It’s only when you climb inside Ford’s new Focus hatchback and drive it that you realise what a cracking family car this really is.
If you stuck a premium Audi badge on this then people would be raving about it.
But because it carries the familiar everyman blue oval Ford badge, the care and engineering attention to detail that has gone into the new Ford Focus can be easily overlooked.
In this respect, the new Focus five-seater family car is a bit of a Cinderella – but not only does it deserve to go to the ball, it’s a car in which you really can have a ball.
Cinderella car: Daily Mail motoring editor Ray Massey says the new Ford Focus not only deserves to go to the ball, it’s a car in which you really can have a ball
Ford’s Focus is punching hard in a very tough market that sees it up against established German rivals, such as Volkswagen’s Golf, and ambitious newcomers snapping at its heels, such as Korea’s Kia Ceed.
So it’s keenly and aggressively priced, with some canny packages for families on a budget looking for lots of bang for their buck.
The entry-level Focus Style trim level starts from £17,930 on the road, £2,300 less than the current outgoing model.
Zetec trim – accounting for around a quarter of sales in the UK – at £19,300 is £850 less (or £1,000 less with like-for-like equipment levels), while the ST-Line (from £21,570) and Titanium (£21,550) trim levels drop by £250. Cash in the back pocket already.
For the bulk of my time behind the wheel at the official international launch this week, I was at the chunky steering wheel of the sporty Focus ST-Line variant, in a fetching shade called Desert Island Blue.
It is powered by a lean three-cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine that develops a meaty 182 horsepower, linked to a pretty slick six-speed manual gearbox.
Within a matter of minutes at the controls I soon realised that this modest hatch is something a little special.
Ray took to the wheel of the £21,570 Ford Focus ST-Line car and was mightily impressed with the full package
Flip the car into ‘sport’ mode and it feels more engaging to drive than sports cars worth five times as much
As well as being utterly brilliant to drive, the new Focus is pretty nice to look at. Built in Germany, the purposeful looks should make you reconsider the country’s native brands
Popping it into ‘sport’ mode for a stint along the winding mountain roads in the South of France near Nice, it performed well beyond my expectations.
In fact, in recent months I’ve driven a variety of sports cars worth five times as much that haven’t come close to feeling as engaging as Ford’s do-it-all family favourite.
Think of it as a vehicle for all endeavors: perfect for the school run, a shopping expedition, a family holiday or just having a bit of driving fun.
There was an almost rally-car feel to the handling and a satisfying exhaust note as I revved up out of some tight hairpin bends and roared down long straight stretches of tarmac.
When it comes to negotiating corners, the sports-tuned suspension and 10mm lower ride height mean it’s all in sharp Focus, not soft Focus.
That’s not to say it will rattle your bones out of their joints.
It provides a satisfyingly comfortably ride in the standard drive setting, while ‘eco’ helps save on fuel economy too.
That’s because there’s a really clever twist to the lean and mean – and green – petrol engine.
The 2018 Ford Focus is on sale now in both hatch and estate variants. A jacked-up Active crossover is due in 2019
The Ford Focus has become a tour-de-force for technology. The new-for-2018 car even has a feature that scans the road ahead to prepare for potholes
The 1.5-litre petrol engine is the first 3-cylinder motor to have an active cylinder shut-down feature. When you’re cruising through two, the middle cylinder deactivates to save fuel and reduce the emissions from the double oval exhaust outlets
When you’re driving hard and mashing the throttle with your right foot, the full trio of cylinders are in play. But when you are cruising it will shut-down the middle cylinder to use less fuel and produce fewer emissions.
It’s the first cylinder de-activation system to be used on a three-cylinder car engine and it flicks back and forth seamlessly and smoothly in just 14 milliseconds – 20 times faster than the blink of an eye.
2018 Ford Focus hatchback: Will it fit in my garage?
Price: From £17,930 to £27,910
On sale: now
First deliveries: August/September
Length: 4378mm Width: 1825 (without mirrors) Height: 1454mm
Gears: 6-speed manual/ 8-speed automatic
Wheels: 16, 17 and 18 inch
Petrol: 1.0 litre Ecoboost (from 107g/km) 1.5 litre EcoBoost (from 122g/km)
1.5 litre EcoBlue (from 92g/km)
2.0litre EcoBlue (from 112g/km)
Top speed (1.0 litre petrol): 124mph
0-62mph (1.0 litre petrol): 10 seconds
Average MPG (1.0 litre petrol): Up to 60.1mpg
Average MPG (1.5 litre diesel): Up to 80.7mpg
Other UK body-styles:
Now: Estate. From 2019: ‘Active’ crossover.
Shoulder room: Front: 1421mm
Second row knee clearance: 81mm
Luggage capacity: 1354mm
So fast in fact is this little bit of automotive magic that you don’t even realise it’s happening.
While you might not be able to feel it powering down on cylinders with your senses, you should be able to feel it in your bank balance.
Ford claims it could save you anywhere between three and 10 per cent of your fuel consumption, depending on how you drive it.
My car was also fitted with automatic lane centring which uses sensors to read the white lines, and I could feel the steering wheel actively engaging to pull re-centre the Focus into the middle of the lane during multi-lane stints, and even worked when I tried it on some tight corners.
It’s part of a package that sees the Focus at level two – of five levels – of autonomous driving, though the driver remains in control. Take your hands of the wheel for a few seconds and you get a warning to put them back on.
What’s even better is the new technology designed to cope with Britain’s increasingly potholed roads.
Using sensors mounted at the front of the car that sweep the tarmac ahead every two milliseconds, it hunts out craters in the road so it can automatically adjust the suspension, steering and braking to reduce the impact of pounding through crumbled cavities.
Come to think of it, this sub-£20,000 hatchback is something of a technology tour de force.
It also has ‘evasive steering assist’ which automatically steers around other vehicles to avoid collisions, speed-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, stop-start and enhanced automated parking assistance.
A mobile wi-fi hotspot has connectivity for up to 10 devices, a new Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker sound system that plays your music via your smartphone, and a new app to help owners find their cars in sprawling car parks.
Mine also had Ford’s first head-up display, which is incredibly useful for keeping your eye on speed limits and sat-nav directions, without having to avert your eyes from the windscreen and the road ahead.
As for practicalities, there was plenty of boot space for luggage with a hands-free tailgate that can be opened by performing a kicking motion beneath the rear bumper.
There’s more leg room, knee clearance and shoulder room thanks to more efficient use of space, and the seats themselves are comforting and supportive for long treks.
If you need more space and load-lugging capability, the standard five-door hatchback Focus is joined by an even more practical estate model that has room for a dog crate – both on sale now for delivery this autumn.
The expanded Focus line up also includes the first ever higher riding and rugged Focus Active crossover – available from next year – and an upmarket more luxurious Vignale version, which should appeal to those who might be thinking about placing a deposit on the latest Audi A3 or Mercedes A-Class.
A four-door saloon version won’t be sold in Britain.
The 1.5-litre diesel engine provides fewer thrills…
I also had a quick blast in a test car with the 1.5-litre diesel EcoBlue engine en route back to Nice airport.
This more humble motor produces just 120 horsepower but has plenty of bottom-end grunt.
It promises an average return of 65.7 miles per gallon – rising to 70.6mpg when cruising – and emits CO2 emissions of 113g/km. That puts it in VED-band G with a low first year road tax charge of £205.
After the delights of the sporty petrol I’d been enjoying previously on the launch, this was initially a little underwhelmed.
It felt comparatively noisy and lacked the bite of the other engine. But I soon forgave it when the return journey included a prolonged stint on the motorway.
This is where the diesel motor is in its element, with the smooth power delivery ideal for gulping arduous miles without a fuss.
This second test car also came equipped with the new eight-speed automatic transmission.
It’s easy to set using the rotary button placed in the centre console and moves up and down the ‘box so seamlessly that it gear changes will come and go completely undetected.
The Ford Focus interior has been de-cluttered and fitted with a new 8-inch touchscreen and ‘sophisticated jewellery elements’ to make it feel upmarket
While the boot isn’t the biggest in class, it’s big enough to fit a couple of suitcases. There’s a hands-free opening system function too, which operates when you dangle your foot under the rear bumper
If the hatchback isn’t practical enough for you, the Ford Focus Estate might be a better option…
However, we don’t think it looks quite as good as the hatchback, with the elongated body creating a bulbous silhouette
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered and simplified to create a more calming and higher quality atmosphere with soft-touch materials, polished glass, brushed finishes, and ‘sophisticated jewellery elements’ designed to catch the eye and delight the senses.
In recent months I’ve driven sports cars worth five times as much that haven’t come close to feeling as engaging as Ford’s do-it-all family favourite
There’s also an eight-inch dashboard colour touchscreen with can be operated with pinch and swipe gestures.
The choice of engines encompasses a 1.0-litre EcoBoost motor delivering CO2 emissions from 108 grams per kilometre with the 1.5-litre EcoBoost managing 120g/km.
Ford’s advanced new turbocharged 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel promises emissions from 94g/km, with the 2.0-litre 150 horse-power EcoBlue engine managing 110g/km.
The UK is Ford’s biggest market in Europe and last year sold 70,000 Focus cars – a third of the 210,000 European total. This makes it the UK’s third-best-selling car after the Ford Fiesta and the Volkswagen Golf – the latter of which it will hope to – and, on first impressions, should – overtake.
CARS & MOTORING: ON TEST