Due to having a truck reverse into her Mazda5, my girlfriend’s mom has to make do with a 2011 Ford Focus wagon for a while. This also handily meant I got to have a go in the Focus, as it sat there dirty and with a half tank of fuel. A manual, 1.6-litre TI-VCT base model in silver, it’s a common car here.
The longrooffocus is one of the cars that isn’t available in the States, despite this generation being otherwise for sale. You skipped the rather good actual second generation Focus and had to do with the over-extended lifespan of the first-gen one, which had become a caricature of suburban coffee stain beigeness; and for that I’m truly sorry. The second-generation Euro Focus was a step towards a mature, well-thought-out car; there are certain aspects of the current car that I find overwrought in comparison. But make a jump and I’ll tell you.
By the way, that lake in the background is a field.
The bold, snake-meets-Predator front is recognizable but as it’s all blank black plastic in this base model, it’s sort of uselessly contrived. Some models (EcoBoost, TDCI) get the trick shutting slats on the front, but to my understanding this front bumper is completely static.
In direct contrast to the busy front, then, the rear looks a lot better. The lines make sense for the most part, and even dirty and shoddily fueled the car looks good from this angle. There is German precision to the shutlines (hatch notwithstanding), there is tightness to the lines and despite an at-a-glance resemblance to the Renault Megane estate, it’s a nice design.
Of course, the high waistline, thick pillars and small windows mean it’s not a thrill to reverse. Starting up the car, I had to get out and move my Mitsubishi from behind it so I wouldn’t reverse into it. It’s just near-impossible to see what’s behind you, or to grasp the car’s dimensions when you’ve sat in it a grand total of 15 seconds. Another thing is that the dashboard’s light switch is surprisingly easy to knee if someone’s left the seat too close to the dash.
In the cabin, things are just as busy as out in the front. The dashboard is designed for ADD people; looks like Ford’s gone to great lengths to ensure nobody gets bored in the cabin. There are striking angles, forms and overall Autobot/Decepticon-resembling shapes. It is an action adventure spaceship in there, and it does again feel overdone when the car’s built to take you to the office and back, via the supermarket parking lot.
There are good things here, though: the thick steering wheel has shapes that give you good places to rest your hands, even if my thumbs didn’t fit in the thumbrests if I had my hands at 9 and 3. But it’s clearly Ford’s intention that you drive it at 10 and 2; everything in the cabin suggests you drive the car with gusto, surge those blue instrument needles upwards and in general act dynamically in there.
Thing is, the gearshift is so close to the swoopy console that it’s easy to hit it when shifting to third or fifth. The gearshift itself has short-ish movements, but there’s something about its length that causes that.
The instrument panel has an info display that houses all the basic aspects, but also greets you with the Ford badge. There’s also a change-up display there, but at times I chose to ignore it; it doesn’t blink or beep so it can be.
And why did I ignore it when it told me to change up? The 1.6-litre TI-VCT DOHC just had to be caned to extrude performance, and I had to leave it in third most of the time when hauling that wagon ass in the countryside roads, so to have available power reserves at my disposal. While the car is a supremely confident and naturally well-weighted handler, it needs a lot ballsier engine than the base-spec 105-horse 1.6 can be. It’s happiest and most frugal when shifted up when it tells you, but the action figure cabin and angry front are in direct contrast to the engine’s gutless nature. I’m sure any of the available turbo diesels would be better up to the task.
However, the Focus rides well in addition to handling well. On rutted springtime asphalt with cracks and sunk surfaces everywhere, it rode creakless and with just a muddled thump audible but never uncomfortably felt. It is not wrong to get it dirty. It’s okay to drive it and put it out wet. Even the fussy dashboard let out just the tiniest resonation from somewhere near my right knee, not more.
The Focus in tested guise goes for about 25 300 EUR. For 500 more, you can get a MKVI VW Golf Variant with the 1.4 TSI engine; there you have the added bonus of forced induction and 17 horses more. Before making rash decisions, I’d recommend good seat time in both, but the Golf’s better-judged cabin & front design and better residuals would play in my favour.
[Images: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]