Currently reading: Taking the Ford Focus on a 600-mile road trip of the UK
We take the fan-favourite family hatch on a 600-mile dawn-til-dusk drive over some of the finest roads in Britain
News
9 mins read
22 April 2020

We’ve been here before. Not here here – sitting in the shadow of the Forth Railway Bridge at 4:30am – but rather in a brand-new Ford facing an unlikely challenge.

From a round-Europe trip in the first Mondeo to 12,000 miles in a week in the original Focus, without ever leaving the warm embrace of the M25 motorway.

For the all-new fourth-generation Focus, we’re aiming for a distilled adventure: shorter but just as tough. We’ve set one of the first examples of the new Focus to arrive in the UK the simple mission of visiting the maximum number of our favourite driving roads in just once day. Hence Edinburgh and a not quite dawn start.

This article was originally published on 9 September 2018. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times. 

The chosen Focus is an appropriately mid-range example. This is meant to be a test of a representative model rather than a performance outlier. Titanium X trim and a moderate options workout bring plenty ofkit, but the 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost engine in its 123bhp state of tune represents what Ford reckons will be the most popular powerplant in the UK. It also means that our car uses a torsion beam rear axle in place of the more advanced multi- link system that’s now reserved for brawnier versions.

South Queensferry gives us not only the photographic backdrop of first light breaking behind the cantilevered magnificence of the Forth Bridge – which sits in splendid isolation from the two road crossings upstream of it – but also fast access to some of the brilliant roads that run through the Borders.

Because although Scotland has plenty of epic Tarmac, possibly more per capita than anywhere else in the world, none of the better-known roads north or west of our starting point can offer a more varied challenge than the A701 that spears south-west from the Edinburgh suburbs and encounters pretty much nothing but scenery and contour lines before reaching the town of Moffat nearly 50 miles away. The northern stretch is fast and flowing with well-sighted straights, the middle gets bumpier and more demanding and the final section does a good impression of an Alpine pass as the road skirts a natural bowl in the hills with the unimprovable name of the Devil’s Beef Tub.

Starting before the sparrows have cracked means we also have the A701 pretty much to ourselves. It’s soon obvious that, as in its previous applications, the three-pot Ecoboost’s defining characteristic is mid-range brawn rather than any marked enthusiasm to explore the red bits of the rev counter. There’s more than enough urge for rapid, inconspicuous progress, but it’s definitely no hot hatch. The chassis is already impressing, though, with a well-damped compliance that barely notices the weather-worn state of much of the road and with the steering yielding commendably quick responses.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Find an Autocar review

Read our review

Car review

Focus retains its position as the best-in-class to drive – spec dependent – while adding extra space, functionality and connectivity

Back to top

The A701 stays good past Moffat – both racing driver Allan McNish and Jaguar design director Ian Callum have cited it as a favourite road – but we head south on the M74. The idea is to let the motorway network join the dots today. Higher speeds produce a couple of niggles: heading into the second hour, the Focus’s seats are already starting to feel short of upper-thigh support; and there’s some wind whistle from the top of the driver’s door, but the lack of any from the passenger side suggests it is just an ill-fitting seal.

Even on a smooth motorway, the suspension never quite settles down, the base of my spine registering a very slight shimmy at a constant- speed cruise. It’s tiny but, like a dripping tap, hard to ignore once noticed. I suspect it’s something the more advanced multi-blade axle of the more powerful versions might well cure. 

Having crossed into England, we turn on to the A689 at Carlisle. The first few miles are filled with trucks, but these all turn towards the A69 and Newcastle upon Tyne at Brampton, which leaves us on another near-empty back road. Next destination: Alston. No fewer than five A and B-roads meet in this Cumbrian market town and, from previous experience, they’re all belters. But we take the best-known, the A686 Hartside Pass towards Penrith.

On sunny weekends, it’s hugely popular with bikers, although few are in evidence on a damp Monday morning. The famous Hartside Café at the summit burned down earlier this year, but the good news is that it is going to be rebuilt and – until then – a temporary catering van in the car park is doing brisk business.

Back to top

The twisting descent gives a good chance to harvest some more dynamic impressions. Previous generations of the Focus have always driven more expensively than their price points suggest they should, and the new one keeps with the tradition. The 17in Michelin Primacy tyres don’t find much bite on damp Tarmac and the slower turns reveal a fair amount of roll on the softish suspension settings, but the steering remains spot on, with responses nicely balanced between both axles.

The damping is exceptional, doing an outstanding job of keeping the body’s mass under control over bumps and compressions. By the bottom of the hill, the unmistakable whiff of hard-working friction materials is obvious in the cabin, although the brakes still feel fine. Beyond the question over cruising refinement, I’m facing the conclusion that Ford can make a beam axle perform better than most manufacturers can manage with a multi-link rear end.

Back on the motorway and there’s an unlikely Vanishing Point moment. The eagle eyes of photographer Olgun Kordal spot what seems to be an identical Mk4 Focus heading in the other direction, a remarkable coincidence for a car that’s not on sale for several more weeks. Progress slows as we reach Preston, with frequent roadworks bringing patches of congestion all the way to where we turn on to the M56.

It’s a chance to test the radar cruise control – which allows gearchanges without tripping out – and to explore the deeper reaches of Sync3 infotainment system through its crisply rendered touchscreen interface. 

Back to top

North Wales turn out to be a big, fat bust. A carefully plotted route to join up some of Snowdonia’s finest roads falls victim to miserable weather. 

Rain on the A55 grows heavier as we turn towards the a mountains, and after Denbigh, the Focus is climbing into low cloud. On a good day, the A543 to Pentrefoelas can lay claim to be one of Europe’s finest driving roads, but with visibility below 50m, there’s nothing to do but trundle through the fug at a cautious pace, frustrated by how much scenery is hiding out there behind the greyness.

No matter: you’re never far from a good road in Wales and opting for a cross-country route rather than the fastest possible journey to Newport brings plenty. By the time the navigation slots us on the B4518 and takes us past the spectacular Clywedog Reservoir, the weather has changed to bright sunshine. Despite the hottest summer on record, the water level seems to have barely gone down. This is where the much-copied ‘Dambusters’ TV advert of a Land Rover Defender winching its way up the dam was filmed in 1986.

The afternoon disappears in the strange time warp of mid-Wales, a place where journeys take hours without feeling it. The respectable pace of most local traffic means that the Focus’s shortage of overtaking punch isn’t an issue. Although the engine pulls strongly on turbo boost, a hesitancy when asked to deliver full acceleration at short notice limits confidence in opportunist passing moves. Long stretches of relaxed cruising give the chance for under- utilised fingers to explore the cabin.

Back to top

There are some scratchy plastics in hard-to-reach places, but pretty much everything a driver might frequently touch feels a fair distance upmarket of the cabin of the Mk3 Focus. After 400 miles I’m also starting to like the six-speed gearbox more. The selector doesn’t have the hand-filling mass of the last Focus’s and the shift action has what feels like a longer throw, but it’s smooth under gentle use and effortlessly fast when it needs to be.

Crickhowell brings a small diversion to the B4560, probably the most photographed piece of road in the country. With the neat compression of everything required for a car shoot in no more than five miles, it has become a favoured spot for road testing, although in the early evening, it seems far busier than usual. Nobody in the crowded car park on top of the hill bats an eyelid at the presence of an all-new Focus. Indeed, during our entire time together, the car didn’t seem to be recognised as something different at all.

The shortcut over the mountain also backfires, taking us into what turns out to be a half-hour queue caused by big roadworks on the A45 Heads of the Valley road. With just a couple of hours of sunlight left, the odds of getting to our final destination – the depths of Exmoor – are lengthening dramatically. Fortunately the M4, M48 and M5 flow freely, with the Focus’s trip computer still reporting improving fuel consumption numbers alongside a rising average speed. Although the official 57.6mpg would require outstanding throttle discipline, mid to high- 40s seems to be realistic.

Back to top

Shadows are already lengthening dramatically by the time we get to Taunton. The A358 direct to Minehead would probably give us the best chance of a suitable photo at sunset, but the B3224 that heads north- west from Bishop’s Lydeard gets us to Exmoor faster. It’s one of my personal favourites – squeezed between banks and hedges but with minimal traffic and a real flow to it. The natives definitely don’t hang around. We encounter a Dacia Duster being driven with sufficient enthusiasm that a hard-charging Focus can barely stay in contact, let alone consider a pass.

The villages of Wheedon Cross and Exford come and go. Then we turn north at Simonsbath and shed a digit, taking the B3223 towards Lynton and the Bristol Channel. The moors surrounding the road are dark enough to look black, but the sky is filled with a truly spectacular sunset. Niggles aside, the Focus has proved its all-round excellence. We’ve covered 593 miles in 16 hours, including the time required to take a fair number of pictures, fill the tank twice and grab a sandwich. Britain has some outstanding roads, and a humble Focus remains a great way to experience them.

With only a day to play with, planning a route was a fun challenge and the decision to head down the west rather than the east of the country effectively played the percentages of the better roads we’d find. The A701 had to represent all of Scotland — the A68 and B709 are equally entertaining ways to cross the borders — and missing the North Yorkshire Moors was a blow. But maximising our time in Wales was definitely the right choice in terms of driving kicks, Snowdonia’s weather aside.

Back to top

The first Focus was a radical departure for Ford, with its wedgy ‘New Edge’ design and emphasis on driving manners a conspicuous contrast to the Mk5 Escort it replaced. It was good enough to win the European Car of the Year gong, an achievement that Autocar decided to celebrate with a suitably ambitious challenge.

The plan was to accumulate mileage as quickly as possible, with a pre-production example sent to lap the M25 motorway 100 times, translating to 12,000 miles. The car stayed moving night and day, with pretty much the entire editorial staff drafted in to drive stints.

Officially, the only choice was whether to go for a clockwise or counter-clockwise navigation – a straight call on preference for the bridge or tunnel at Dartford – but after a few days, the tedium of repeated shifts meant that some drivers went off-piste. In the case of then features editor Colin Goodwin, considerably so, with a strictly unofficial trip to Devon during which the car was flashed by a speed camera. Thankfully, no paperwork arrived, so Col’s secret was safe – until now.

Achieving 12,000 miles took just a week. Ford’s Heritage collection still has the car.

Read more 

 

Ford Focus review

Back to top

Join the debate

Comments
16
Add a comment…
xxxx 10 September 2018

MPG, did Ford Block it???

Unless I missed it why isn't the mpg shown, they must have refuelled at least once.  If it was bad did Ford stop the figure being shown?

mondeoman 9 September 2018

There is no

There is no "Forth Railway Bridge". The three bridges which cross the Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry are the Forth Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge, and the Queensferry Crossing. The bridge which carries the railway has always been the Forth Bridge. The next bridge upsteam (some 80 years later) was called the Forth Road Bridge to differentiate it.

Herald 9 September 2018

"Niggles aside ...

... the Focus has proved its all-round excellence", and remains a great way to experience Britain's outstanding roads.

Those niggles:  no enthusiasm for revs, and a shortage of overtaking punch that                                             reads like turbo lag

                        uncomfortable seats (lack of under-thigh support)

                        wind whistle from driver's door

                        a suspension that never settles down - even on motorways

                        tyres with no bite on a damp surface

                        fair amount of body roll

                        brakes smell when used in anger

                        totally forgettable (and unnoticeable) styling

                        blown off by Dacia Dusters

Seems a rather generous summary to what is a well-balanced and honest appraisal.

                        

Richard H 9 September 2018

Niggles are Major Flaws

The niggles are all major flaws to me, I wonder how many stars they'll give it, because based on the list below, it should be 3 or less

Herald wrote:

Those niggles:  no enthusiasm for revs, and a shortage of overtaking punch that                                             reads like turbo lag

                        uncomfortable seats (lack of under-thigh support)

                        wind whistle from driver's door

                        a suspension that never settles down - even on motorways

                        tyres with no bite on a damp surface

                        fair amount of body roll

                        brakes smell when used in anger

                        totally forgettable (and unnoticeable) styling

                        blown off by Dacia Dusters

Seems a rather generous summary to what is a well-balanced and honest appraisal.

mondeoman 9 September 2018

There is no substitute

There is no substitute for cubic inches. This wee engine may well produce 123 bhp in a lab, but the turbo must be massive to get that out of a single litre. The engine is simply too small for the size of car. How would a 1.5 litre engine go? I think that would be much more informative.

But anyway, so few people on our roads seem to be willing to overtake that it can't make a difference whether or not the car is able to.

Finally, I blame the rental companies for the preponderance of these unserpowered cars. They buy them, then sell them on to the punters. I recently was at a Ford dealer with a row of 1.0l Focusses all ex-rental, but no similar cars with more powerful engines.

Boris9119 9 September 2018

Amen brother!

We all are having to live with downsizing, but you can make it less painful by moving to the USA. Here we are generally downsizing from V8 to V6 and sometimes4's. As you point out, the wee Focus unit may produce 123bhp but as a daily driving proposition it sucks. We have both a Golf 2.5 5cyl and a Golf R in our garage. The Golf R is naturally the quicker car, but that 5cyl Golf is the better daily commuter in an urban setting which is why its the one I take to work. As you say, there is no substitute for cubic inches. 

Will86 9 September 2018

Herald wrote:

Herald wrote:

... the Focus has proved its all-round excellence", and remains a great way to experience Britain's outstanding roads.

Those niggles:  no enthusiasm for revs, and a shortage of overtaking punch that                                             reads like turbo lag

                        uncomfortable seats (lack of under-thigh support)

                        wind whistle from driver's door

                        a suspension that never settles down - even on motorways

                        tyres with no bite on a damp surface

                        fair amount of body roll

                        brakes smell when used in anger

                        totally forgettable (and unnoticeable) styling

                        blown off by Dacia Dusters

Seems a rather generous summary to what is a well-balanced and honest appraisal.

                        

If you want more power, buy a Focus with a bigger engine; seats are very subjective; a poorly fitting seal is probably a one off; I wonder how unsettled the suspension really is, the Fiesta has the same basic setup and no issues have been reported; economy focused tyres don't usually have the highest grip levels; it's a family car not a sports car, so handling must be balanced with comfort; most brakes will smell after heavy use and judging from the brake dust on the front wheels, they were worked hard; styling is subjective; if the Duster driver knew the road then it's not surprising the Focus struggled to keep up.

I'm not convinced these issues are that fundamental for the majority and most can be rectified by chosing a different spec or being realistic in expectations for a family car. What is needed is a back to back test to see how the Focus stacks up against it's rivals.

 

Find an Autocar car review