Things move fast in the family hatch class and Ford is well aware that with a new Golf on the road, it needs to up the refinement, tech and green credentials of the Ford Focus. So that’s exactly what it’s done for this mid-life facelift – among plenty of other improvements – and Auto Express has ridden on the new car to find out if it’s cut out to be a class leader.
We’re at Ford’s testing facility in Lommel, Belgium, where we get our first chance to see the car outside of a motorshow hall. The new Ford Focus for 2014 has a smart design out on the road, with the new LED running lights and bold chrome grille creating a much more premium look.
Stepping in to the cabin you’ll notice a new steering wheel with clearer and more defined controls and a larger, sharper touchscreen that controls a few more functions now. It’s allowed Ford to ditch many of the confusing buttons from the old car and it feels immediately more approachable as a result.
The car we’ve got the chance to ride in is powered by a 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine, developed from the old 1.6-litre unit. Power is either 148bhp – as in our car – or 178bhp, meaning it has identical outputs to the car it replaces but with fuel economy that’s 9 per cent better. That means we should see a figure of more than 50mpg when the official numbers are released.
Apparently this engine picks up earlier in the revs than the old 1.6, too, and on a back-to-back ride with the two engines, it felt a fraction more responsive when our driver floored the throttle in a high gear. From a driver’s point of view, it’s likely to be subtle enough that you won’t notice the difference – despite Ford managing to lower emissions and improve economy.
There’s been plenty of work to improve how quiet things are in the cabin, and Ford is now saying that the Focus is more refined than the Golf, the Hyundai i30 and the Audi A3. The extra insulated windows, the improved door seals and the wheel-well insulation all play their part in reducing road and wind noise here but again it’s not a drastic improvement compared with the old car.
One area Ford was particularly keen to talk about was an area that we didn’t have the opportunity to try – the steering. Apparently it’s been made more responsive just off centre and it feels more progressive and – as a result – more confidence inspiring. What’s clear from the passenger seat is that the Focus has lost none of its impressive handling – it’s just as playful as ever, and if the steering is up to scratch, probably even more so.
In terms of how it rides, there have been some minor changes to the suspension but they’re too subtle to notice, at least on our brief 20-minute passenger ride around Ford’s test facility. It’s fair to say that it’s just as compliant as it’s ever been, though – you shouldn’t have any worries about it being too firm.
With a 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine emitting just 99g/km and a new 1.5 TDCi diesel that should manage around 75mpg, this Focus has an engine range that can match and – in some cases – outperform the Golf. With new safety features like a warning for traffic approaching while you’re reversing on to a road it also now has the tech to match the Golf, too.
There wasn’t actually that much wrong with the Focus but with the updated styling, much-improved interior and fuel-efficient engine range the decision between Golf and Focus is tougher than ever. We’ll have to drive it before delivering the ultimate verdict but the Focus is a potential class-leader once again.