Friday 18 October 2019

Ford’s new Focus hatch: take it or leave it but don’t take it for granted


Roomy cabin: the new Ford Focus hatchback
Roomy cabin: the new Ford Focus hatchback
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

We all know what it is like to be taken for granted. And we all know how we can do the same with others. I think a lot of trouble could be averted if we took a minute each day to realise that. Sorry, I haven't suddenly become an agony uncle but I'm making the point because it might be a nice New Year's resolution.

As is so often the case with people, similar attitudes can prevail in the world of cars.

I'm not saying this week's review motor is the epitome of technology or a world-beater, but after driving it packed to the gills (the car not me) a few times over the best part of two weeks, I think we take a lot of the new Ford Focus for granted.

I had the one with the ST Line spec and 1.5-litre diesel engine.

Sure, they haven't done themselves any favours by not making their excellent new suspension more widely available on more models. I could ask: who needs that much vibrancy in a small hatch? Well, I do for a start. And I suspect lots of others do, too in a world where fine margins distinguish what attracts people.

That whinge aside (and I'm not playing it down) there's a lot to take for granted in the Focus.

I think I know why its sharp design, low, roomy cabin, good driving edge, pertinent technology and spread of petrol and diesel engines have not been extolled to the degree that, perhaps, they should.

It's the 'fault' of those blinking SUVs and crossovers. How can a small family hatchback compete against the unrelenting demand for something that's taller, different to look at and much more on-trend? It's not possible. No wonder some in the motor business, including Ford, are worried about the way sales are dipping for what we'll call traditional family motors.

I, for one, would lament their passing (it won't happen surely) because most of the SUV/crossovers, despite their multifarious modernist allures, can't compete in terms of how a smartly set-up chassis handles and rides. More than that: it is difficult to feel the sharpness of drive compared with that of a Focus or, to give it its due, the new KIA Ceed.

When I drove those cars, I took it for granted that they were the way they were. It was only when I got into something taller and larger that I realised how good they had been.

The Focus is a far sturdier and roomier car than I had remembered from previous drives and, with the rear seats folded, absorbed copious quantities of stuff that, frankly, I would never have believed possible if a good friend had not 'guaranteed' I'd get everything in. We're talking bedside lockers sort-of-stuff here just to give you an idea of what was involved.

The only real blemish was the rather unnecessary hoarseness of the new diesel engine. I'd give it nine-out-of-10 for open-road ability but half that for start-up and take-off. Why? It shouldn't be like that and did detract from the overall impression of what is (as I've laboured the point) a fine car.

I suspect petrol engines will become more and more popular with buyers of cars such as the Focus. But will they beat the 6litres/100km I got over tough journeys with the car full to the roof? I'm prepared to bet a tankful of diesel they will not.

That's one of the reasons why diesel remains such an obvious option for so many people.

I don't hold for much with how Ford go about their trim levels. I feel this ST Line stuff is a bit pretentious but is in line with the way many rivals are decking out their cars, too. The emphasis is on decorative and techie bits and bobs that give the impression of being quite sporty. Me? I'd rather have the more sophisticated suspension on more models and let the engineering do the talking. I don't like it being taken for granted that most people will settle for pretend performance. By the way, the cost options on my test ST Line car drove it to a ridiculous price.

All in all, however, my time in the diesel Focus was fruitful, challenging and mostly fun.

It has its shortcomings but is potentially a great driving car, one that puts a bit of propulsive energy into its movement as opposed to the betimes pedantic nature of some SUV rivals in particular.

So while we have them, let's not take the likes of the Focus for granted.

Facts & Figures

Ford Focus 1.5 diesel ST Line:

8spd auto, 120PS, €200 tax.

Spec included pre-collision assist, cruise control, sports seats/suspension, air con, ST-Line styling, auto lights/wipers, front LED fogs. Additions included: 8ins Sync 3/nav, adaptive cruise, panoramic roof, wireless charging, heads-up display.

Range from €22,513; Car tested (+ options): €35,078.

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