The Ford Focus has an evergreen appeal that never seems to waver.
It can usually be found near the top of the monthly new car registration lists (behind the Fiesta) and even when the last generation was getting long in tooth it was still popular with family and fleet buyers.
But of course things move on and the Focus faces increasingly strong competition from old rivals such as the VW Golf, newer challengers such as the Kia Ceed and attractive finance deals in the compact premium sector.
To maintain its dominance over such rivals, the Focus has to blend class-leading handling characteristics, big-car comfort and safety levels and keep pricing attractive.
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And it has nailed the first bit.
The steering response is excellent and the car feels very well balanced in terms of weight, body roll and stiffness of suspension.
The demonstrator I tested featured fully-independent rear suspension and continuously controlled adaptive damping. Lower-specced models get a twist-beam rear suspension, set-up which my colleague assures me still handles and rides reasonably well.
That said, the fully-independent set-up will definitely be the one to have and this will be the first iteration of the Focus where buyers will get a car that’s fundamentally less well engineered the further down the trim levels they go.
Ford Focus ST-Line X
- Price: £26,665
- Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
- Power: 118bhp
- Torque: 221lb/ft
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Top speed: 120mph
- 0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
- Economy: 56.5mpg
- CO2 emissions: 131g/km
Ford are by no means the only manufacturer doing this and it’s a way to keep increasingly complicated models competitive at both ends of the price spectrum, but buyers ought to do their research before buying and, if handling is at all a priority, make sure and clarify that the underpinnings of the demonstrator you test drive are the same as those on the car you finally option up in the dealership.
The latest interior is far cleaner than the old model, the inclusion of a touchscreen infotainment interface from launch allowing designers to vastly reduce the number of buttons and switches cluttering up the dashboard.
Our automatic model - the car featured Ford’s much-improved eight-speed transmission - is controlled via a premium-feeling rotary gear selector that is far more neat than the joystick style favoured in some models.
Our car was powered by the 1.5-litre 118bhp diesel engine which was perfectly suited to the motorway, quiet, smooth and composed when cruising but capable enough for a quick burst of acceleration when required.
I took the car on a long drive down the A1 from the central belt of Scotland into Yorkshire and back and averaged 48mpg during a fairly mixed drive, which included a rather unfortunate detour via the Tyne Tunnel due to an accident (cue much cursing as I searched for £3.60 in the various cubby holes and storage pockets in the front cabin).
That didn’t blow me away to be honest. I managed the same drive two weeks later in my own 13-year-old Mondeo and managed 61mpg in the process (if the trip computer is to be believed in a pre-dieselgate model).
The Sync 3 infotainment has impressed me no end in previous tests but it twice froze on this trip and reverted to previous destinations. Luckily I knew the route pretty well and had only put it on for comfort coming out of a traffic cone-covered Leeds city centre.
That was disappointing and was the only real black mark against a car that excels in so many other areas.
The C segment is the most competitive in Europe, buyers have so much choice and you’d struggle to go wrong whichever model you buy unless you are seriously constrained in budget or make some questionable equipment and trim choices.
The Focus is still the first car I’d consider though and in my view retains its place at the top by virtue of its handling and all-round quality.
This article first appeared on The Scotsman