2009 Ford Focus 1.6i Zetec 5dr (GB)

Doyen of many a rental fleet, the Ford Focus is a familiar car to most people. The Mark 2 model has been on sale for just over 5 years now, and during that time, has occasioned more than a few reviews on this site, so I did wonder whether it was appropriate to provide a full Road Test, on completion of yet another Focus rental. Two things swayed me to do so: although there were a number of reports written (indeed the very first ever test published on this site in 2007 was of a Focus), none survived the move to a new server last summer, and so there are currently no tests published on the site, and – surprising as it may seem – with the exception of a 25 mile rental some eighteen months ago, this is actually the first time I have driven the facelifted model that appeared in early 2008.

The test car was the big selling 5 door model, in 1.6 Zetec trim. Although near to the bottom of the range, Ford wants an unbelievable £18,279 for this car, even before you add any options. And it is likely you will, as most of the surprisingly limited range of paint finishes on offer are a metallic, which costs a further £434.24. So, whilst I would imagine that any retail customer should be able to secure a significant saving from this ambitious price tag, it is in the light of this cost that the Focus – several thousands of pounds more costly than many key rivals – should be assessed. Is it worth the money?

When the second generation Focus first appeared, there were two different levels of power available from the 1.6 litre engines. With the facelifted model, and a 1.8 petrol reintroduced into the range, Ford standardised on the 99 bhp less powerful Duratec motor, with the 115 bhp version available solely in the three door Zetec S model. The last times I had driven a Focus with this engine, I had been far from convinced that it was up to the task of powering the car. Maybe those were bad examples and this test car was a good one, I don’t know, but I found the engine in this particular car to be perfectly adequate. It is definitely no better than that, as it lacks both power and torque to make the Focus feel fast. It does not have a particularly distinctive timbre associated with its efforts, but it is smooth enough and not unduly vocal. To make decent progress, you will need to use the gears quite a bit. Fortunately, the gear change is very good, with the lever slotting readily from ratio to ratio.

What really sets the Focus apart from all its competitors is its steering and handling. Indeed, I cannot think of any mass market car that even gets close, and given that the Focus has been the class leader in this regard since its introduction in 1998, it is surprising that no-one else has even got close. The steering is light, but not unduly so, and so utterly precise that you find yourself longing for any unstraight piece of road just so you can experience it again. With the snow and ice now gone, a few miles on country roads gave me the chance to enjoy the handling characteristics too. Sadly, I did then have cause to wonder just how marvellous the Focus would be if it had a truly class-leading engine to go with it. Maybe the third generation model with the new efficient turbo designs that Ford will unveil will be that car, but it is not there yet. The dynamic excellence does not come at the expense of the ride, either, which is also good, delivering a smooth progression over the varied and ever more potholed surfaces of Britain’s streets.

No matter how good any car in this most competitive segment of the market might be on the road, if the interior fails to hit the mark it will still struggle. Ford have hit the mark pretty well, here. There is ample room for 5 adults, and a reasonable amount of luggage. The boot is among the larger in the class, and it can be extended by lifting the rear seat cushions, and dropping the asymmetrically split backrests into the space created. Whilst the load floor is not quite flat, it is not far off, and I always prefer the idea of a barrier to protect the front seats. The whole operation is easy, as is the removal of the parcel shelf, which simply slots into place, and has two hangers which clip onto the tailgate. In the cabin, a reasonable sized glovebox is augmented by cup recesses in the centre console area, and door pockets which have quite a high side to them so nothing would fall out, but they are quite narrow and hence not that easy to use.
One of the new features introduced by the facelift were some new seat  trims, and this rather odd texture appears in the Zetec model. It is certainly different. The seats proved comfortable, and in this trim have a lumbar adjuster as well as the other means of getting the seat to the desired position. Many have complained that the seat will not go low enough. I usually am one of these people who sets any seat as low as it will go, but I did not have an undue problem with this Focus. Perhaps it is a consequence of all the SUVs that I have driven lately.

I have been among the more trenchant critics of the rather unfortunate silver plating that Ford have applied to the dash of many of their cars in an effort to make them look more “classy”. The Focus does not escape the treatment, with an application of this class to the centre of the dash and between the main instrument dials. Maybe I am simply getting used to it, or perhaps it was not quite so irredeemably shiny, but it did not grate quite as badly here as in other Fords. What did was the surprising gap between the dash and the door – not something that I have noticed on previous Focus models. The dash itself is moulded from a soft touch plastic, and is of decent enough quality. The main dials comprise a speedo, rev counter and smaller ones for water temperature and fuel level. A trip computer display – selected from a button in the left hand column stalk cycles through various data points around average speed and fuel consumption, range, and outside temperature. Column mounted controls allow you to alter many of the settings for the radio/CD player without taking your hands off the wheel, through the entertainment system unit itself is easy to use. Zetec trim brings you air conditioning, and Ford’s heated front screen which dispatched the overnight frost in super quick time. With the rear window heater on, selection of reverse gear caused the rear wiper to sweep, which I thought a nice touch.  The handbrake, a pull up lever in between the seats, had a very short travel on it, and even when the lever was set, was quite low in the left hand side of the console moulding, meaning it was just a touch awkward to operate. Everything else about the controls comes to hand perfectly, and the Focus scores very highly for ergonomics.

Motoring journalists in the UK all rate the Focus as the best in its class. It is true that it is a car with no weak points, and that sublime steering feel and handling. It would benefit from better engines, and if Ford thinks it has endowed the car with a classy interior, they need to visit VW and Audi to see how ill-informed they may be. But I come back to the stumbling point. The price. This car is £6000 more than a Kia Cee’d, and whilst it might be a slightly better car, it is simply not worth that sort of price premium. Even the Golf, long criticised for being too costly, is cheaper. I know that you could perhaps negotiate something of a discount, but not £6000. For company car buyers, where the BIK tax is assessed on list price, I would have thought that the market will be killed stone dead by prices like this.

2010-01-26 14:47:03

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