Two weeks with Ford Focus’ – enough to change a hardened VW fan?

Tested by Paul Healy

 

Growing up as a young lad during the eighties there were many important decision to be made; Kylie or Dannii Minogue? Grunge or heavy metal? But no choices were more significant or long lasting as the ones concerning football and cars. Nowadays there are half a dozen football clubs to choose from (there are in fact many more but generally the top five or six in the Premiership account for a fair chunk) but in the eighties the choice was simple – Liverpool or Manchester United. For me it came down to family allegiances and I plumbed for the Merseyside team and almost instantly the other Reds rose to prominence. The decision on cars has been much more successful.

While Ford of the eighties had all manner of hot hatches like the XR2i and the Sierra/Escort Cosworth, Volkswagen only really had one of note – or at least only one I would see on rare occasions drive around Dublin – that of the MKII Golf GTi. It was my friend’s older brother’s car and I can trace my lifelong love of cars in general and VeeDubs specifically back to that car. For me cars from the Blue Oval became the enemy. Not quite to the extent that the Australians have pitched battles over Ford and Holden but you get the picture.

Fast forward twenty or so years and I am looking at a pair of Ford Focus’ that are looming large on my calendar. Not my smartest decision booking them back to back but cest la vie. Both cars were Titanium spec cars packing 1.6-litre diesel engines but that is where the comparisons end. Despite wearing the Focus nameplate the two cars could not be more different – the saloon is my favoured colour of black with, as I call it, the ‘Gangster Spec’ of tints and chrome. The Titanium box on the options list gives it a swanky set of alloy wheels while an altogether more expensive box, entitled the Driver Assist Pack, means the four-door is fitted with the latest safety technologies like blind spot indicators in the door mirrors, an auto high beam system that will automatically dip the lights when it senses and on coming vehicle and the Active City Stop system that at speeds below 30km/h will apply the brakes if it sense an imminent accident. While I did get to test out the lane departure system and was quite impressed I could not find anybody willing to walk out in front of the Focus to test the Active City Stop and my wife’s suggestion that I walk out in front while she was driving was not well received.

The delightful Mustard coloured hatchback did without this expensive option and really it was none the worse for it. Both cars benefit from a high class interior that has soft, tactile feel to all the pieces you touch. The central controls for radio, dual zone climate control and phone preparation are probably a little bit fussy with the keypad for the phone at a peculiar angle but with built in voice control is almost rendered redundant The phone functions only come into play if the box for the €200 Bluetooth & USB connectivity is ticked on the options list and even then only if the car and your phone see eye to eye. In both the saloon and hatchback models of the Focus my Samsung smart phone had trouble connecting. Probably best to check to make sure everything works while you are at the dealership before you sign the forms.

Since the first Focus was launched way back in 1998 critics and owners alike have waxed lyrical about the handling prowess it possesses and the new car follows on in that fine tradition. It is rare that a family hatchback with a diesel engine under the bonnet can excite and inspire confidence as much as the Focus does. Handling like this is normally the preserve of more expensive hot hatches or cars like the BMW 3-series. Point the Focus into a corner, squirt the throttle and the car goes exactly where you ask it to. Even the engine is good. A 95hp 1.6 TDCi engine does not sound like it is going to do anything to warm the cockles but the diesel unit is remarkably refined, to the extent that I had to open the bonnet to confirm it was an oil-burner under there, and with 230Nm of torque in gear acceleration is brisk belying the small size of the engine.

The most surprising thing about both the cars I drove was despite the driving pleasure, high class interior and the high specification the cars they were still in tax band A meaning it will cost you a lowly €104 per year to tax it while the standard gear-select indicator and start-stop system mean that you can achieve a frugal 4.2l/L/100kms on the combined run.

It is easy to see why the Focus has been so popular over the years but did a fortnight behind the wheel of the two cars manage to convince this cynic……eh no… I still have a VW Golf sitting just outside my window!

The Focus range is available now from your local Ford dealer starting at €20,825