Thursday 23 January 2020

Here's what made up my mind about Ford's new 'SUV-look' Focus Active


Deal-breaker: the new Ford Focus Active
Deal-breaker: the new Ford Focus Active
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I usually get to the stage in a review where I ask myself, on your behalf, if I would buy a particular model should I be in the market for, and be able to afford, one. This week's model provided me with a serious reason to buy - and an equally weighty one to avoid.

I have reached a decision but before disclosing it, permit digression to tell you a little about the Ford Focus Active and my experiences with it over the course of 1,100 or so kilometres of varied driving across the face of the country.

I won't burden you with details of the basic Focus; suffice to say that in its intrinsic ­hatchback guise it is a fine car. I like the versions with the sporty rear axle the most; others less so.

That is very much by-the-way as far as the Active model on test is concerned. It is called Active because it is made to look a bit like a crossover/SUV. It is a reasonable attempt with raised ground clearance, roof rails, black wheel arches, bigger bumpers, skid plates, sports-type seats and so on. It works okay so long as you don't look too closely, but really it's a bit of a hotchpotch of contrivance. Realistically, it would be better to buy the larger, pricier, more robust Kuga or go somewhere else for a family SUV. The only thing is the substantial extra cost.

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All that aside, I thought my test car looked a bit garish in white. Give me a nice blue 'ordinary' Focus hatch any day.

I must concede, though, the Active addresses, however mildly, the demand for cars that look more SUV than hatchback.

Thankfully, my impressions of the outside did not carry to the interior. Apart from 'sports-like' seats which seemed to give us all an extra modicum of comfort, it was grand. My backseat passenger was happy with the space, too.

We also easily fitted three reasonably sized carry-on cases in the boot - with plenty of room to spare. So the practical side of things remains constant.

Countering some reservations about the whole Active concept was the 1.5-litre diesel engine. I got an average of 5.1-litres/100km over 1,100km, mostly well laden with passengers and luggage. That is 55mpg. Impressive.

I was delighted with it given the profile of driving undertaken. With a little more care and a little less urgency, I'm certain 60mpg was there for the taking. We'll miss these diesels whenever the curtain eventually comes down on them.

Now, you can probably guess where all this is going: the balancing of different looks versus frugal fuel consumption.

You'd be only partially correct. There was one major factor which would have been definitively decisive were I in the market for a car of this sort.

I didn't notice it much at first, but once I did, it was as if I were waiting for it to happen; a sure way to overcook prejudice and criticism.

The engine seemed to almost gasp for breath when I looked for pulling power in second and fifth gears in particular.

You know when you are toddling along in traffic in second and you press the accelerator and it seems like something has disappeared?

Well that's what happened with this. Same result, different scenario when in fourth and doing nicely - until I'd shift up.

It has to do with gears and gearing and all that; power felt surprisingly distant on a few occasions.

And that would be the deal-breaker for me.

I think in their, however laudable, attempt to make this as easy on fuel as possible they may have placed too much reliance on the diesel engine's ability to generate pulling power (torque in other words).

With a load on board, the lack of such was more than noticeable.

On the open road it was a perfectly good cruiser and so long as I kept the power on, it was fine around the lower gears.

But I drove as I normally do - as with all cars I test - and discovered this.

I still like the 'ordinary' Focus a lot and have not come across the power hiatus experienced in my Active model in it.

I think the Focus hatch is underrated. Yes, I would buy that model. Indeed I recommend it on a regular basis to readers, friends and acquaintances.

However, I wouldn't buy this Active version as tested.

I don't think great fuel consumption and 'SUV looks' are enough to swing the argument in its favour.

Facts & figures

Ford Focus Active 5dr

1.5 TDCi 120PS, 6spd, 93g/100km, €180 tax. Focus range from €22,513; test car; €27,563.

Spec: 17in alloys, 'Active' upper grille/front/rear bumpers, black cladding/wheel arches, skid plates, LED front fogs/cornering lights, black roof rails, 30mm+ clearance; 8in t/screen, SYNC 3, voice control, sports-style front seats; Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Trail modes.

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