New Ford Focus raises great expectations

Ford Focus first drives started landing at 9am on Friday 14 Jan, as Ford lifted the embargo on sessions it ran late last year.

I wasn’t part of ‘em, but we shouldn’t have long to wait until we can have a go: the new Ford Focus goes on sale in early March, from the UK’s biggest network of car dealers. Drives will be open to all men.

What, though, am I expecting from it? I’ve purposely not read much on the new model up to now, in order for me to muse on what I reckon needs improving on the current one. Goodness knows, Ford will have done this to the nth degree: what, then, are the bits that stick out to me as sore?

The last current-shape Ford Focus I drove was an Econetic. And, frankly, it was a bit disappointing, by Ford’s usual sky-high standards. I was pretty nonplussed.

Why? Ride, mainly. I know the Econetic has lower, stiffer suspension and eco tyres, but that’s still no excuse for its jitters. It’s hardly rock-hard, but there’s irritation there that’s absent from a Golf.

Also, it’s the low-speed ride that’s guilty – the current Focus is very stable and compliant at speed. Meaning Ford will have worked on refining the suspension bushing and tyre sidewall tuning with the new Focus, perchance?

Some of this irritability, mind, may have been perceived rather than actual, because of suspension noise: the rival Golf 6 is, audibly, much better damped over bumps, with little crash or clatter vocals. I expect Ford to thus improve noise insulation on the new Focus.

Indeed, more generally, the new Ford Focus should be a quieter and more assured machine, with a greater feeling of upmarket tactile quality.

Even back in 1998, Ford engineers were looking enviously at the Golf’s quality jump, a gap that’s remained ever since. So lovely is the latest Golf 6 inside, Ford will surely have been working hard to near it.

What about handling? There are more questions here. The current Ford Focus still handles sublimely – period. Will the new one move the game further on, maintain its current high level – or trade some of its advantage for more stability, assuredness and ride refinement? Interesting conundrum.

Furthermore, Ford’s switched to electric power steering, something it said it would only do once it could match hydraulic systems for feel and response. Is this now the case? The EPAS in the Fiesta is pretty good, but that’s a smaller and lighter car. How will it fare in the heavier, more EPAS motor-challenging Focus?

In brief, I expect a more refined, smoother-riding, more premium Ford Focus. One that still handles really well, but is more of a complete picture for passengers, too.

The driver may suffer a little from a touch less steering feel, but they’ll be rewarded with much better mechanical integration, including engines with meticulously-tuned torque curves. Everything else, from gearchange to steering wheel design, will show all the fanaticism of Ford’s leading-edge designers.

That’s what I expect, anyway. The reality? Time will tell: soon as I drive it, I’ll let you know…

+ Why Ford Econetics break the rules

+ Ford clears the way for quick dealer profits

+ How Ford would have made a Rover