Ford Focus

Big seller remains one of the finest cars on sale

The Ford Focus is still the handling benchmark in the front-wheel-drive hatchback class. So an entry-level 1 Series that’s hoping to tempt keen drivers away from the more mainstream options will be aiming squarely at this car.

However, Ford bosses claim that the new Focus offers better quality, improved refinement and a host of hi-tech options – all things that could persuade premium car owners to go for the cheaper model.

So, which one comes out on top? There’s no doubt the Ford has a challenge on its hands matching the BMW’s image – the bold looks help it stand out, but it lacks the badge kudos and upmarket appeal of the BMW and the Golf.

Inside, Ford has made some big strides in quality, yet a few of the plastics look and feel cheap, and it doesn’t seem as classy as the BMW. Still, there’s no shortage of equipment. In fact, compared to the straightforward layout of the 1 Series and Golf, there’s a danger of information overload in the button-heavy Focus. 

The centre console has the same mobile phone-inspired buttons for the stereo and optional sat-nav as the Fiesta. But there’s also a pair of control pads on the ultifunction wheel and an array of switches on the dash, so it takes a while to get used to this complex set-up.

At least the back-lit dials look good at night, and with a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position.Better still, rear seat occupants get a bit more leg and shoulder room than they’ll find in the Golf, and lots more than in the BMW.

Unfortunately, the Focus falls down when it comes to luggage space. Opt for the £75 full-size spare wheel and the shallow boot only offers 277 litres of capacity.Even with a space-saver spare, the 316-litre boot is 44 litres smaller than the BMW’s.

Like the 116i, the Focus is very entertaining from the driver’s seat. The electrically assisted steering is naturally weighted and gives plenty of feedback. While there’s more body roll than the BMW, the amount of grip is reassuring. The 16-inch alloy wheels help ride quality, but the suspension is firm – although the Ford isn’t as stiff as its more sporty rivals.

Precise gearchanges and progressive braking add to the impressive dynamics, while the EcoBoost engine is strong.With identical torque but 16bhp more power than the 116i, the Ford takes three tenths of a second less to cover 0-60mph – recording a time of 8.5 seconds – and is quicker in-gear. Punchy and keen to rev, it’s not as refined as the BMW’s motor, but it’s a great engine nonetheless.

The Focus may be the cheapest car here, but it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: The Focus is a UK sales chart favourite with mass-market appeal. Can it beat these premium rivals?

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