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Click to view road test review picture galleryGood news for Ford
  owners is that the
  latest, sharply-styled
  Focus models are now
  in UK showrooms just
  waiting to be taken for
  a test drive. You won’t
  be disappointed...”

THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY HAS ALSO CONFIRMED that it is to strengthen its UK dealer network to capitalise on their new product offensive with the specific aim of reaching more private retail customers. With the new Mondeo range already in the market, the latest Focus models now reaching the streets, the Kuga (the Blue Oval's new medium SUV), the replacement Fiesta and the soon-to-appear new Ka replacement, there's undoubtedly a lot to talk to potential customers about.

Which is why, over the next two years, Ford wants to add 50 pri-vately-owned dealers to it network — bringing it up to a total of 248 sales and service outlets. Acknowledging that retail customers tend to buy locally, Ford's new retail outlets will be located mainly in small towns — in the recent past they have concentrated on sites in large cities. Some of the new dealers already added are in Illminster, Somerset, Pontardawe in South Wales, Malmesbury in Wiltshire and Cupar, Scotland. Nine more will be appointed by the end of March (2008) and five more by the end of June.

Ford has been the top-selling brand in the UK for more than 30 years and last year it sold 348,982 passenger cars here. In January this year they increased their retail sales by 20 per cent, although their overall sales were down by 5.3 per cent in a market that showed a decrease in new car sales of 2.1 per cent. The outgoing Focus was still the overall top-selling model in the UK in January, with 9,657 registrations. Since the original Focus was launched in 1998, almost 1,120,000 new Focus cars have been delivered to UK customers out of a total of five million produced in Europe. In 2007, the Focus retained it UK top-selling spot with 126,928 sales. Focus, you have to admit, is Popular!

The latest Focus models are not totally new, but Ford says the changes are far more extensive than is usual for a model range undergoing the usual mid-life update.

For a start, the latest Focus models adopt Ford's crisper 'kinetic' ex-terior styling look, coupled with enhanced interior quality and better equipment levels — and for more or less the same price as the outgoing models. This relatively-new policy introduced by Ford for their latest Mondeo models in 2007 is aimed at getting customers, especially retail buyers, back to Ford and restoring 'pride of ownership'.

With drive-away prices from £11,945, the new Focus is just £250 more than the equivalent outgoing model. But all versions now include ESP (electronic stability programme) as standard. Previously it was a £250 option.

Petrol models traditionally account for 65 per cent of Focus sales in the UK but, with the introduction of their Econetic lower CO2 derivatives, Ford expects the diesel share to increase. Retail customers traditionally account for 35 per cent of total Focus UK sales but Ford says that this share will also increase (as it has with Mondeo) due to the new design, added value specification and by having more dealers.

In the past, five-door models have been the most popular, taking an average 79 per cent of total Focus sales in this country. Three-door models only account for seven per cent; four-door saloons just two per cent; and estates 12 per cent. However, the interest in estates cars of this size is growing as customers down-size from larger D-segment vehicles to save money.

Ford expects the 1.6-litre petrol models to continue to be the main sellers but the new lower CO2 1.6-litre turbodiesel models will claim an increasing share of overall sales because of the increase in fuel and taxation costs, especially as many diesel models have CO2 figures of 120g/km or less which, from October 2008, makes them exempt from the London Congestion Charges.

The new Focus range comes to market with three-door, four-door, five-door and estate body styles. Sporting ST-badged flagship variants arrive in April and Coupé-Cabriolet CC versions in May (2008). Prices start at £11,945 and rise to £20,595 for the top-of-the-range ST-3 five-door sports model. CC prices have yet to be confirmed.

Apart from the sharper styling, much improved interior quality with soft-feel trim plus vastly improved sound-proofing for a much quieter ride, and new instruments and better positioned controls, the mainstay Focus is very much the same as before. However, the revised elec-tronics for the existing range of engines is well timed so the resulting improvement in fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions will be added reasons to buy.

All the body panels except the roof (and the windscreen and side window glass)have been changed for the latest generation Focus. Other aspects of the new car — brakes, steering, suspension, interior space and core engine design — are essentially as they were.

The latest Focus range receives a boost with the option of a new PowerShift six-speed double-clutch automated manual transmission
and the use of Ford's Econetic ultra-low CO2 technology. Econetic variants have an average CO2 figure of a low 115g/km — well below the new London Congestion Charge exemption figure of 120g/km —
and qualify for a £35-a-year road tax rating.

Other new features to be found in the latest Focus models include Ford's clever Easy Fuel capless refuelling system that stops the driver putting diesel fuel in a petrol model (or vice versa), a tyre pressure warning system, an optional 230-volt socket (for powering such things as laptop computers, running DVD players or a games console) and there are low energy LED rear lights.

Every Focus is equipped with ABS anti-lock braking, four airbags, elec-tric front windows, CD player, central locking, height adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat and curtain airbags.

The restructured range offers a choice of Studio, Style, Zetec, Titan-ium and ST trim and equipment levels. Titanium replaces the long-serving Ghia specification to give the Focus more appeal to younger buyers and those company car users downsizing from larger D-segment saloons and estates such as the Mondeo.

The revised trim levels are matched to a comprehensive line-up of petrol and diesel powertrains which are virtually unchanged, apart from revisions to their engine management systems to lower CO2 emissions. Transmissions include five- and six-speed manual gearboxes, a con-ventional automatic or the all-new dual-clutch PowerShift automated gearbox jointly developed with Getrag. Incidentally, the PowerShift transmission will soon be available in the new Ford Focus (as well as the Ford C-MAX) in combination with the 134 and new 108bhp versions of the 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi engine.

Style models (costing from £13,445) add, over the starter Studio level, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, bigger wheels, front fog
lamps, air conditioning, remote audio controls, a trip computer, leather-covered steering wheel and remote central locking.

Zetec versions — the expected best-selling models — cost from £14,695 and add 16-inch alloy wheels, dark headlamp surrounds, sports suspension, sports seats, Quickclear heated front windscreen, driver's seat lumbar adjustment, perimeter alarm, rear spoiler and upgraded centre console. A body-colour rear spoiler, previously an option, is also included as standard.

The Focus Titanium variant — the luxury flagship — lists from £15,445. Equipment highlights are privacy glass, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Sony CD sound system, electric rear windows, cooled glovebox, aluminium scuff plates and footwell lighting.

As before, buyers can personalise their Focus by choosing from a long list of options.

The new Focus models definitely have a classier and more distinctive appearance. Working from the front towards the rear: trapezoidal grilles, swept back headlamps, bold wheel arches, newly-shaped rear glass, a contoured tailgate and new tail lamps are the key changes. Higher trim grades benefit from chrome detailing and a stylish, body-coloured upper rear spoiler.

Inside, the new upmarket theme continues. New soft-touch plastics now cover the instrument panel as well as the upper front door trim and this is complemented by plush new seat fabrics plus a variety of attractive fascia finishes. The instrumentation has been re-designed, too, and along with all other interior controls is illuminated in red. Con-trols for the upgraded audio equipment and two-zone air conditioning have also been ergonomically improved.

In addition, the Titanium version now includes a newly-designed centre console (optional with Zetec and part of the Sport Pack) which adopts the flowing 'kinetic design' look. There is a movable armrest and a four-litre-capacity storage compartment, plus there are storage areas for back-seat passengers or the facility to add optional items such as a 230-volt socket or the USB audio connection box.

Other new developments are the Focus Econetic five-door hatchback and estate variants which feature an array of aerodynamic efficiencies and are powered by the 108bhp 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCi with standard Diesel Particulate Filter. Average consumption for the Econetic versions is a frugal 65mpg with an average CO2 emission of 115g/km. Econetic prices range from £15,7695 to £17,145.

All other Focus 1.6-litre TDCi variants have an average of 119g/km
CO2 emissions and this is regardless of power rating, body style or wheel dimensions; so their annual road tax cost is £35 and they will
be Congestion Charge-free.

The Flexifuel version of the 1.8-litre Duratec petrol four-cylinder engine can be fuelled with bio-ethanol E85 fuel as an alternative to conven-tional unleaded petrol — or in any mix of both.

The Focus range also includes CNG (compressed natural gas) and
LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) derivatives, both based on the 2.0-litre Duratec petrol engine.

At the UK launch I tried out the new Focus Estates. For style, size
and refinement, I believe they are the most impressive new models in the line-up. In fact, they are bordering on being classed as 'premium' vehicles. Estate versions start at £13,895 and rise to £19,445 — a 1.6 TDCi diesel model is the most sensible and cost-effective model to buy and costs £17,645.

With no changes in overall size (so no improvement in interior space, except for the very smart new Focus Estate), the latest Focus drives pretty much as it did before. Next to the VW Golf it is probably the best handling car in the C-segment. But it is the styling which really gives the Focus an extra edge over its competitors. It looks very good indeed. The car is quieter to drive and there is less noise intrusion from engine and tyres. The interior plastics are of a higher quality and the build quality has gone up several grades.

Having driven the new Focus models over a variety of British and French roads, in busy traffic, on fast motorways and winding narrow roads, I can honestly say that the balance and fluency of the Focus
is excellent. However, stay with the standard size wheels and do not go for the Sport Packs. In my opinion, the larger wheels and sports suspension , unsettle the car, causing it to 'patter' over some poorer road surfaces and it makes the ride comfort — for the majority of
users — just too firm.

These wheel/sports pack options also add considerably to the price of the car as well. The new Focus models may, in theory, only cost £250 more than the versions they replace, but the options add significantly more cost. Take, for instance, a 1.8-litre TDCi Titanium five-door hatchback. This is potentially a high-selling model priced at £17,545. But add in the Sports Pack, bigger wheels, park assist, electrically-adjustable seats, xenon lights and a few other bits and pieces and the price escalates to a massive £21,045 — and that is 'premium' brand pricing.

This move by Ford to 'up-sell' the Focus hatchbacks might just be a move too far — certainly for retail customers.

The New Focus Hatchbacks look good but the Estates look even better. They are much classier and have lots of load carrying space.
All new Focus models have a better quality interior, more useful equip-ment, better soundproofing as well as all of the previous car's first-class driving and handling characteristics. As already mentioned, the high option costs add rather too much to the final price, and the larger (optional) alloy wheels and Sports suspension mar ride comfort and refinement.

Stars of the Focus line-up — for me at least — are the Estates. Choose a Zetec variant with a 1.6 or 1.8-litre TDCi engine and ignore the options apart from park assist and you won't go far wrong. My choice, because it will have a bit more get up and go, would be the 1.8-litre TDCi Zetec model. — David Miles

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Ford Focus 1.8-litre TDCi Zetec Estate | £17,645
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 53.2mpg | Power: 113bhp | Torque: 206lb ft

CO2 139g/km

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