September is the month we always tend to think Ford.
The reason is simple. September, 1971, was the month our first test car arrived, a dark metallic green Ford Escort 1300 XL. We are, obviously, now quite old but in our defence it should be pointed out that when the road test wagon got under way we were in our late teens; one of us had been helping his Dad fix cars for years and had been doing paid mechanical work since the age of 13 so we were not entirely ignorant of the oily bits.
Achieving a lifetime’s ambition before the age of 20 is rare. Although the thirst for driving and writing has occasionally dimmed the lights never extinguished. The advent of low energy LEDs is probably behind the renewed enthusiasm!
Anyway, it’s fitting that we should celebrate by hitting the road in the latest Ford Focus, just launched into its fourth generation and the spiritual successor of that first Escort. What a long way things have come during the intervening almost half century. Who would have thought that touchscreens in the fascia would be a feature (never mind actually invented) or that a car would be able to recognise road signs, displaying them to warn of speed limits?
Enthusiasts have always been guilty of talking to their cars – naming them was common, too – but Ford’s SYNC3 system means you can do it to get a meaningful response. Tell the Focus you are hungry and it will tell you where to find something to eat, a feat once achieved only by your mum who, if in the car, would probably hand you a warm cheese and pickle sandwich.
When we first started out, roads were improving with new blacktop spreading out all over the country. Our first 100mph drift was achieved on the Cullompton Bypass in 1972 travelling in an Audi 100 before the road got incorporated into the M5. It still brings on a touch of misty eye whenever
we use it!
These days, road quality seems to have taken a giant leap backward. Even motorways, never mind country lanes or farm tracks, have potholes of sufficient venom to smash a wheel. So it’s more than a small comfort, quite literally, that the latest Focus has the suspension technology to react in milliseconds to a pothole, alter its settings, and minimise the impact.
The Focus has grown up considerably since the first generation launched in 1998 to dominate the UK new car market before being usurped by the Fiesta, which now probably matches the original Focus for size. But the Focus still has a major role to play for both Ford dealers and their customers; the new car is already well on the way to winning hearts and minds in Britain.
Ford started the exercise by slashing prices compared with the outgoing model and while that’s likely to mean less in the way of discounts it still means more in the way of equipment. There’s also very wide choice, the Titanium and ST-Line holding the middle ground with X models of their trim designations and the Vignale above them and the Style and Zetec models the foundations beneath.
One thing you won’t see is Ford undermining resale values with huge fleet deals, good news for the private buyers who are the mainstay of the UK market. There’s nothing worse than buying a new car only to find its maker has slashed its value through selling it at a loss to fleets, creating market volume and a false impression of success.
Where once a car of this size would have needed a 1.6 litre petrol engine as a minimum, the ST-Line five door we drove showed that a 125 PS version of the Ford 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine is more than up to the task of giving the car a lively yet economical temperament. Even the 100 PS or 85 PS motors would easily move this car.
With only 400 miles behind it, the Focus was on full song when it came to keeping up. The slick six speed gearbox, operating through a very light and comfortable clutch, ensured 50+ mpg was a meaningful and relaxed target despite the car having grown in size, much to the benefit of rear passengers.
While the ST-Line is maybe a bit firm for our old bones, the Titanium with its higher profile tyres and slightly softer ride would be ideal. Have it in estate car form, and we would be in our element.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Ford Focus ST-Line 1.0 EcoBoost petrol 125 PS
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 10.0 secs
Top speed: 124 mph
PS: 125 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 170 Nm @ 1,400 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 57.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 111 g/km
Best bits: fully-focused family Ford