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Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi Titanium Roadtest

More of a facelift than a fundamental redesign, the new Focus has nonetheless acquired new-found character and gravitas.

The new car is not so much a Focus as a small Mondeo

"Ooh, dear, what a lovely chest of drawers," enthused my mother, during one of her weekend parole visits. "Did you make it yourself?" I confessed that I did - well, sort of. I had bought a computer desk from Ikea, but being a man, I didn't need to read the instructions, and instead relied on my natural aptitude.

The strange thing was, there was nothing left over - not a single screw. So what started out as one thing in the end became something entirely different. And much the same thing can be said of the 'new' Ford Focus: practically all the same bits have been used but the end result is somehow a different car. Whoever put it together didn't read the instructions; and instead of building what in most people's perception is a British car, they built a German one.

The new car is not so much a Focus as a small Mondeo, but could just as easily be an Audi or a Volkswagen. With little exception, motor journalists throughout Europe have heaped praise on the new Mondeo, and I suspect, in time, the same accolades will be applied to the new Focus, oder der neue Fokus.

OK, as you will see from the photographs, I actually tested a German car: the number plates make that obvious, as does the fact that it is clearly a left-hooker. But that's only because the 'sneak preview' car loaned to a few UK journos happened to be a German pre-production example. But when the right-hand drive versions arrive in UK showrooms next year, they will in all other respects be identical.

In engineering terms, there are few, if any, clear-cut reasons to account for what amounts to a step-change in the life of the Focus, and therefore I can assume only that the new styling primes your expectations, and a higher cabin specification makes the car feel more substantial, more solid, and more like a scaled-down premium car than well-endowed fleet metal.

And by 'higher cabin specification', I don't mean a Bang & Olufsen sound system, or a suede-lined glove box: we are talking mainly of materials technology, of which the soft-touch fascia-covering and door cappings are merely the bits you can see. Beneath the skin, Ford has invested in improving NVH levels, which play a big part in distinguishing a premium car from a bargain buy. NVH stands for 'Noise, Vibration, Harshness', the natural by-product of any mechanically driven device - from a warship to a washing machine - and the attenuation of which occupies some of the best minds in the business.

At least, that appears to be the case at Ford. The test car was powered by the company's familiar 2.0-litre Duratorq diesel engine, yet compared with the run-out model it felt altogether smoother and a lot more refined. Moreover, compared with what I remember of the original Focus - the Mark One, if you like - the new model is not simply an improvement, it is in a class above. I mention this because I have no doubt that many buyers of the 2008 car might well be trading in one of the original models, and to such customers the notable contrast should sell the car on the spot.

Even The Most Cursory Glance Will Reveal The Change In Styling

Despite the familiarity of the 2.0-litre Duratorq engine, it is worth revisiting the specification, if only as a reminder of how closely its vital statistics mirror those of the 2.0-litre TDi engine used in the Golf. I will quote only the Ford's figures, but in every respect the Volkswagen's figures are pretty much identical; you would need to go to decimal places in order to separate one from the other.

Driving through a six-speed manual 'box, the combined fuel consumption of the 2.0 TDCi engine is 51.3 mpg, and is derived from an urban figure of 40.3 mpg, and an extra-urban of 62.7 mpg. The CO2 rating is 144 g/km, which places the Ford into VED Band C, at a cost of £115 per annum. Developing 136 PS, and a peak torque of 320 Nm (plus overboost), the Duratorq engine is good for a 0-62 time of 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 126 mph. All these figure relate to the car as tested - a 2.0 TDCi, 5-door Titanium Focus, which, for comparison purposes, I paired with a Golf 2.0 GT Sport TDi.

The only statistics that are not separated by a decimal point or two are the prices. When it goes on sale, the Titanium 5-door will cost you £18,295, whereas the Golf is presently stickered at £18,887.

If I have given you the impression that the new Focus is merely the old one nobbed up, let me correct that right now. Even the most cursory glance will reveal the change in styling - particularly at the sharp end. For example, the bonnet has acquired some pronounced shoulders in the manner of a Volvo V40 - indeed the design, referred to as 'Kinetic', suggests the hand of Peter Horbury, the one-time head of design at Volvo and now someone important in Detroit. Elsewhere, you will notice that the bumper is higher and that the air-intake beneath it is much larger, and that the wheel arches have acquired distinctive blisters, all of which, says Ford, make the car look more masculine.

But if I were to choose one word to describe the look achieved by the re-styling, that word would be gravitas: Focus drivers will in future have to read The Guardian. Only the strip of brightwork surrounding the lower grille spoils the image. The car looks better without, as evidenced by photographs of the promised ST variant. As it is, the grille reminds me of the ram-raider look recently championed as the new face of Audi.

But from behind, it is difficult at first glance to distinguish new from old. Of course, there are some detail changes, but these will be of interest only to members of the Ford Focus, Hornby Dublo and Pacamac Owner's Club.

Measure The New Car In Terms Of Quality And The Focus Delivers Exponentially

Unusually for an evolution model, the new Focus is smaller than the car it will replace. Although it shares with the run-out model the same (C-Max) platform and wheelbase, the body of the new car is slightly shorter and not as wide. Yet, perhaps because the car is slightly taller, the boot volume has increased, although not by much. Now the maximum volume is 1258 litres: on the old car, it was 1247. But if you think all replacement models should have something more, there it is: room for another firkin of ping-pong balls.

But if you measure the new car in terms of quality, the Focus delivers exponentially. I have already mentioned how solid it feels, but the cabin delivers quantifiable, or at least visible, improvements, too. The test car had no satellite navigation so the centre stack was dominated by the Sony radio/CD screen, which is surrounded by various menu buttons and which sets the tone (if you will excuse the pun) for the rest of the fascia, which has a technophile, steely grey air of functionality. I would have liked the radio front-plate to have looked slightly less Alba-ish, but, like the grille surround, it is the product of someone's meddling when they should be making the tea.

But the best bit of all is the leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is not one of the usual 12-inch ring doughnuts but quite a slim-rimmed affair that actually conveys a sense of feel, and which reflects the latent sportiness of the nimble and agile platform. I don't say that the handling has improved - it wouldn't need to - but now you can enjoy it more.

And since this is a Ford, you can expect it to make you feel at home - pretty much instantly. No one quite touches Ford in terms of ergonomics but it wasn't always so: I can remember the Mark 3 Cortina, which used seats supplied by the lowest tender - in Zambia - but from the Sierra onwards things improved, and the new Focus should be studied in detail by anyone concerned with putting bums on seats. Naturally, this car will sell in huge numbers to the fleet market, and for all you thousands, hundreds of thousands, of future new-Focus drivers, I can tell you that you are in for a treat.

And you won't be short of toys. The standard Titanium specification includes keyless-entry and power-button start (just like my 1947 MG); sports front seats; air-conditioning featuring a glove-box cooler; a Quickclear heated windscreen; a photochromic rear-view mirror; 16-inch alloys; auto lights and wipers; and privacy glass. ESP is also standard, along with traction control, front airbags and side thorax bags, front and rear. Extras I know about - because they were fitted to the test car - include dual-zone electronic air-conditioning, park assist, Xenon headlights, and Bluetooth compatibility. And then there is the X-Factor: Ghia and Titanium models will be offered with X packs, for a little extra touch of class.

I have just acquired a classy wardrobe from Ikea, which I shall assemble as a garage. But not yet, though; I shall wait for the Focus to be collected. In the meantime, I will leave it parked in my driveway so that I can annoy the neighbour who lets his dog wee on my gatepost, and who last weekend took delivery of a new Astra.

Posted on 14.12.2007 by Graham Whyte
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