Ford Focus II Facelift 2007 Road Test

Thu, 29 Nov 2007

You have to feel for companies like Volkswagen. No sooner had they launched the Golf Mk V, based as closely as it could be on the first Focus, then Ford came up with its even better second generation Focus.

Now, without adequate warning, and well before VW has got its Mk VI on the road, Ford has stolen the march again and brought us another Focus so heavily revised it’s effectively a Focus Mk III.

Thankfully Ford left alone the car’s structure that earned it five NCAP stars for occupant safety and four for child safety, and gave it class-leading handling and ride comfort. Instead they concentrated on completely re-panelling the exterior of the car, tidying up the interior, fitting the Mondeo’s Easifuel filler that won’t let you put petrol in a diesel, and adding politically correct extras like Electronic Stability Control across the range. Ford has been environmentally correct, too, as all 1.6 diesels are now under 120g/km CO2, whole the ECOnetic puffs out just 114g/km. So all qualify for £35pa annual tax and, if Ken’s promised plans go through, all Focus 1.6 diesels can enter Central London free of any congestion taxes from February 2008.

There are other goodies in the bag as well. Including directional headlights, LED tail lights, voice-activated satnav, a new twin clutch (but no clutch pedal) ‘Powershift’ transmission with 2.0 litre diesels (like VAG’s DSG), a USB socket, a 230 volt power outlet

On top of all that Ford of Europe is on a bit of a roll. If you want a new Mondeo diesel or an S-Max you have to join the queue and wait as long as six months. “Discount, sir. Well we can do you a few points off, but forget any residual-destroying five grand off.” The end result is showing through at the auctions with genuine values ahead of ‘quality’ cars like the Passat and Touran. The German public, if not the British, is finally waking up to the fact hat a modern Ford is a high quality product, as good if not better than a VW or a Honda or a BMW and snapping at the heels of Audi.

I’m calling this a ‘pre-test’ because they didn’t have any 114g/mn Focus ECONetics, or any cars with Ford and Getrag’s ‘Powershift’ equivalent of VAG’s DSG transmission. Instead, all we got to drive were a 2.0 litre 145PS petrol Zetec 3-door, and a 2.0 litre 135PS diesel estate, both ‘lever Espana’ (Manuel).

The Zetec had the ‘Sport’ option, which includes 205/50 tyres on jewel-like 17” alloy wheels and sports suspension. So it should have ridden a bit hard, but it didn’t. Instead it had the astonishing ability to isolate driver and passenger from bumps and thumps as if they were happening elsewhere. And it combined this with simply stunning handling and roadholding. At any kind of reasonable speed, and as long as you didn’t do something daft like brake half way round a corner, it simply gripped. Not in a sportscary Porschy way, reassuring you that you’re some kind of hot stuff behind the wheel. But in a calm, unflurried manner, as likely to appeal to a vicar as to a rally driver.

Inside there are new trim materials, new plastic, a new dash with bright red readouts to answer criticism that on the previous Focus you couldn’t read the readouts. You get the standard stalk to choose menus such as trip computer, how much steering power assistance and whether you want the Electronic Stability Control on or off. The stalk works so naturally it comes as second nature as soon as you’ve used it once. And some models have dual climate control, so it isn’t pistols at dawn between driver and passenger to decide how hot or cold they’re both going to be.

The 2.0TDCI 135 estate we tried next day came with top-level Titanium trim, which include a fully carpeted load area, satnav and 205/55 x 16” tyres.

I wanted to try the wagon because there had been some criticism of noise levels inside the old model. And, in truth, at 70mph, with the engine turning over at just 2,000rpm, you could still hear it was a diesel. No problem with tyre noise, but, of course, the thick carpeting would have deadened any of that. Yet, despite being on slightly deeper profile tyres than the Zetec Sport, the ride wasn’t as good. Maybe stiffer suspension for load carrying. Maybe worse roads. But with this car the rough stuff was merely cushioned rather than absorbed. Still not bad by class standards. Just not as good as the Zetec Sport.

The handling, however, was every bit as fine. This car takes to corners like The Stig does to the Top Gear track.

Ford has also sorted out the power delivery. Instead of nothing to torque about under 1,800 rpm, the new car will pull up fairly steep hills from just 1,200rpm in third.

Unfortunately, though, it’s in Emissions Band E, so won’t find as many buyers as the Band B 1.6 TDCI.

Like its predecessor the new Focus is an excellent car. Only this time more so. Not entirely fault-free. Our 2.0i Sport had a duff gear change gate that made 3rd hard to find. (No doubt something the garage could fix.) And it's now just a 5-speed rather than 6-speed. But nothing else gets close to the car’s stunning combination of ride and handling, except, maybe, a Volvo C30, which is based on a Focus floorpan.

It will continue to be Britain’s most popular car. No less than 1 in 20 cars sold in the UK over the past 9 years have been the Ford Focus. As always, that will put off the snobs who feel somehow superior driving a Golf, even though they’re not really enjoying enjoying themselves as much. People still remember David Bailey’s 23 year old commercial, ‘Few things in life are as reliable as a Volkswagen’ and delude themselves it’s still true.

So Golfs will continue to sell very well. But don’t be surprised to see their price premium being eroded and ever increasing quantities finding their way to auction via Ford dealers.

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