One of the things I really appreciate about cars, is just how much like people they actually are. For example, cars all display family traits as well as nationality-based characteristics, while all still being uniquely different regardless of how robotised the production.
Now the Ford Focus for instance has actually managed to carve its own niche even better than its very successful predecessors ever did. It’s a no-nonsense machine blessed with a straightforward but gifted Ford chassis and a range of conventional engine options topped off by a couple of really exciting ones. It’s ultimately a repmobile of course, but it’s somehow become one of the loved ones, one of the ones that everyone appreciates for being what it is because it does it so bloody well.
A Ford Focus isn’t particularly expensive, but it’s considered stylish, reliable, cost-effective, smart, and best of all can actually handle some playful exuberance if needs be.
It’s a lot for the new Focus to live up to of course, but at first acquaintance it seems to be up to the job. Although I’ve always been more prone to hatchbacks as hatchbacks, this booted version isn’t exactly ugly, and the front end is actually really sharp. The big, bold intakes, creased bonnet and edgy light arrangement lending it an essence of unabashed cheekiness in the face.
So, for R264K for this model the 2.0 GDi Trend PowerShift, the sharp and modern lines of this new Kinect styling language are a good start, and stepping inside is certainly a new experience. The new Focus architecture is a very button-rich environment, so much so that I was surprised that I started it on the key and not on yet another button, but relieved because I might not have found the right one in the array that you’re presented with.
The controls and centre console are all shaped to suit the angular exterior, and there are a lot of them because Ford includes quite a lot of tech in the new Focus. But it creates a bit too cluttered an interior experience for my tastes, although those who apportion their own worth directly to just how many gadgets their car boasts will certainly appreciate these talents.
The 125kW 2.0-litre 4-cylinder should be enough to move the Focus along well enough to be entertaining at least, a early-90s Jetta CLi was a riot and wouldn’t have been producing as much. And yet…
Coupled to the same still-useless PowerShift auto ‘box we’ve criticised quite heavily on Volvos in the past (we couldn’t even publish the review on the C30 PowerShift in the end, which also used a 2.0-litre engine), this motor just hasn’t got anything in its arsenal. Sure it’s smooth and refined, quite efficient and revs readily enough, but there’s no zing at all, no sparkle. Not in the audio nor in what it does at your command.
At first I was certain this must be one of the new-breed of small, low-pressure turbocharged cars, perhaps a 1.4 or even 1.2. For a nat-asp 2.0-litre this engine is properly down on power. Add in a gearbox which is pretty adequate in traffic but ineffective everywhere else, with a peculiar thumb-mounted rocker switch for a manual mode which then takes 1.5 seconds to respond to any gear commands, and the overall package is a bit too bland for any further praise from us. I mean Ford don’t even quote a 0-100km/h time in their specs on this car, just a CO2 output. Says a lot I think.
Then there are the dynamics. Although the ride of this Focus is commendable, the handling is a touch on the nervous side, and gusty side winds will cause a strange feeling of disconnection between the driver and the tarmac at high speeds, making it feel very much like trying to steer a wheelbarrow with questionable traction at the front. It can be a bit disconcerting.
Sure, Ford has just unveiled the new ST based on this Focus, at the Frankfurt Auto Show, and it looks and sounds positively mouth-watering. And the high-strung sensations I felt through this vanilla Focus chassis will no doubt work beautifully in adding a slightly lairy agility to the sports model. In most circumstances the handling shows promise in this regular 4-door anyway, confident and grippy although a bit glassy in feel at the front.
And I must confess that my family fairly unexpectedly absolutely cherished this car. For some reason everyone was just all too happy to be in it, around it, interacting with it. My children named it (Carrey) on the first day and treated it like a new member of the family, stroking its flanks soothingly after a hard drive just like you might a prized race horse. My wife loved its effortlessness and modern, classy tech-laden interior. I was happy to go for destinationless jaunts in it, even if I did then moan about the shortage of power for much of the way. It’s that kind of car.
So it definitely still has the Focus magic at play here, this new one, in an even more appealing package than ever. Ford fans are going to love it more than ever too, and it’ll continue trading blows with the pricier Germans and cheaper Koreans relatively evenly.
But until the ST is officially available, don’t expect to get blown away by its performance. Bowled away by its more ephemeral charms perhaps…
Liked – New Kinect styling language.
Disliked – A weak 2.0-litre overall.
Slow and snatchy PowerShift auto ‘box.
Drive Specs: Ford Focus 2.0 GDi Trend Powershift
Engine: 1999cc four-cylinder 16V petrol
Transmission: 6-speed PowerShift
Power (kW) 125 @ 6600rpm
Torque (Nm) 202 @ 4450rpm
Kerb weight (kg) 1830
Driven wheels Front
Price R241 800
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