(Pocket-lint) - It's difficult to ignore the Ford Focus. With an impressive 83,816 of them sold in the UK in 2015, it's also difficult to drive anywhere without seeing one.
So this might be the UK's best selling hatch, edging out the Golf marginally, but there's no escaping the fact Ford has something of an image problem here in Blighty. The company knows it too if the most recent "Unlearn" marketing campaign is anything to go by.
We're always game for a re-education, so we slipped into the driving seat of the Ford Focus Black Edition. True to form, the Focus left its mark.
Ford Focus review: Special edition design
The Ford Focus Black Edition isn't a regular Focus, it's a special edition. Following similar colour theme specials on the Fiesta, the bigger Ford now has its chance, with Black and Red special edition models on offer. It's a Ford Focus Zetec S underneath that paint job, but rolling out here in Shadow Black, with a red roof, wing mirrors, grille surround and detailing around the nose and tail.
It's a colour combination that turns heads, as many of the Ford Focus cars out on the roads are a safe silver-grey. Rear privacy glass adds to the gangster looks, and sitting at traffic lights, there were plenty of admiring glances - something that a regular Ford Focus won't always get.
Red brake callipers sitting behind the 17-inch black alloy wheels adding to the hot hatch looks, although the Black Edition doesn't go the whole hog and give you the bigger grille of the Focus ST, or the dual rear pipes. The new family grille is more reminiscent of Aston Martin than Dagenham's finest, and now runs throughout the range, relieving the Focus of the slightly slitted front opening it previously wore. Over time, the Focus appears to have opened its mouth and squinted its eyes, getting more and more angry. The Style and Zetec are the least angry, the Focus RS, definitely the most.
Importantly, however, you can't spec-up a cheaper model Focus to look like this. You can opt for the Shadow Black paint job, but you can't get all the other options, meaning these special editions remain just that. Whether that justifies the asking price, which in the case of the Black Edition sees it at some £2,000 more than the Zetec S, perhaps remains open to question.
Ford Focus review: Interior comforts
The Black Edition finds itself with added red stitching on its seats, mats and around the leather steering wheel and handbrake, which add to the details. That's paired with sports pedals and sporty seats that give some support in those faster corners - but leather isn't an option, so you're limited to fabric seats only.
Those seats are comfortable, however, and generally speaking we think Ford makes great seats regardless of the finish you choose. It's difficult to ignore that for the a similar price you could have a Titanium X with partial leather seats, so choosing your Focus model might pose something of a challenge.
The Focus interior is surprisingly spacious, however. There's plenty of room in the backseats for the passengers and the rear seats don't squash you in, so you'll get a couple of adults in the back if you need to. That's paired with a boot capacity of 316-litres which isn't the biggest in its class (it's smaller than the Golf), so might be a practical consideration for those wanting to load-up the car for longer journeys.
The Focus mostly uses soft-touch plastic for the dash and we like that the driver's display cowl has ridges to match those of the bonnet, bringing a little exterior design to the interior. Most of the facing surfaces are matte plastic and this saves from the fingerprint smears that glossy finishes suffer.
It's not the plushest interior out there - the likes of Mini is more creative and Audi is higher quality - but things are logically placed for the most part. The driving controls fall nicely under the fingers, with plenty on the steering wheel to enable you keep, um, focus on the road and a switch gear that's positive enough.
The climate control is easy enough to use and there's an array of controls for the infotainment system, although much is pushed to the central Ford Sync touch display. Here, big clear dials are conventional, with a central digital area to convey a little more information to the driver and letting you loop though things like your averages and so on.
Ford Focus review: Technology treats
Ford has been making a lot of noise about Sync recently and our review model came with Ford Sync2 DAB Navigation - an upgraded option that'll cost you £300. Everything is centred around that 8-inch touch display, which breaks down into four major sections: phone, entertainment, navigation and settings.
These big sections make navigation pretty easy to touch your way into the segment you want and means you don't need corresponding buttons for each around the dash, which most rivals still carry. There are convenience features aplenty, as right from the home screen you can see where you are, what you're listening to, as well as being able to punch the do not disturb button for your phone.
That last option might be appealing, because once connected to a compatible device (we used the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge) you'll find that that Sync is ready to handle your calls, as well as read your messages out loud, if you want it to. It's a pretty comprehensive system and we like that it extends to compatible apps too. For example, when connected via Bluetooth, Sync is happy to handle Spotify via the phone with no fuss, giving track information, as well as controls (something that doesn't always happen with Apple CarPlay at this point in time - not that Ford offers it.)
There are a range of input options for connecting different media types, as well as a handy USB connection in the centre console, and a place to stash your phone, which is all very convenient.
There's a leaning toward voice control, but we found this to be more frustrating than useful. Voice control systems are a little hit-and-miss in cars, and something you definitely learn over time, but we found that trying to control the navigation system via voice was difficult. As with many in-car navigation systems, they make for a tidy interior, but often struggle to compete with something like TomTom, which we've generally found makes for the better navigation solution.
The Black Edition we tested was also equipped with reverse parking sensors, handy for those who might not know how small a space they can squeeze the Focus into. However, with good visibility all round, we've found that the Focus is pretty easy to park. There's the option for a rear view camera too (£250), if you're still struggling.
There are a few additional tech packages, including things like cruise control, although you don't get the full run of options that you do on the other models, such as adaptive cruise control or active parking. The idea of this special edition is to give you a good spec for the money, rather than lots of options.
Push-to-start is standard, meaning you can leave the key in your pocket during driving, although you'll need to get it out to lock and unlock the doors. Automatic folding mirrors add a premium highlight, as well as tucking them out of the way so they're less likely to be hit by passing traffic when you're parked on the street.
Ford Focus review: Behind the wheel, ahead of the curve
The thing that perhaps takes people by surprise, no matter how many times it's written down, is that the handling of the Ford Focus is very good. This has been true for a number of generations and remains true of the current model - from the very basic, through to the racing models at the top of the ladder.
Based on the Zetec S, this special edition is a little sportier than the basic spec, with firmer sports suspension. On the road handling and cornering feels dynamic, so if you like to throw the car into corners hard you'll find it responds well, with little body roll. The slightly stiffer suspension doesn't give a ride that's too harsh and we found it handled suburban speed bumps nicely for a comfortable ride, neither too jarring nor too wallowing. The steering is light, though, getting heavier with speed, although we feel things are a little too light and it could do with being a little weightier for a more connected feeling.
The Focus is also pretty quiet. Its 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine under the hood isn't noisy and that gives a surprisingly sophisticated feeling inside the cabin. The interior might not be the most plush, but you're not sitting in a noisy cabin either. That engine is paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox, with a clutch that's light and forgiving to drive. For those wanting an easy drive, the Focus certainly delivers it: it's a car that's easy to live with day-to-day, yet fun to drive.
With 182bhp, this particular Focus model is lively, without jumping to the exhilaration of the ST, which is only a few hundred pounds more in price. However, with this EcoBoost engine you're looking at 8.5-seconds to hit 62mph, so it isn't an especially speedy car. There's plenty of power for a fun and responsive drive around urban areas, but there's a lack of grunt once you're up to higher speeds: put your foot down when travelling at speed on the motorway and it takes a little time to get you going while working the engine hard. There's a 2-litre diesel option, if that's you're preference.
The engine sounds its most fun with a lively purr when you're up around the 3,000rpm mark and sitting above the turbo, but that's a reward you only really get when faced with an open road, or pulling onto the motorway. The return is entirely reasonable fuel economy that we found stayed on the top side of 40mpg, without us really trying to drive economically.
The Ford Focus' success brings with it a label that it's common. There are Focus models on the road everywhere you look. But for those looking for a new hatchback, to not consider the Ford Focus is to deny yourself one of the top cars on the road in this class.
This Black Edition is a well specified model with distinctive looks, so while there's a growing number of STs out there for the racers, and plenty of other regular models, if you want to stand out then you're rewarded aplenty with this special edition.
However, for those looking for pure value for money, the proximity in pricing to the Titanium or ST1 models makes this special edition feel as though it's perhaps a few thousand pounds more expensive than it should be. Being expensive poses something of a challenge, because there's the VW Golf, Mini and Audi A3 waiting in the wings to tempt you away from your money. That said, oping for the pure Zetec S model gives you much the same car with more available options for less money.
The Ford Focus continues to be one of the most compelling five-door hatches on the road and maybe Ford is right. Maybe it is time to unlearn what many think about the Focus. Instead of seeing it as a "common" car, let's take it on its strengths instead. Of which there are many.