|Ford Focus ll
A Great Drive with Terrific Quality
But Latest Styling Fails To Excite
New Citroen C4 Adds To Tough Choices In This Sector
You can always tell when a car has been successful.
When the time comes to replace it, the new design is almost always indistinguishable from the original. Thats why the VW Golf hasnt changed much in 30 years, the new Audi A3 seems to be a clone of the old one, and why new Fiats tend to look radically different from their predecessors.
Ford finds itself in a similar virtuous circle with its new Focus. The old one sold 4 million cars worldwide over 6 years, and won awards in Europe and the U.S. The car was acclaimed as much for its looks and driveability as for its practicality and quality. So its no surprise then that the new Focus looks pretty much the same as the first one. Looking at them side-by-side, the old one actually looks more radical and attractive, with the latest iteration on the bland side.
Ford has been a bit half-hearted with its new design of the exterior, but the rest of car is at least as good as the old one. But the consensus amongst motoring journalists who road tested the new car here was that it was going to be a winner.
The car is bigger and heavier than the old one with a 25 mm longer wheelbase and 40 mm wider track. Theres more shoulder room in the front and a bit more room in the rear. Comfort and refinement are marginally better, which is saying something given the high quality of the old model. Handling the steering is now electro-hydraulic - seems to be just as agile and rewarding as the outgoing Focus.
The quality of the interior is top-notch just as good as the VW Golf and the new pretender in the class, the Vauxhall Astra. The cabin is quiet, with just a hint of wind noise as speeds reach above legal limits. Most of the driving around the Tuscany area was on windy mountain roads and straighter country tarmac, leading cynics to wonder if the car performed as well on motorways and at high cruising speeds. That remains to be seen.
An Estate Will Follow
There are 3 and 5 door versions as the car is launched. An estate car will follow, then a 4 door saloon. The 3-door looks a little nondescript Ford says, hopefully almost, that its style hints at a coupe. The 5-door has better balanced looks. From the front, the Focus looks just like its Mondeo big brother.
The gears are shifted by an attractive, chunky stick. There are 5 and 6-speed gearboxes, an automatic constantly variable transmission and a four-speed automatic.
Diesels From Peugeot
Engine options as the Focus is launched comprise 1.4 (80 bhp), 1.6 (109 bhp) and 2.0 litre (145 bhp) petrol motors, and two diesels bought from Peugeot - of 1.6 litres (109 bhp) and 2.0 litres (136 bhp).
The 2.0 litre petrol engine performed adequately, although it sounded a bit harsh under acceleration. The 2.0 litre diesel the only versions offered with the 6-speed gearbox - was the pick of the litter, smooth and powerful.
The Focus, typical of most new cars in this sector now, offers a range of options that would only have been available until recently on more expensive cars, including satellite navigation, electrically adjustable pedals, swivelling headlights, Bluetooth phone connection, voice controls, and keyless locking.
Sales Wont Match Focus I
So a car that is at least as good as the old one, which was a huge sales success, will be an even bigger seller right? Wrong. And thats according to Ford itself.
According to Ford of Europe, the new Focus will never reach the peak of 565,000 sold in 2001. Next years sales will be slightly below last years 468,000, the last year of full production of the old model.
Analysts think that maybe Ford is being a little disingenuous.
Walt Madeira, CSM Worldwides manager for European Sales Analysis, thinks Ford will not only do better than that, it will also charge ahead of the Golf and Peugeot 307 to be the number one seller in the C segment next year.
Number One In 2005
We expect the new Focus to sell around 530,000 next year, and it will increase its market share in the segment to 16.5 per cent. That will make it number one, said Madeira.
Maybe Ford is guilty here of setting easily reachable targets, and then exceeding them, no doubt larding it all up with a liberal amount aw shucks bravado about how surprising it all was.
But all the competitors in this segment are coming under pressure from Multi Purpose Vehicles (MPVs).
CSM Worldwides Madeira also pointed to new competition from above, as the BMW 1-series and Audi A3 Sportback are about to hit dealerships.
But Ford is aware of the threat from MPVs; after all, it has a successful one itself.
The sector is shrinking primarily because of the growth of MPVs, (at the expense of hatchbacks) said Lewis Booth, chief executive of Ford of Europe, during the launch ceremonies outside Sienna, Italy.
Thats not all bad news for Ford and the Focus, because the new model is part of a wide family of vehicles which will use the same basic architecture Fords C-Max MPV, the Mazda3, the Volvo V40 saloon and V50 estate car. That should cut costs per vehicle and raise profit margins.
The new Focus was officially launched at the Paris Car Show on September 25, and goes on sale in Germany in November, then progressively across Europe, reaching Britain in January 2005. Prices start at 16,000 euros (£10,895).
If you think it is difficult enough now to make a rational choice for the best car in this sector, it just got tougher. Citroen launched the new C4 at the Paris show, to replace the unlamented Xsara. The C4 looks like a stretched out version of the cute little C3; very stylish and handsome too. Ill be driving this soon, and Im wondering if it can compete with the Focus, Golf and Astra on quality.
Neil Winton September 30, 2004
home page / more reviews / auto industry news / top of page