2017 Ford Focus Estate 1.5 TDCi 120 Titanium (I)

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The Ford Focus is one of those models which barely needs any introduction, as it is one of the most ubiquitous of modern cars. Depending on exactly how you count sales, it may even be the world’s annual best seller, although Toyota would have you believe otherwise, if they look at their Corolla. In Britain, and indeed Europe, though, there is no question, it is the Ford that outsells the Japanese marque by some considerable margin, and whilst the Focus rarely tops the UK Sales Charts these days, it is usually to be found in the top three, and it does generally outsell its main rivals, the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra, on a consistent basis. You don’t generally achieve such success in the market unless the car is pretty decent. That means meeting the needs of large numbers of the buying public, and ever since the Focus arrived on the market in late 1998, to replace the long-running and sometimes rather lack-lustre Escort, Ford’s medium-sized family car has indeed been among the class leaders, impressing all who came across it with a range of qualities from being good to drive, as well as practical and being a sensible ownership proposition, with realistic pricing, good dealer support and good levels of reliability. Such are the pressures of the market these days, that producing a “good” car is no long enough, as there is constant demand for something new and that includes not just in appearance but also the latest technology, with innovation coming at a relentless pace, so it was no surprise that Ford did not sit on their laurels for too long after releasing the third generation Focus to the world’s buyers in early 2011, before thinking of an update. The facelifted car appeared in early 2014, and although at a quick glance, you might think little had changed, once you got past the tidied up styling, with a new nose that looked less fussy, incorporating a larger grille, much as the Fiesta had done in its md-life update a few months earlier, as well as new lights front and back, and indeed all the sort of visual tweaks that typically come on the mid-cycle update these days, but delve more deeply and you would discover that there were plenty of alterations. New styling detail was only the start, with revised engines, a number of tweaks to improve refinement, a revised dashboard to counter criticisms of the overly button-laden first attempt, and more equipment and the latest technology upgrades were added. Nothing earth shattering, perhaps, but Ford clearly hoped that this would be sufficient not just to create more column inches of the launch and to keep the showroom traffic interested in the car despite the arrival of all-new models from many of the Ford’s rivals.

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Just as it took a surprisingly long time after the launch of the third generation Focus before I managed to get behind the wheel of it, so it has taken me even longer to sample the facelifted model. Once the doyen of the Hertz UK rental fleet, it would seem that at present, there are only a handful on offer, with Hertz having switched to more crossover type vehicles (and more plentiful upgrades from the category). However, on arriving at Pisa airport for a five day vacation in Tuscany, I found I had been allocated one, and it is just as well I wanted to drive one, as this was pretty much all they had available, in the category of rental car I had booked. This was also going to be my first experience of the Estate body on the third generation Focus.

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One of the things that changed with the facelift was the engine. The much praised 1 litre Ecoboost units remain as the entry point for petrol-powered cars, and the top of the non-sporting range still has a 2 litre TDCi diesel unit available, with a small power boost, and now Euro 6 compliant, but the 1.6 litre cars, in both petrol and diesel forms have gone, to be replaced by smaller capacity 1.5 units. These are not all-new units, but an update of what went on before, with revised internal components, and new inlet and exhaust systems, aimed at improving efficiency and emissions performance, without any penalty for the driver. My test car was, not surprisingly, the diesel. There is no badging on the Focus to tell you that this is the case and were it not for the big sticker that Hertz sticks on the fuel filler flap (that I moved for photography purposes), you might just be fooled, sufficiently devoid of diesel-like clatter is the revised engine. A bit more research revealed that I had the more potent of the two available units, which generates 120 bhp, and it was under the bonnet of a rental car that was showing just a few kms short of 2000 km on its odometer when I collected it. When you first fire the engine – which is now a keyless process, so using the button to the right of the wheel where the key slot used to be – there is none of that once traditional diesel rattle which left you in no doubt, no matter how refined the car proved to be once underway. This sounds almost like a modern petrol, and that continues to be the case once underway or even when you come to a standstill in traffic or at the toll booths that are a feature of entry and exit on Italian autostrada. Confirmation that you will need to grab the black pump when refuelling is necessary – and that could be a while away, as the car told me that the range was 950km when I got in it – comes from the amount of torque that is available, something you just don’t get in modern petrol engines, where frequent gear-changing is the antidote to the impressive-sounding officially claimed emissions figures. To get the best out of this car, you will need to change gears quite a lot, but that is no hardship, as the clutch is light and the gearchange is very precise, with just the right level of resistance in the mechanism to give you a clean and crisp feel without feeling any undue resistance. The ratios seem well chosen, with a nice tall sixth gear, but still with some acceleration available, though once speed drops away, you will need to drop down at least one if not two gears to build it back up again. You never get the feeling that the engine has been optimised for the sole purpose of fuel economy. It pulls well and feels potent enough in ordinary motoring. There is a gearchange indicator in the instrument panel, and like most systems of its type, it suggests you change up a bit earlier than your natural inclination would suggest, though it is not as “economy at all costs” oriented as some I have encountered. Drive the Focus as you see fit, and the 120 bhp seems perfectly adequate. There’s generally good acceleration, especially once all those torques are available, and once you are at a steadier speed, the gearing means that you can cruise with the engine spinning at low revs, which makes for a peaceful journey. Indeed, noise levels are pretty well suppressed. Ford improved this with the facelifted car, by fitting thicker carpets and side glass and more insulation between the engine bay and the passenger compartment and the result is that there is little audible interference from the engine, the wind or the road. That initial estimate of fuel range proved pretty accurate, though my nerve failed me before totalling 900km, at which point I filled the tank. Consumption averaged out at 54.9mpg, which is good but not spectacular, and some way off averages I have seen from the VW Group 1.6 TDi equipped cars. Given the mix of road types, from autostrada cruising, to some ascents in the mountains, rural roads and a bit of urban traffic, where the Stop/Start system will cut in and out unobtrusively, I would say that this is the sort of figure an owner would likely achieve over a longer tenure than my five day test.

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What made earlier Focus models, even the most humble ones, stand out from their competitors was the steering and handling, which were a cut far above all rivals. With this generation, the general consensus was that the Ford’s lead in this regard had narrowed, thanks to the competition being better and this Focus not being quite as sharp as its predecessor. I did not disagree with that when testing the pre-facelift cars, and found them still good. There have been further changes for the facelifted cars. The stiffness of the Focus’s frontal structure has been enhanced by the use of a stronger arc welding technique and some thicker brackets in the engine bay. There has been a fine-tuning of a number of chassis components, with the suspension geometry, control arm bush stiffness and dampers all fettled for a better sense of connectedness with the road, and Ford’s engineers have also concerned themselves with what happens at the limit of that connection, with what is claimed to be a car industry first with the introduction of the “Enhanced Transitional Stability” system. This is claimed to be able to predict when a skid might occur and apply the brakes individually to counteract the condition before the worst can occur. I had no reason to test this out, but I certainly could experience the retuned electric power steering, which Ford will tell you gives a “more instinctive reaction”. Net of all these changes is that from behind the wheel, the Focus is still good. There is a nice feel to the steering, still, even if it is no longer the clear class leader, and the car goes round bends very nicely. There’s nowhere near as much power in this car as there in some versions using the same chassis, so it should surprise no-one that it clearly feels well up to the challenge, with negligible body roll, and the ability to tackle the twisty bits with some gusty being something that every Focus driver could take for pretty much granted. There’s no penalty with the ride, either, as the Ford handles the very varied surfaces that comprise Italy’s road network with no difficulty ad plenty of comfort. Unlike most of its rivals, there is still a proper mechanical pull-up handbrake fitted to the Focus. On left hand drive models, it is on the driver’s side of the central console, and all the better for so being. Visibility was generally good, with no significant blind spots. There is a rear-view camera fitted, which projects a clear colour image onto the central display screen, making it very easy to judge the amount of space behind the car, useful when manoeuvering in car parks and other tight spots, something you will experience in Italy. The driver’s door mirror has an outer portion which has a different field of view, which helps to eliminate any blind spots, though it was a shame to note that the side air vents reflected quite badly into the mirror area and this mirror surface compounded the problem.

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One of the biggest criticisms made of the third generation Focus at launch, was of its interior. Despite Ford claiming that it was more “premium” than in the predecessor car, everyone else thought that while it was generally acceptable, it was nowhere near as impressive as its maker wanted us to believe, and the layout especially of the central part of the dash seemed to accord with the “if I give you more buttons, that is goodness” approach that several manufacturers adopted as they loaded their cars with more standard features. Attending to these aspects was clearly on Ford’s list of things to address with the facelift. And they have. It is not without a precedent for a car to be given a completely new dashboard mid-way through production, but very rare, and so it is no surprise that even give the huge economies of scale that Ford must get from the production volumes of the Focus, they have refined and improved what was there, rather than started again. At a quick glance, unless you were very familiar with the earlier car, you might even think that nothing much has changed. The overall design is the same. That means some rather awkward and fussy shapes which militate against a clean and simple look, and even make it difficult to line up lines and angles from the dash with the door casings (they still don’t). The instrument pack has not changed, but then it probably did not need to. You still get some unusual, and rather distinctive turquoise-coloured needles in the dials, and these are still recessed in slightly stylised-shaped surrounds, with larger rev counter on the left and speedo on the right sitting either side of a smaller pair of water temperature and fuel level gauges, below the digital information display area. The contents of that are selected from using the collection of buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke, as is customary with most Fords these days. There are several menus, each with sub-menus, to cover trip mileage data, settings and service info. The dials are all clearly marked and easy to read, and once I found the digital speed repeater setting, I was happy (I get so used to these now!). There are still a pair of column stalks, with lights operated from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. It proved too easy to catch the small button in the end of the wiper stalk, which smeared the rear window, when you just wanted to flick the front screen clear. The steering wheel is now a three spoke one, with audio repeater controls on the right hand spoke, the on -board computer selections on the left and a separate pod for the cruise control also set to the lower left. The wheel is leather trimmed, and proved quite agreeable to hold. It is the centre of the dash which has changed. There is now a much larger touch-sensitive colour display screen right in the middle, and below this are vastly simplified and a reduced number of knobs and buttons for the audio unit and dual zone climate control. Gone is the telephone key-pad style collection of buttons that feature before, Now you get just the essentials for tuning the radio and the volume controls, and below this instead of the array of climate control buttons, and rotary dials, there is a much simpler set up as well. This is all a big improvement. The infotainment display proved easy to use, though I had to smile at the truly terrible Italian pronunciation of street names and places from the satellite navigation. It was so comic that even I – who only have a basic command of Italian words – struggled to grasp what the voice was saying. Also thankfully absent from this spec, at least, are the awful inlays that manage to look simply tawdry. Instead you get an almost completely black dash, with just some subtle metal highlights around air vents and on the steering wheel spokes, and some very dark inlays that are almost seamless with the main dash moulding itself. It’s still not up to Golf standards, or even Seat Leon standard, but it is a lot better than before.

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The rest of the cabin is very much as before. It proved easy to get comfortable. Everything you need to adjust is manual, with a bar under the seat for fore/aft and levers on the side of the seat for everything else. The turnwheel to alter backrest rake has been moved a bit further forward on the seat so it is no longer trapped between the seat and the door pillar. There is a height adjuster for the driver, but even in this Titanium spec model, that luxury is denied the front passenger. The steering column has a telescoping in/out as well as up/down adjuster fitted, so it was not hard to set the driving position to suit me. And when done, I was able to sit comfortably for a couple of long-ish days behind the wheel when heading south to Perugia and north to Modena. Couple this with the low noise levels, and this is definitely a car that you could take on a long journey and not feel it, something that used to require a class or two’s upgrade to achieve.

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There should be few complaints from anyone who has to sit in the back, either. Cars in this class tend to have dimensions, packaging and space within millimetres of each other, so the Focus is no better or worse than any of its rivals. Legroom only becomes tight if the front is set as far back as it will go and the backrest well reclined. With a less extreme setting, there are perfectly acceptable amounts of leg room available. There’s not much of central tunnel to get in the way of legs for a middle seat occupant, so it will be shoulder room that is the limiting factor. Second row players may struggle, but averagely-sized adults should fit, and they will also find that there is sufficient headroom.

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The whole raison d’etre for the Estate, of course, is so you can carry more luggage, and here the Focus will not disappoint. There is a good sized boot, a nice regular shape. It is wider than its main rivals, the Golf and Astra, though not quite as long There are a pair of cubby holes in the side trim, for bits and pieces and also a bit of space under the boot floor. The rear seats are split asymmetrically, and you need to pull up the seat cushion before dropping the backrests down to create that extra long load platform. The result is a nicely flat luggage area and with the benefit of the rear seats forming a barrier to the front seats, and with a floor that is flush with the base of the tailgate. There are plenty of places inside the cabin for odds and ends. There is a good-sized glove box, some modest bins on all four doors, a cubby under the central armrest, and there are little stowage areas in the centre console. Rear seat passengers get map pockets in the back of the front seats, and there are moulded areas between the seat and rear doors for a few smaller items.

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Ford have long been the master at offering a comprehensive range of different model variants to suit every taste and budget, and that is still true for the Focus. Whilst the basic trim choices are the same for the model across Europe, there are some subtle differences, as I found when researching the specifications to be able to write this review. In Italy there is one fewer trim variant than there is in the UK, for instance. Starting point in the Italian range is the Plus, which corresponds with the Zetec in the UK, and there are then Titanium and Titanium X as well as ST-Line cars before you get to the overtly sporting ST and the Hatch only RS. There is no badging on the car to tell you what trim you have. It was clear right from the outset that my rental car was well equipped, with features you would not expect in an entry level model, so I was not surprised when perusal of Ford Italia’s website revealed that I had got a Titanium. Even the Plus comes with a good level of kit these days. Key features include: an Active Grille Shutter on Ecoboost and the 2.0 TDCi 150 bhp model; Curtain airbags – front and rear, Side airbags and Passenger side airbags with active passenger sensing; front electric windows with one-touch opening / closing; ISOFIX Connections; remote central locking; manual air conditioning; an on-board computer; a central console with 2 cup holders, 12V socket and USB; the Easy Fuel (capless filling system); Ecomode (eco-sustainable driving mode); Electronic Stability Control – ESC (Electronic Stability Control); Emergency Brake Assist – EBA (Emergency Brake Assist, Automatic Emergency Lights); Hill Start Assist (uphill assistance); MyKey (customisable key); central rear headrests; Radio / CD MP3 – with 3.5 “screen, USB, 6 speakers, radio controls at the wheel; electrically adjustable rear view mirrors with indicator lights in the housing; manual seat height and depth adjustment; split folding seats 60/40; Start & Stop and a leather steering wheel and gear lever. Key features of the Titanium model include: 16” alloys; LED daytime running lights; front fog lights; chromed exterior and interior inserts; rear electric windows with opening / closing system in 1 shot, dual-zone automated climate control; a “Premium Upgrade” centre console – with sliding armrest, 2 covered cup holders, 12V socket, USB, CD holder; Cruise Control with Speed Limiter – ASLD; keyless starting and keyless opening and closing of the car; heated rear view mirrors with direction indicators set in their casing; lumbar support on the driver’s seat; sports seats; rear seats with central armrest with integrated cupholder compartment; the SYNC 3 8″ colour Touch Screen. The Titanium X adds 17 “alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, LED Multicolour rear lights, the driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, heated front seats, partial leather covering for the seats, the SYNC 3 Touch Navigation System with the 8” display, and the Visibility Pack (automatic headlights, rain sensor, photochromic internal rear view mirror). Costing the same as the Titanium, the ST-Line, a trim introduced in mid 2016, to take the place of Zetec S and to give the illusion of sportiness without the extra power of the full-on ST, has: Sports styling add-ons including a honeycomb mesh grille; an ST-Line Side Badge; 17 “Rock Metallic Alloy Wheels; front fog lights; Daytime and daytime LED daytime running lights; sport front and back bumper, coloured sports side skirts; metal pedals; sports suspension; heated rear view mirrors incorporating direction indicators; sports seats with red stitching; a sports steering wheel and gear knob in leather; Paddle Shifters on the steering wheel with the Powershift gearbox, including Cruise Control; the Premium central console – with sliding armrest, 2 covered cup holders, 12V socket, USB, CD holder and SYNC, only on the 1.5 EcoBoost 150 bhp model. Once you’ve chosen from that, there’s the options list to peruse. Clearly, the test car had the optional Navigation system that is only standard in a Titanium X, and the Moondust Silver metallic paint is a cost option (the only no charge colour is a solid red, at present). You need then to select an engine from the array of petrol, diesel, and in Italy GPL versions, as well as considering whether an Electric model would suit. And then there is the transmission – six speed manual or the Powershift automatic, which based on past experience, you would be well advised to avoid.

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This was the fifth Focus of this generation, in Europe, that I’ve experienced, and it was conclusively the best. Whilst there are no really stand-out attributes which propel the car above its rivals, nor are there any weak points which should give anyone a good reason to reject the car out of hand. It goes well, is quiet and smooth, is decently frugal, proves very agreeable to drive with good on the road dynamics, it is comfortable and well up to the challenge of carrying a family and its belongings, there is a good level of equipment (£500 for the Navigation system is probably money well spent, otherwise it wants for nothing, really).

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