It’s abundantly clear that Ford’s engineers and designers have altered pretty much everything about this new Focus. Yet one thing, they claim, has stayed the same: that it will be as good to drive as it always was. Come June we’ll be able to put that claim to the test and you bet that the new Focus ST will be Golf GTI’s keenest rival.
In the meantime, the bits that have changed. The new one is better-looking to us, and nicer-designed inside, with more room as a distinct bonus. It’s far better connected. It’s lighter overall and lower in drag, leading to better economy in the more realistic new official fuel test, which likely means in real life too. And it’s safer, not just in a crash but – with luck – avoiding one thanks to a pretty serious suite of advanced driver assists.
Last year the Fiesta was given a going-over. You’ll remember we all looked at it and let out a collective “Huh? Really?” because the design hadn’t changed much. Ford played it that way because people liked the look of the old Fiesta.
The strategy for the Focus is different. Love has died for the look of the outgoing car. So it’s been treated to a major visual rethink. A VW Golf evolves subtly, glacially. Not the Focus. If you don’t appreciate the change in the Focus’s styling, then may we respectfully point you in the direction of an optician?
You could say it’s not just the Focus, but the Focuses. Or Foci. Foccacia. Whatever, diversity is now a thing here. There are four distinct strands of Focus at the launch, each with a different grille and bumper design and different cabin atmosphere.
The regular one is the mid-spec Titanium trim. The posho Vignale comes leathered and chromed. The Active is raised and plastic clad and mildly rugged for tackling the hostility of gravel tracks or kerb’n’carpark.
Finally, and most cheerily for the likes of us, there’s an ST-line (main gallery). It has a tauter chassis, a body-kit, and red stitching on the interior. Because red stitching is worth a second a lap.
Now if they’re not taking those ST initials in vain, is there an actual full-fat ST hot-hatch in the wings? I enquire of Joe Bakaj, Ford’s chief engineer in Europe. He says the Ford Performance team is already at work at the test track. “And as they’ve got a stiffer, lighter body with a wider track and longer wheelbase and better suspension, I keep telling them they’ve obviously got an easy job.”
That body of which he speaks really is the foundation, and it isn’t just about weight and handling. Crash strength was a main concern. Bakaj tells me that if they’d attempted to modify the old Focus to reach today’s safety standards it would have been 100mm longer in the nose “and really ugly”.
Having taken a deep breath and started from scratch, they had a load more freedom. The designers took advantage. Screen pillars are further back, so the bonnet is long and dynamic-looking, the roof is lower and the wheelbase longer. The new body-shell’s new proportions don’t just affect the look, but the cabin space too. The back seat is now among the roomiest and airiest in the class.
With that foundation, the Focus can really take advantage of new engines, new design, new tech, new cabin quality and all the rest. It has the potential to be a bit of a re-boot, finally making the Focus a car with the static appeal to match its driver appeal.
The Focus did that once before, when it shocked us all by coming straight outta the Escort in 1998. It looked radical, and drove brilliantly. It recalibrated what we felt entitled to expect from a vanilla family hatch. Since then, six million – in three generations – have found homes.
These days the regular hatchback seems to have fallen out of the conversation, as everyone talks about crossovers instead. But actually hatches are still the biggest sellers, and it looks like Ford is giving the Focus the sort of attention all those buyers deserve.