– Excellent handling
– Comfortable ride
– Fair safety features
– Deadbeat engine
– Cabin cuts corners
– Average rear space
The first-generation Ford Focus was way too garish in the way it looked to appeal to the mainstream Middle East public, no matter how good the car might have been in other aspects. The second-generation Focus has now succeeded in softening the styling cues that made the original so distinctive, while also upgrading everything else about the car. The hatchback model, such as the lime-green one in our road test, is more heavily promoted than the conventional sedan model or the rare wagon, but it seems to have made a lot of headway largely among women and rental fleets.
The styling is conservative, except for the pillar-mounted rear tail-lights. Our well-built car was the basic model, with plastic hubcups on 15-inch steel wheels and a barebones interior. The cabin design will be as agreeable with most people as it was for us. The moulded dashboard is covered with a soft rubbery material. The upper front door sills are covered in a harder material, but still pliable to the touch. But what surprised us was that Ford does some sleazy cost-cutting and makes the rear door sills out of completely hard plastic, even though the material texture is consistent with the front ones. All door inserts were plastic in our basic tester, but leather-covered in the top model. And only the front windows were powered while rear windows had manual winders. The most annoying feature in this basic model was the manual side-mirror adjusters, which we haven’t seen since last century. Rear power windows and electric mirrors are reserved for the higher model trims. The basic stereo has an integrated cassette player to run your Michael Jackson tapes from the 80s. The speakers were decent though, but the better system is reserved again for higher models, which get an in-dash CD changer. The basic a/c system uses knobs and seems adequate in warm afternoons, while digital climate control is again only for top-spec models. And the engine hood requires the key to be opened. Imagine that.
Not everything reeked of cost-cutting though. The Focus gets those fancy floppy wipers that come in German luxury cars nowadays, and they worked well, as half of our tiny test was in the rain. The hatchback gets wipers both front and rear. There is a proper spare tyre with a full tool kit hidden away in the back. And all models come with central locking, keyless entry, trip computer and dual front airbags. We don’t remember how many cup-holders this thing has, since our test drive was hardly longer than a day, but we do remember that the missing central armrest is again only available in the more expensive models.
The size of the cabin itself is good enough. Headroom is excellent, as is front legroom. But rear legroom is just about adequate, considering very tall rear passengers might have scraped knees. However, room for toes in the rear is excellent, obviously designed to compensate for the limited rear space. The seats themselves are very firm and manually adjustable, with the rear bench split-foldable to increase luggage room. While ours was upholstered in cloth, options include leather and power adjustments. Rear luggage space is not very long compared to a compact sedan, but it can hold tall items upright under the upward-opening hatch.
The 100 hp 1.6-litre four-banger powering the Focus is the sole engine available in this region, and outclassed by many top-rung Japanese rivals, except maybe for the Mazda 3. Given that the Mazda 3 is really just a rebodied Focus, that isn’t a surprise. The engine is buzzy and strained anytime the throttle pedal is touched, though the engine noise is admirably muffled enough to not be annoying. With help from 150 Nm of torque at a high 4000 rpm, we managed a sleepy 0-to-100 kph time of 13.2 seconds, burning petrol at the decent rate of 9.6 litres per 100 km along the way. The automatic transmission only has four speeds, but the tiptronic function is great for manually changing gears, even with its slightly delayed shifts. However, the engine, with only 100 horses churning, can be called barely adequate for the street, but lets down this car’s awesome chassis.
Speaking of the awesome chassis, the Focus is the best handler in this class we’ve ever driven. Forgetting that we were in an economy car, we unconsciously pushed it around a handful of corners before realising that we were in a car that competes with the Toyota Corolla. The Focus handled the curves as well as many sporting cars, with limited body roll that disappears quickly after a turn is completed. Steering is slightly firm and the response is sharp enough. The car can hold onto the road during a corner longer than any of its competitors, until the front tyres finally start squealing due to understeer. Given that our base model only had 195/65 rubber on 15-inch steel wheels, we can only imagine how far the optional 205/55 threads on 16-inch alloys will go.
Comfort is not given up for agility, as the Focus has excellent highway stability, with a comfortable ride that soaks up road imperfections rather well, although the car seems to be slightly upset by mid-corner bumps. There is moderate wind and road noise by the time the car reaches 120 kph, though it is bearable. The brakes are adequate in daily and rainy driving, even with drums in the back, with good pedal feel and the backup of a fancy ABS system with electronic brake-force distribution. The side mirrors could be bigger, although direct all-round vision is good thanks to thin pillars. This also helps in parking, and the firm steering is still effortless enough to manoeuvre easily into small spaces.
The Focus is an excellent entry in a category filled with dullards, with exciting handling that rivals many sports cars. It’s too bad that rear space is only average and the standard engine is below the poverty line. If you’re still interested, go for one of the higher trim levels, because the basic model is more barren than the Rub-al-Khali. Then seek out some twisty roads and find yourself outrunning V8-powered muscle cars.
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