winner, writes Campbell Spray
'Focus, boy, focus!" I can still remember across all the years masters at my boarding school shouting at me as I stammered out an answer. The shout might have followed a blackboard rubber flying across the room to wake me up from some mid-summer reverie. It was a great school but a bit old-fashioned in its ways.
I have never been able to free Ford's massively successful compact family car from being tied to such memories. This is a pity as it has been one of the company's all-time greats and will do very well again with its fourth-generation model which was recently launched here.
In its previous incarnations, especially the earlier ones, the Focus, along with its bigger and smaller siblings - Mondeo and Fiesta - became a byword for driving dynamics. It was a real driver's car, which in some way compensated for less-than-impressive interiors for which the word 'bland' could have been invented.
The new car aims to build on its dynamic reputation by again becoming more European in feel as well as looking better inside and out.
The latter is definitely true although I feel it has been lowered too much and the sleekness which is appealing on the eye takes away from the ease of use. However, it is a very roomy car, thanks to a longer wheelbase, for all passengers, with excellent leg space in the back. The luggage area is good and the rear seats fold almost flat.
It would be a very easy car to live with, as the safety features are really first class. However, the Active model, which has some SUV aspirations in style if not ability, might be more my thing when it arrives next year.
That was also my partner's feeling. As we spun out to deepest Co Wicklow last Sunday, I tried to get her reaction to the Focus. "It's fine enough, I just want to feel bigger," she replied a little wistfully. And at 6ft, I really should start to see things from the perspective of someone much smaller. She is tired of being bullied on the road in her six-year-old Hyundai i10. She wants height and a bit of protection - no wonder crossovers appeal so much.
Next year it will be 20 years since the first Ford Focuses arrived in Ireland and the company has just launched its 191 promotional prices for the new range.
Announcing them, Ford Ireland chairman and managing director Ciaran McMahon, said: "Since it first arrived in Ireland 20 years ago, the Ford Focus has been hugely popular with Irish motorists, who loved both its stand-out design and great driving dynamics.
"Our 191 registration promotion will make Focus as enticing to new car-buyers across the country as it was when the car first appeared here back in 1999. This latest Focus delivers more style, space and advanced driving technologies than any previous version of the car and with a lead-in price of just €22,495 it is a very competitively priced package."
The car comes in two body styles at the moment, five doors and Wagon (estate), and four different trim levels starting with Zetec and going through ST-Line and Titanium to Vignale, which tops out at €33,420 for the 1.5 diesel automatic Wagon.
The very well-equipped Titanium trim is likely to be the top seller, which starts at €24,495 for the 1.0 three-cylinder petrol engine mated to a manual six-speed box.
However, these prices aren't 'on the road' as my test car showed. It was the Titanium diesel with eight-speed automatic box which had a price of €28,356 before p&p. But by the time rather nice Ruby Red paint, wireless charging pad, panoramic roof and the Ford Co-Pilot system, with a lot more safety assistance, had been added in, the price before delivery was €31,436.
That is beginning to take the gloss off the initial attractive prices and get into some heady territory. As a basic rule of thumb, the price jumps are €2k between petrol and diesel and the same again from manual to automatic. I was disappointed there is no automatic petrol model in the initial line-up over here. The diesels will also be hit by the new extra 1pc tax announced in last Tuesday's Budget.
I am looking forward to getting into more of the petrol models as the diesel wasn't as smooth or quiet as it should have been, and the same went for the automatic box. But the car was really easy to use once you got the hang of the dials for selecting dynamics and gears.
There have been 16 million Focus models sold worldwide over the last 20 years, two million of them in Britain, where the motoring press over the last few months have been ecstatic about the new model and the C2 platform on which it has been built. This gives much greater internal space while keeping the outside dimensions in check. And there is no doubt a lot of attention has been paid to the look of the car. While the Focus DNA is still there, I saw elements of both BMW and Volvo in its design, neither of which should be sniffed at. The very calm and uncluttered cabin is now actually stylish with some very good finishes.
Potential purchasers should really have a good look at all the safety and driving aids available with the Focus now. Ford has made it a major aim to reduce the "demand on drivers, helping them focus their attention and be less stressed and more confident at the wheel".
While I think Ford has done a great job with the new Focus I wasn't totally convinced by the car, but, as I said earlier, maybe I am getting over-influenced by the crossover desire. It is a model that cannot be ignored by anyone planning to buy a family car next year. Keep away from the diesels for, despite some readers bringing to my attention a few problems with the Ecoboost engines, I think they have been a real winner for Ford. It shouldn't be forgotten that the warranty is now seven years. A couple of readers would have loved to have had that a few years ago.
All the engines are better, more economical and cleaner than the last generation. The suspension on the more expensive and powerful models is outstanding and there are great brakes. However, I am still seeing Kia, Hyundai and Honda models that have more personality. The Focus is good, but it is not so good to see off crossover opposition. But I do think it has put the ghosts of my past to rest!