Is the new Ford Focus the most important car of 2011? If you’re one of those people who contributed to the statistic that - on average - means someone in the UK buys a Focus every 7 seconds, you might think so.
First the good news. The new Focus is bigger, faster, safer, more economical, better equipped and loaded with tech compared with the old one.
Like the Volvos we’ve recently tested, the Focus can be specified with a Driver Assistance Pack. In the case of the Ford, it reads road signs to tell you what the speed limit is, has radar guided cruise control which will stop you getting too close to the car in front, and can stop you running into it altogether if you fail to react in time - by applying the brakes for you at speeds below 19mph. Not only that, but it’ll tell you to stop for a caffeine hit if it thinks you’re about to nod off into the path of an oncoming 48-tonner. Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Aid will help you stay in lane on the motorway, steering you back on course if necessary. At just £750 as an option, the pack’s amazing value and shows how sophisticated the typical family car has become.
And if your worse nightmare is parallel parking on a busy city street, there’s also Active Park Assist. Simply hit a button on the dash and the car will tell you if spaces at the side of the road are big enough for you to get into. It then takes over the steering to manoeuvre you in to the space, all for an optional £525.
Coming later in the year are Ford Sync and MyFord touch - systems from American market Fords that allow the seamless integration of phones, music players and other USB-based devices, giving driver and passenger control through the steering wheel or a touch screen. For now, the Focus has DAB, Bluetooth and a USB socket in the glove compartment, as standard, across the range.
All of which is great, except that the traditional "car" bit seems to have taken a back seat to the technology. Previous Focuses have been terrific fun to drive, and though the new one’s more refined, the driving experience no longer stands out against to the competition.
The design’s a bit questionable too. From certain angles the car looks like it’s wearing a fat suit (perhaps this is a bad point to mention, it’s been designed to sell in America as well as Europe…). There are cheap details too - those front "air intakes" are actually fake plastic panels and the way the bonnet and grille are designed makes it look like the bonnet’s not shut properly. Curiously, while the new Focus is bigger outside, there appears to be a reverse-tardis effect going on inside. The dashboard sweeps around you like a cockpit, which makes it feel snug and sporty, but for anyone over six foot space is quite tight and the boot’s actually smaller than the old car.
The Focus is priced from £15,995, the 1.6TDCi Titanium pictured here is £19,745, and prices run all the way up to around £25,000 for the top of the range diesel estate. Which is quite a lot of money for what’s still considered by most people to be a typical kind of car. But the price is indicative of how much the Focus has grown up, and its new level of sophistication. We just wish that, during the growing process, Ford hadn’t thrown away quite so much of the fun factor that characterised the old car.