Fleet News

Ford Focus

Ford

Review

FORD must have been dreading and willing this seminal moment in equal measure.

Replacing the Focus, a car that has become embedded in the national consciousness as the vehicle the populous uses to move around, is no small thing.

When the first Focus came out in 1998, it looked radical, it worked very well and it has sold by the skipload ever since. Focus as a brand has been well and truly established, so it’s no surprise that the second version continues and improves on the same themes rather than heading off in a new direction.

With a car like the Focus that is almost unassailable as the most popular car in the country, you don’t mess with the formula and the risk taken with the first car was never likely to happen with the second. Still, it’s a shame it looks as dull as it does. What this conservative evolution and mature progression means for fleets is more of the same and that can only be good news. Nobody in fleet wants a car like the second Focus to be a gamble.

The firm’s marketeers are very keen to get the message across that the Focus is a premium car at a value price that’s indicative in the dash, which is very high quality, matching – and perhaps beating – anything the Germans or Japanese manufacturers can offer.

The old Focus dash was a mish-mash of swoops and intersections and dated much quicker than the rest of the car, but the new interior is a model of sober rationality. The materials are all high quality, slush-moulded soft plastics and everything is very well put together.

On the launch though, all the cars had top-of-the-range touch-screen sat-nav systems or high grade Sony stereos, so it’s impossible to judge how cheaper, lower-end Focuses that are more likely to end up on fleets might shape up.

In fact, just about the only genetic link to the old car are the oval air vents, but instead of the plasticky fierce-looking things, they are now more sensible and ringed in chrome. It sums up the change in approach for the whole car.

But to create this premium quality feel, there have had to be concessions. Ford might have the buying power to nail its suppliers to the lowest possible price, but it’s not a magician and so, while the plastics on the doors look the same as the rest of the interior, they are actually much harder and cheaper and felt a bit wobbly.

The glovebox and the lid of the box on top of the dash are not very sturdy either, illustrating cost being taken out, but overall the impression is high quality and it shows in the residual values that are being quoted for it.

CAP Monitor is giving it RV percentages above the old car, and above the other volume cars such as the Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane and Peugeot 307. A 1.6 Ti-VCT Zetec five door is being quoted at 34% – a good four or five percentage points above those cars, although still behind the Volkswagen Golf.

When there are 100,000 new Focuses hitting the roads every year, those extra few points will make quite a difference, and it will be a good performance for the Focus to maintain those levels above the competition, but there are a quarter of a million old Focuses on Britain’s roads, so there should be plenty of loyal buyers for the new car when it starts hitting the used forecourts.

Five-door models will provide the vast majority of the cars sold, up to 75%, while about 30% will be diesel, although this figure is likely to be a little higher in the fleet sector.

Behind the wheel

ONLY two engines were available to test at launch, but both will be key fleet units: the 108bhp 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCi that is already in the Focus C-MAX, and various Peugeots and Citroens, and the all new 113bhp 1.6-litre Duratec Ti-VCT petrol engine.

The diesel was pretty much as expected, and was fairly quiet in the cabin, although its performance was limited by the fact it had only done 300 miles and it still felt very tight.

Having tried that engine in heavier cars than the Focus, there’s more punch to come than it was displaying on the test, and with a combined figure knocking on the door of 60mpg and Euro IV-grade emissions of 127g/km of CO2 it’s easy to see why it will be a very popular choice for company car drivers.

But unusually for a new car at the moment, the diesel isn’t the best choice by a country mile. The new 1.6 Ti-VCT is very, very good, and has low emissions of 155g/km (lower than the standard 1.6 petrol) and a combined fuel consumption figure of 44mpg.

It makes a funky, zingy sound, gathers revs with relish and with 113bhp does a very good job of shifting the Focus along quickly. There are few petrol engines of this size as good as this, if any.

Both engines are aided by five speed gearboxes that feel precise and taut, strong brakes and all of the old Focus’s chassis talents, but even more so. It might be a utilitarian vehicle for many, but the Focus has always handled like it was destined for greater things, and Ford has worked hard to ensure that this is still the case.

The new car has a stiffer front subframe which means that it’s easier to tune the front suspension more accurately while the rear suspension is a development of the old car.

It also has a longer wheelbase by 25mm, and the track is 40mm wider.

All this means that the Focus is more tenacious than ever. The steering is precise and the car dives into bends instantly with even a slight tweak of the wheel. Grip is massive, with even Ghias getting 16-in wheels, and as you fire the car through a corner, you feel a bit like a person being dragged behind an over-enthusiastic dog. On smooth roads on nearly any corner, it’s almost impossible to do the chassis justice at legal speeds.

Driving verdict

THE song remains the same. The Focus does everything required of it to continue being the number one car in fleet. It drives well, it’s bolted together well, and there are some good new engines. But did it have to look so plain?

1.4 1.6 1.6 Ti-VCT 2.0 1.6 TDCi 2.0 TDCi
Engine (cc): 1,388 1,596 1,596 1,999 1,560 1,997
Max power (bhp/rpm): 79/5,700 99/5,500 113/6,000 143/6,000 107/4,000 134/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 91/3,500 111/4,000 114/4,150 136/4,500 177/1,750 136/2,000
Max speed (mph): 101 111 (auto: 106) 117 127 116 (113) 125
0-62mph (sec): 14.1 11.9 (13.6) 10.8 9.2 10.9 (11.5) 9.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 42.7 42.2 (36.9) 43.8 39.8 58.9 (51.0) 51.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159 161 (180) 155 170 127 (146) 148
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 55/12.1
Transmissions: 5-sp man; 6-sp man; 4-sp auto (1.6); CVT auto (1.6 TDCi)
On sale: Early 2005
Service intervals (miles): 12,500
Prices (OTR): £10,895-£18,545

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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