Britain’s best-selling car is back! It debuted at the Detroit Motor Show back in January, but the Ford Focus is an institution in this country – the ageing current model is second only to the Fiesta in the UK sales chart.
And Auto Express is the first magazine to experience the new Focus on the road. We’re at the firm’s notorious ride and handling centre at Lommel in Belgium. The hatch is travelling way too fast on a blind, tightening corner, with Edwin Vliem, Ford’s steering dynamics engineer, at the wheel, chatting away without a care in the world. We’re clearly going to crash, but no – he lifts off the throttle, brakes, and the Focus simply and calmly tightens its line into the bend.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Ford Focus
So the new car handles
brilliantly – no surprises
there. Ford’s best-selling
family hatch has been the
standard bearer in the sector since its 1998 launch. Devised by the blue oval ‘dream team’ of
suspension and body engineers under development chief Richard Parry-Jones, the Focus has been through endless facelifts and
a major redesign in 2004. Up
to September this year, a total
of 1,374,478 cars had been
sold in Britain alone. The new model, which goes on sale in March, has a lot to live up to.
But the early signs are
good. We’ve already driven
the five-seater C-Max, which is based on the new Focus, so can attest to the
fit and finish of the cabin – and this prototype is
no different. The
rear seats are a
little more cramped than in the roomier compact MPV, but the heavily domed roof gives plenty of rear headroom. And while the pre-production trim
is untextured – a flaw that will
be rectified with the production model – the quality of the design is clear to see. The layered centre console is attractive, while the wraparound dash and silver
highlights add flair to the cabin.
The seats offer lots of comfort and support, although they are
a little wide for most Europeans. The Focus is a global car, so it
has to suit larger US customers
as well as slimline Brits.
It’s under the heavily revised skin that Ford’s engineers have put in the hard yards and, even from the passenger seat, the engineering love that’s gone into the new model is clear to see.
Despite being in Belgium, it’s obvious the car will behave well on the UK’s pitted roads. While the basic chassis configuration
of the MacPherson strut front
and control-blade independent
rear suspension remains, the bodyshell has been strengthened, as have the suspension and the subframe. There are tweaks to the bushings and dampers, the main aim being to improve agility and refinement without harming excellent high-speed stability.
The major change is the
introduction of electronic power-steering – which has been 10 years in development and was deemed “not mature enough”
to feature in the 2004 Focus.
It works well in the C-Max, but we’ll have to wait to get behind the wheel to see if the new Focus has the handling and steering feel owners have come to expect.
The ride on the artificial lumps and bumps of Lommel seems firm, but positive, with a sense of competence and grip. Ford has worked hard to prepare the new Focus for forthcoming EU rules
on stability control efficiency.
This requirement, which becomes law in November 2012, determines how quickly the car recovers following a sudden
avoidance manoeuvre. “An
easy way to comply would be
to make the steering lazy,” says engineer Bart Lanerts. “But
we need to comply without
compromising the handling.”
As for the Focus’s shape,
it’s grown-up, if not as striking
as previous versions. We’ll deliver a full verdict on the car next year, before its release in the spring. But for now, things look promising.