What is it?
It’s the new, prettified version of Ford’s best-selling hatchback. Not a single body panel is carried over from the previous model (although some of the changes are minor, to put it mildly), but underneath it’s more of the same.
Ford’s engineering team concentrated on improving refinement and interior quality instead of mucking around with a chassis that is, let’s be honest, still the class benchmark.
What’s it like?
Impressive. All of the basics that have made the Focus such a great car for British roads are still in place; it steers with beautiful precision and retains its fantastic blend of pliable ride and lateral grip.
Better still, the boggo 1.6 Zetec engine – which used to make itself heard when asked to hit motorway speeds in fifth gear – is now a further layer of noise insulation away from the driver’s seat. So all that you hear at 70mph is a bit of wind noise, some road thrum (worse on the optional 17in wheels fitted to our test car) and a distant rev or three.
The interior represents a moderate gain over the old car; the Mondeo-esque centre dash looks reasonably posh (it brightens up the various shades of grey that dominate everywhere else), the Sony stereo sounds good and build quality seems tight all round.
Downsides? Somehow I doubt the Focus has been lightened by the quest for NVH improvements, and occasionally the 99bhp lump is found wanting at low revs. You’ll want to change down to fourth on motorway hills, or when traffic levels cost you momentum. But then, that’s a characteristic of all Focus-sized cars with 1.6-litre petrol engines.
Should I buy one?
If you want the best-driving car in the class, then the Focus is the automatic choice, just as it has been since its debut a decade ago.
But the decision is not as clear cut as it used to be. In particular, Hyundai’s i30 undercuts the Ford on price and while it can’t match its dynamics, it offers considerably more raw power and a five-year warranty instead.
The Focus is the best family hatchback, then, a car that should still sit atop your list of candidates to test drive. But it can no longer claim to mix that attribute with unbeatable value for money.