Without doubt the Focus range is the foundation stone upon which the current Ford model line-up stands. Ably helped by the Fiesta in cornering a large slice of market share, the Focus is — and has been — a car which has stood the test of time since we first saw it in 1998 and through three generations since.
Now in its fourth iteration and looking longer, sleeker and more attractive than ever before, as well as being every bit the drivers’ car it always has been, it also ticks every box from practicality to roominess to tech-loaded.
It is just as well it is as good as it is and holds its own so well for Ford in sales terms, because, by comparison with so many other rival manufacturers, the Blue Oval has a lot of holes in its product line-up and particularly so in the SUV department.
With Focus and Fiesta performing so manfully on the sales front, a look down the list of most popular cars in this country shows the Focus to be a top three performer and the Fiesta comfortably in the top 10. And then Ford falls off a cliff.
The next bestselling Ford is the Kuga, just inside the top 20, and then comes the Mondeo, which is outside the top 30. Next up is the Ka, which is in the low 60s, which is followed respectively by the C-Max (90s) and the next best SUV, the EcoSport (100s), the Transit passenger, the S-Max and the Galaxy (all 140s), follow on.
The big Edge SUV sold a miserly 15 (15!) units to the end of the year, a figure so bad, it was surpassed by the very niche Mustang with 17. For God’s sake (no pun intended) they even sold 11 hearses. That tells you all you need to know about the Edge.
When you’re fighting the likes of VW, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, Skoda, Kia, Renault and Peugeot — all of whom have armies of SUVs, Ford’s ability to compete in key market segments is shown to be clearly lacking. Just as well they have the Focus and the Fiesta to shore things up, then.
But this Focus is so much more important to Ford than most cars to most companies that the Blue Oval instructed its designers and engineers that the fourth generation had to have the same impact the original car did when it was first sprung on us 21 years ago.
Ford chiefs deemed that a from-the-ground-up re-design was required and thus the new car shares nothing other than a few nuts and bolts with its predecessor and is more driver-oriented than ever before. It is also stiffer, lighter, safer more tech-laden and more efficient than we have previously seen.
Such has been the transformation of the Focus in terms of look, ability and specification, Ford claims it is now the clear leader in its class on every available front. Other manufacturers will of course dispute this braggadocio claim but, in truth, the Blue Oval is not too wide of the mark.
Other than the Golf and the completely re-invented Kia Ceed, I can think of little else in the segment which gets near it.
Our tester this week is the Titanium version with the 1.5 litre turbodiesel engine and, curiously, an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This is a rather niche car because of the auto ’box and not something that will sell in vast numbers, but it is still rather nice to drive, even if the only buyers I can see it appealing to will be old ladies of either sex.
The engine puts out some 120 bhp and 300 Nm through the front wheels, resulting in a top speed of 193 kph and a 10.2 second 0-100 kph time. It is not a blistering performer by any standard, but it is very much more than adequate to fulfil any driver’s daily needs.
That it will also return a consumption figure of 4.3 l/100 km (or 65.1 mpg in old money) and has an emission rate of just 113 g/km for an annual tax bill of €200, makes it all the more appealing.
It is a personal thing, but from my own point of view, I’d prefer the three cylinder 125 bhp three-cylinder petrol EcoBoost engine, but that is something potential buyers will have to weigh up to see just how the various figures work for them.
And, although Ford insiders insist that few if any drivers will notice the difference between the rear beam axle and the control blade system seen on models higher up in the Focus food chain, I would certainly prefer to have the choice of the latter, even if the former does reveal a car with excellent handling and ride characteristics, albeit not of the same quality available at the top table.
The interior, while neat and very functional, is a touch on the dull side, but you could not but be impressed by the spaciousness and the rear legroom in particular.
Boot space is good too and with the 60:40 split rear seats, adaptable for various load-carrying duties.
Specification in Titanium trim is generous what with auto lights and wipers, ‘cornering’ fog lights, heated front seats, cruise control, dual zone climate control and an 8” Ford Sync infotainment system with navigation.
The tester added stuff like Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system which gives you adaptive cruise control with lane centering and traffic jam stop and go assist, auto high beam and sign recognition, as well as an excellent panoramic sunroof (which is a tad expensive at fourteen hundred squids).
Assessing all the varying elements that make the Focus such an appealing and desirable car, one would have to conclude that Ford has arrived at — or at least come very close — to its stated aim of producing the best car in its class.
As I have outlined, this particular version would not be my chosen cup of tea, but there is plenty more on offer across the range which will entice and beguile in equal measure. And, of course, for the hot-blooded among us, we will have a Focus ST next year and the hairy-chested (expected to be 400+ bhp) RS the following year.
The thing is though, that the regular Focus is as good as it should be and for Ford dealers and owners that is a very important thing indeed.
The Cost: €28,735 in Titanium trim - €31,815 as tested
The Engine: An excellent turbodiesel
The Specification: Comprehensive
The Overall Verdict: As good as a Focus is supposed to be