Autocar visits the Blue Oval's proving ground in Belgium to discover how the revisions to the big-selling Focus are taking shape

The truth is that a car's mid-life facelift often runs so deep it's hardly a facelift these days. Especially when, often, a platform is carried over to what's badged as a complete new-generation  model, like the Volkswagen Touareg.

The lines between generation and makeover blur. Recent ‘facelifts’? The Vauxhall VXR8 is barely recognisable from the car that preceded it. The Ferrari California T has the same chassis as the California, but to all practical purposes is a new model.

And even this new Ford Focus, a more obvious mid-life refresh, has been the recipient of more than a wash and brush-up.

Not that we thought it necessarily needed it in all areas. The Volkswagen Golf might lead the class for interior feel and cabin quietness (and overall, to most eyes, as a result), but the Focus is still, to our testers' hands and feet, the stand-out driver’s car in the class.

Ford has revised the dynamics anyway. And the rest. We've come to Lommel, Ford's proving ground in Belgium, to give it a look over and do that 'sit in the passenger seat' thing that tells you quite a lot, but frustratingly not enough, both at the same time.

First, the essentials, then: the cabin has been revised. There's a new steering wheel design, similar architecture to before but a fresh façade on it, and a large touch-screen. A more 'cockpit'-like feel is the promise, as so often it is. And as it so often is, it doesn't look to me much like the interior of an aircraft.

Still , material surfaces are vastly improved in feel. Many are softer, and that's important, engineers will tell you, for reducing cabin noise. “Customers link quietness to quality,” says Stephan Presser, Ford of Europe’s vehicle engineering manager.

The Golf led in this area before, but now Ford thinks it does. Seats feel the same as before, and accommodation is unchanged. That, then, and on the outside (which has been given a mild tickle), is mild stuff.

But the pace of CO2 change waits for no all-new model, and as is so frequently the answer, downsizing is king. Instead of the 1.6-litre petrol and the 1.6 diesel in the current model, then, there are 1.5-litre motors of each fuel type. The EcoBoost turbo petrols offer 148 and 178bhp. The 1.5 TDCi, offered in 94bhp and 119bhp forms, is “effectively a new engine”, according to Ford’s ‘Mr EcoBoost’, engineer Andrew Fraser.

Likewise if you want an auto, no longer is a 2.0-litre diesel or 1.6-litre petrol your chosen option - you can have a twin-clutch 1.5 PowerShift auto from 2015 (because European buyers like diesels and twin-clutch autos) or a 1.0 EcoBoost petrol with a six-speed torque converter auto (because the rest of the world doesn't like diesels or twin-clutch autos). There’ll also be a 99g/km Co2 1.0 EcoBoost.

Ford lists percentage improvements in fuel consumption here and there – the 2.0-litre TDCi is 19 per cent more efficient, for example. But hard emissions data is hard to come by because these engines haven’t all been certified yet. The news is as positive as you'd expect, though, given carmakers have to have a fleet average CO2 figure of 95g/km by 2021.

Dynamically, though, is where the Focus is most interesting to us. Its cooking models were already the most engaging in its class, we reckoned, but Ford says it has tweaked them significantly regardless. There's less friction in the suspension because of more rigid bushing mounts, which let the rubber do their job with less bending, and there's less 'compliance' (fewer components that bend, to you and me) in the system because suspension mounting points and front chassis rails have been strengthened.

That means that, when you turn the wheels and the chassis loads up, the chassis flexes less. In turn, then, that has allowed the steering to be tuned differently. Ford says less slack in the system should make it more precise and able to feed back more road feel, which sounds like good news.

The steering has also been made lighter, which sounds a touch more concerning. They say it's nothing to worry about - the car still steers well (it’s “better connected”, we’re told), and that although they say handling safety is improved, that doesn’t mean the car is less agile.

In fact there is “less delay” on turn-in, says Norbert Kessing (a vehicle dynamics engineer), while the familiar 'tuck' when you lift off mid-corner, that engages the nose and unsettles the rear, is all still there.

It's something Ford’s engineers demonstrate around one of the corners on Lommel's terrific little handling circuit. 

Whether it'll repeat the same on a road near you is a story that, slightly frustratingly, will have to wait until September to find out, when the car is launched. Until then, then.

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Our Verdict

Ford Focus 2011-2014

Can the Ford Focus capture the hearts and minds of hatchback buyers?

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Comments
14

13 June 2014
How can a car being made lighter be concerning in any way ?? Most cars these days are (like most drivers) are massively overweight.

13 June 2014
typos1 wrote:

How can a car being made lighter be concerning in any way ?? Most cars these days are (like most drivers) are massively overweight.

That puzzled me too, but I think they may be referring to the steering.

13 June 2014
Will86 wrote:
typos1 wrote:

How can a car being made lighter be concerning in any way ?? Most cars these days are (like most drivers) are massively overweight.

That puzzled me too, but I think they may be referring to the steering.

I also think they mean steering, this can be a bad thing, but if anyone can get it right it's Ford. I've driven a current gen Fiesta and that cars steering manages to be really light and full of feel at the same time.

I will admit to being a bit biased towards Fords, but even so there are many that I've not liked the look of. Having said that I seem to be the only one who likes the look of the current generation Focus (I do think the facelift is better), am I alone in this or is there anyone else who shares my strange tastes?

13 June 2014
Even though these development rides are a bit annoying, it's always interesting to hear what the engineers have been tinkering with. The Focus was already a very good car, but I'm really pleased to see they have addressed most of the criticisms of the pre-facelift model. The one area I'm still hoping they've improved is the small diesels. I had a 2011 Focus 1.6 TDCi and the engine was really quite poor. Unresponsive at low revs, laggy and less economical than the previous generation. I'll keep my fingers crossed the 1.5 is an improvement.

13 June 2014
"That, then, and on the outside (which has been given a mild tickle), is mild stuff."

Pardon? That front is far more than a tickle. It's completely different and much needed! I'd always wondered what the designers were smoking when this generation was first released.

This is far more pleasing and fitting. I'm still not crazy about the rest of the car, but at least it doesn't look like a wreck now.

------------------

Never wrestle with a pig. You'll only get muddy, and the pig will enjoy it.

13 June 2014
Looks a lot better outside, although the rear looks like its sad lol. Interior still looks a bit naff though

13 June 2014
Looking much, much better, although slightly disappointing that it retains the untidy swage line. From certain angles it looks dented.

13 June 2014
Well, one would hope that Ford is aiming for reductions... But on a more serious note, Ford has always been good at talking up the product and producing impressive hand-built cars for the press.The real test will be be how satisfied its customers are after they've purchased actual production cars from dealers. Personally, I'd be happy to trade just a little bit handling finesse for better residuals and a decent warranty.

13 June 2014
LP in Brighton wrote:

Well, one would hope that Ford is aiming for reductions... But on a more serious note, Ford has always been good at talking up the product and producing impressive hand-built cars for the press.The real test will be be how satisfied its customers are after they've purchased actual production cars from dealers. Personally, I'd be happy to trade just a little bit handling finesse for better residuals and a decent warranty.

You will actually find a recent survey has pointed out, that after about 9 months, Ford residuals are actually on par with some more prestigious manufacturers, and as they are just as reliable as most and more reliable than some, the warranty isnt really an issue and is a standard 3 years which is common to most car company's.. One of the best put together and most reliable cars I have driven, and one of the most fun was my ST220, and that was not just a one off press car. The biggest problem Ford have is the inconsistency of it dealers, some are good some are shocking, I used one in Germany for a number of years and they where fantastic, one I used in the UK was terrible and took 4 hours to change 6 spark plugs due to a recall.

13 June 2014
I still can't come to terms with that appalling bee sting aerial on such a modern car!
When is Ford going to realise its all in the detail these days? The Golf and the Korean cars are not sporting such unsightly aerials anymore, please Ford get up to date!

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