Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Zetec

Will all-new version raise bar in the family class again?

Welcome to the most important road test of 2011. The Ford Focus is one of the biggest hitters in the fiercely fought family car sector – and an all-new version is big news...

The outgoing car has suffered a torrid time in recent years, with a host of newer and more desirable rivals forcing it from the top of the class to mid-table obscurity. Now, the third generation is out to reverse the decline and put Ford back in front again.

Bosses have certainly left no stone unturned in the quest for class honours, as the newcomer promises to be sharper to drive, cheaper to run and more spacious than the car it replaces. Adding 

to its appeal are the claims of stronger refinement and a host of hi-tech safety kit.

Initial impressions are good, as the designers have been bolder with the latest model’s looks. The nose incorporates the firm’s eye- catching trapezoid grille, while huge wraparound tail-lamps feature at the back. Some of the detailing is heavy-handed, though, and the Focus fails to recreate the styling success of the smaller Fiesta. It’s also worth noting that our test car’s classy 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels and fashionable privacy glass are a £525 option – standard Zetec models ride on 16-inch rims. 

Climb aboard, and it’s clear that considerable effort has been put into the cabin. Look beyond the dashboard’s busy styling and garish red trim – a more sober silver finish will be standard on production cars – and you’ll find a very thoughtful layout. 

The centre console has the same intuitive mobile phone-inspired controls for the stereo and £750 optional sat-nav as the Fiesta and C-MAX, while the clear instruments are backlit in blue.

A wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment means you’ll have no trouble finding a comfortable driving position, and occupants in the rear get marginally more leg and shoulder room than they’ll find in the Golf. There’s also plenty of cubby space, courtesy of a large glovebox and deep door bins.

Refinement is also excellent, with road and wind noise kept to a minimum, even at high speeds. The standard kit count is generous, too, with a DAB radio and Bluetooth connection fitted to Zetec models as standard. 

Despite Ford making bold claims about the quality of the newcomer’s cabin, too many of the Zetec’s plastics look and feel cheap for it to rival the VW’s premium ambience – a contrast to the flagship Focuses driven in Top Story. Open the steeply raked tailgate and there’s a well shaped but small 316-litre load bay – it trails the Astra’s by 54 litres. 

The Focus claws back some ground at the test track, where its smooth 113bhp 1.6-litre TDCi put in a strong performance. An overboost facility hikes torque to 285Nm, and that helped the Ford power from 50-70mph in sixth in 10.7 seconds – a full 1.9 seconds faster than the Vauxhall.

A range of eco-friendly tweaks means it’s frugal, too, returning a respectable 37.7mpg in our hands. However, the stop-start system on our car worked only when energy-draining kit such 

as the air-con was turned off.

As you’d expect, the Ford’s chassis shines the brightest. The electrically assisted steering is beautifully weighted and responds instantly, while the torque vectoring system ensures strong front-end grip. But it’s the poise and balance that really impress, allowing the car to flow through corners. Adding to its appeal are a precise gearshift and progressive brakes. Only the unyielding low-speed ride of the sporty Zetec disappoints.

This is a strong display, and the new Focus leaps from also-ran to class contender. But in such a closely fought segment, the limited boot space, stiff ride and unremarkable styling could cost it dearly.  

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: The Focus has topped the UK sales charts for years. All-new model aims to build on this success with the aid of an improved engine line-up, fresh styling and a modern interior.

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