Ford Fo­cus ST-Line EcoBoost 150

Ford Fo­cus ST-Line EcoBoost 150 £21,805

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents -

WE SAY: IT’S NEVER HAD TO FIGHT SO HARD. GOOD THING

IT’S THE BEST ONE SO FAR

You could be for­given for think­ing nor­mal hatch­backs are be­ing oblit­er­ated in the zom­bie apoca­lypse of crossovers. Not so. Gold, sil­ver and bronze sell­ers in the UK last year were the Fi­esta, Golf and Fo­cus. So a new Fo­cus mat­ters. Mat­ters not just as a car for ev­ery­one, but as a car for us at TopGear. Over the years we’ve loved Fo­cuses muchly be­cause they drove so well.

The new one is re­ally very new. It has a longer wheel­base for more space but without having got length­ier over­all, as the new struc­ture is strong enough not to need so much beaky front over­hang. The styling is Ford-like up front, but the side view is more generic if pret­tier.

What else is new? Cabin, chas­sis, many en­gines and all trans­mis­sions, loads of tech and as­sis­tance sys­tems. Not just new but ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ent. For in­stance, the big­ger petrol en­gine has one fewer cylin­ders now, the au­to­box swaps from twin-clutch to torque-con­verter, the dash has shed half its switches, even though there’s more stuff to be switched. Within a year, the range will be bol­stered by an ST, plus hy­brids – plug-in and nor­mal – and a jacked-up plas­tic-belted quasi-cross­over ver­sion called the Ac­tive (see Fi­esta Ac­tive for de­tails).

The 125bhp 1.0-litre 3cyl is a game lit­tle en­gine, not too laggy even be­low 2,500rpm, and happy-sound­ing as it revs to 6,500rpm. So you’ve got a lot of flex­i­bil­ity. It’s smooth and quiet too. The al­ter­na­tive is a 4cyl 120bhp diesel which is a drone in com­par­i­son with the petrol, and has an an­noy­ing mid-rev res­o­nance. Guess that ver­sus ev­ery other small diesel it’s OK to drive, and if you’re stand­ing on the pave­ment, Ford prom­ises it’ll meet all emis­sion rules for the fore­see­able.

The 1.5-litre petrol 3cyl is a re­ally sweet en­gine. At launch it has 150bhp, less than the same en­gine in the Fi­esta ST but with much of the en­gag­ing and sparky na­ture in­tact, and

qui­eter with it. To save fuel when you’re not ask­ing for power, the 1.0 and 1.5 petrol en­gines can all swap from three cylin­ders to two, clos­ing the valves to the other one. That could feel like cut­ting one leg off a three-legged stool. But not at all. This de­ac­ti­va­tion hap­pens so smoothly, I could never feel the join.

Now, the sus­pen­sion. This does not eas­ily yield to gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, so I’m go­ing to need you to con­cen­trate. There are two main sub-groups. Most low-power Fo­cuses get a tor­sion-beam back axle, but the ones with the 1.5 petrol and 2.0 diesel have a devel­op­ment of what ev­ery Fo­cus hith­erto has had, the in­de­pen­dent con­trol-blade de­sign. But it ain’t that sim­ple, be­cause both those can be had in dif­fer­ent states of tune: nor­mal and ST-Line (low­ered, stiff­ened). So, four variations in all.

The first one I’m driv­ing is the boggo: tor­sion beam, non-ST-Line. Cor­ner­ing is an en­tirely san­i­tary af­fair. It’s fine. Y’know, fine… OK, not fine ac­tu­ally. Just phon­ing it in. There’s a slight rub­ber­i­ness to its re­sponses, a lack of in­ter­ac­tion, like I’m wear­ing thick gloves. Yes, it’s ag­ile, the steer­ing has well-mapped an­swers to your hands, and the car goes through any bend with su­perb re­as­sur­ance. It sim­ply fol­lows the front wheels, all the way up to the limit. And the ride is re­ally very agree­able, if a lit­tle noisy. No ma­jor chas­sis peeves, then. Bet­ter than ri­vals. Sigh.

And then I’m in a 1.5-litre petrol, with the in­de­pen­dent back end and ST-Line setup. The dif­fer­ence shines through the first time you move the wheel a quar­ter-turn. The wheel’s weight and gear­ing and pro­gres­sion haven’t changed. But there’s now an im­me­di­acy and pre­ci­sion, a sense of con­nec­tion that wasn’t there in the tor­sion set-up. Ah, the gloves are gone. You can sense its ef­forts, feel the road, play games with its an­gles.

Yet this ex­tra firm­ness doesn’t harm the ride. It eases away any sharp edges su­perbly and qui­etly. The damp­ing, too, is ter­rific, al­low­ing the wheels to breathe over small bumps but keep­ing the body in check over big crests and dips.

I as­sumed this was all about the step from tor­sion to in­de­pen­dent. But the engi­neers said the im­prove­ment can ac­tu­ally be cred­ited to the fact it had ST-Line tun­ing. So, they say, if we’d tried an ST-Line with tor­sion beam we’d have still had the pre­ci­sion, just more harsh­ness over small bumps. I guess that’s be­liev­able if the sim­i­larly en­gi­neered (and magic fun) Fi­esta ST is any guide. But they didn’t have one for us to try.

So I’d con­clude that if you want both ride and han­dling, but you’re get­ting 125bhp or less, then

“You can sense its ef­forts, feel the road, play games with its an­gles”

get an es­tate be­cause that has the in­de­pen­dent de­sign in all its ver­sions. I did drive one of those (the 1.5 diesel) and, yes, it was more re­fined than the tor­sion car and steered de­cently. But not as bril­liantly as the 1.5 petrol I drove, be­cause it didn’t have the ST-Line pack.

You can also spec adap­tive dampers. But given how good the car can be without, I can think of bet­ter homes for your op­tions cash. There you are, seven para­graphs on the chas­sis. But the his­tory of the Fo­cus has taught us that this stuff mat­ters.

Sink onto a mo­tor­way and the car re­laxes, the strongly self-cen­tring steer­ing keep­ing you in line. Might as well turn on the lane as­sist too (it’s a but­ton on the end of a stalk, so no need to drop your eyes), and it’ll smoothly nudge you away from any white-line whoop­sies. That’s stan­dard on all cars. Plus the stan­dard emer­gency auto-brak­ing sys­tem is cou­pled with ‘eva­sive steer­ing as­sist’ which nudges the wheel to help you steer to­wards an open gap, rather than plough cat­a­stroph­i­cally into some­thing solid. I didn’t test it. But nei­ther did I get any false pos­i­tives.

At the top of the Fo­cus’s op­tional as­sis­tance tree, radar cruise fol­lows the car in front and the steer­ing aims to hold the cen­tre of your mo­tor­way lane. It’s as ef­fec­tive – and as sud­denly in­ef­fec­tive, so keep watch­ing – as the stuff on top-level Volvos and Mercedes. Ac­tive mask­ing for the

LED head­lights is also avail­able, which doesn’t only blank the area around on­com­ing traf­fic so as not to daz­zle, but also uses road-sign info to aim around up­com­ing bends and round­abouts. No ri­val car has more giz­mod­ery.

In ser­vice of that tech, on the dash­top a tablet screen perches like a di­ver­sion sign. But good ol’ switches haven’t been con­signed to his­tory. The in­fo­tain­ment screen has a set of hard-key short­cuts, the cli­mate con­trol gets real knobs and but­tons, and sev­eral of the driv­ing as­sist sys­tems also get their own quick-ac­cess kill-switches.

Ford’s Sync OS works pretty in­tu­itively these days. It also does CarPlay and An­droid auto in ev­ery trim but the bog-ba­sic Style. The top-end mu­sic sys­tem is a 675-wat­ter from B&O Play.

For the driver, a pretty com­pre­hen­sive head-up dis­play is also on the op­tions menu.

The dash it­self, made in a broadly smil­ing sweep, has been moved for­ward, to make things feel roomier. The front seats don’t have lum­bar ad­just, but in other ways the driv­ing po­si­tion is fine. Stretch­ing the wheel­base and flat­ten­ing the rear floor have brought use­ful ex­tra rear room – up to any­one’s stan­dards bar Skoda’s.

ST-Line spec brings slightly bet­ter seats, red stitch­ing and a cheery dose of cabin sporti­fi­ca­tion. The other top trim, Vig­nale, is ba­si­cally a way to bun­dle in lots of tasty tech­nolo­gies that would oth­er­wise be op­tions. Yes, you get in­creased acreage of cabin leather in a Vig­nale, but that doesn’t make it an A-Class.

Pas­sen­gers and your neigh­bours might won­der why you’d get a Ford in­stead of a Merc. But you’re the one who’s driv­ing it and, oh boy, you’ll know. From be­hind the wheel, there’s no more en­joy­able mid-size hatch. And quite hon­estly, it blows the doors off all those crossovers. PAUL HORRELL

Head-up dis­play is one of the many grown-up op­tions for the Fo­cus

New Fo­cus fi­nally has fewer but­tons than a tailor­ing con­ven­tion

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