By Andy Bannister
Ford is powering ahead in Europe with the launch of the latest version of its best-selling Focus, newly-facelifted to create a family resemblance to the extremely well-received third-generation Mondeo.
The European Focus is now unrelated to its North American cousin. The American version, re-bodied for 2008, is still based on the first-generation Focus, replaced on this side of the Atlantic in 2005. The European model is both costlier and positioned differently in the market, fighting lower-medium hatchback rivals like VW’s Golf (Rabbit), the Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 308 and Renault Megane.
Ford’s name for the new family styling is the “kinetic look”, and while it is not dramatically head-turning, it gives the Focus a freshened look at the front, with a much lower grille and swept-back headlights closely resembling the bigger Mondeo.
Most Europeans prefer more adaptable family cars, so the big sellers will remain the three-door and five-door hatchbacks.
After a dismal time with the Escort in the 1990s, Ford has had a dramatic success with the
Focus over ten years, and it is still a class-leading product despite some pretty tough competition.
Some 1.1 million have been sold in the UK and it accounts for 1 in 20 of the cars on British roads. The current model sells not just for its looks and space but because of a reputation for handling and ride which is way above the norm. I’ve had a couple of examples of the second-generation Focus as hire cars and they have been genuinely fun to drive.
The current range-toppers are the 2.0 litre duratorque diesel and duratec petrol variants, both
of which provide a plenty of performance. A 2.5 litre hot ST version will follow shortly.
Inside, it is a classy place to be, a world away from the low-rent interiors of Fords a few years ago which caused them to be nicknamed “Dagenham dustbins” in honour of the company’s long-established Dagenham plant in England, which no longer builds cars.
One notable absentee from the 2008 line-up is the company’s time-honoured Ghia badge, used since the 1970s to denote a top-of-the-range model. Personally I think that’s a bit of a shame, as the Ghia name and badge is almost as instantly recognisable as the Ford blue oval itself, but the company thinks it has had its day. The luxury Focus is now called Titanium.
As well as the hatchbacks, a full line-up of other Focus bodystyles remain available in Europe. The notchback saloon is almost invisible in the UK but sells better in some central European markets. There is a very useful estate car, plus an MPV – the C-Max – which technically is no longer sold as part of the Focus family.
The most elegant Focus – the latest version of which will debut at next month’s Geneva Motor Show, is the stylish Coupé-Cabriolet with its retractable hardtop. This is built for Ford in Italy by coachbuilder Pininfarina.
There is more to come in 2009. Ford has recently released a
“teaser” picture of the new Focus RS, which is set to revive the famous Rally Sport badge appended to the very fastest Ford specials. No details are available yet but this sporting flagship will sit above the already impressive ST model.
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