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living: autocade

Ford Focus—base pointsFord Focus—base points

Jack Yan samples the basic two-litre Ford Focus, and says that as long as the company can keep sourcing great cars from Europe, it might gain in street cred


2008 Ford Focus C307 in Lucire
Ford Focus C307


ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN DRIVING plenty of luxury brands this year, I needed a dose of reality. The Ford Focus seemed a fitting car to trial in a year when Ford celebrates the centenary of the Model T, since it is the most widely sold nameplate* from the company and it is aimed directly at the middle class.
   In 1987, Ford created a show car, for the far-off year of 2008, to celebrate this very centenary in advance. The T2008, looking like it belonged to the set of Back to the Future Part II or Blade Runner, had a satellite communications’ system that could notify a dealership of any problems. Fast forward 21 years and sat-nav isn’t standard on the basic two-litre Focus sold in New Zealand, and wifi in Auckland is variable near where John Andrew Ford is, but as the modern-day successor to the Model T, the car takes some beating. At the price, it’s untouchable.
   Last time we featured the Focus in Lucire’s pages (in 2005), we necessarily drew comparisons to the Capri and Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals, because of the Zetec’s differently coloured trim on the doors. Very wannabe Essex boy racer. This time, with a lower-end model on test—one destined for fleet sales, in fact—things are more subdued, but the interior has lovely touches that give you more pleasure than its predecessor. Get high enough in the range and the Ford Focus would, to borrow from its advertising campaign, be a car one could take to the symphony.
   You couldn’t say the same thing about Fords of old. My uncle had a yellow Cortina Mk III 1300L. Registration HW 7322. It was about as ‘fleet sale’ as you could get, short of buying a Morris Marina. You knew you were in the base model because it didn’t have a vinyl roof or four headlamps like Gene Hunt’s GXL from Life on Mars, or the oh-so-modern square headlamps of the 2000E. Inside, it was just a car—which was really all my uncle wanted—but it had little to redeem it. It handled like a pig. Today, however, even the basic model has some creature comforts, even if there’s one concession to those who bought Cortina 1300s in the ’70s: wind-up rear windows.
   Despite this, the plastics aren’t a smelly, stinky grade as Opel had put in its Polish-built Astra Classic some years ago—probably the lowest end Lucire would judge interior materials by this side of the 21st century.
   The Focus, built in Saarlouis near Köln, certainly seems better screwed together inside. The quality of the plastics is a step up, and even the steering wheel is more æsthetically pleasing. The information screen between the speedometer and rev counter gives off a warm, orange glow.
   You’d upgrade from a previous model not specifically for the quality, but for the grown-up feel of the exterior. It might be worth it, too. From the front, it looks very Mondeo, bringing the Focus bang up to date with current trends. Ford calls it kinetic design, which is the new buzzword after a few years of what it called New Edge and a few years of the aero look. This time, however, it’s less contrived: the designers have made the car look easily identifiable as a Ford from the front without going against what we find attractive. Even at the rear, the resculpted rear hatch looks more high-end. Overall, there’s a more premium feel, borrowing from more upmarket Fords.
   In fact, everything is very familiar to those of us who have driven Focuses in the past.
   These are all Ford techniques used over the years. Each year or two, Ford has upgraded its equipment on an existing car by means of improvement. Facelifts, such as the change from Taunus II to Taunus 80—Cortina Mk IV to Cortina 80 to those of us in the Commonwealth—make the newer model look more upscale by borrowing from a higher model; that time, it was the Granada, now it is the Mondeo. BMW learned this and began employing the same technique from the late 1980s, changing first its 7-series, then its 5, then its 3. It clearly works.
   So the shape is familiar, and one would have to ask if purchasing a new Focus keeps one up with the Schmidts and their Golf. Dynamically, the answer is yes. The Focus handles as it always did—brilliantly—and we’d place it easily above the Opel Astra H, sold here as a Holden with the indicator stalk on the wrong side. It rides well though at this trim level, there is some road noise—however, it’s an improvement on the previous C307 Focus. We’d rate the Focus above the Toyota Auris (Corolla to us), thanks to an exterior that is less likely to date and an interior that’s still streets ahead æsthetically. The real competition comes from the French—we are big fans of the Renault Mégane and Citroën C4—which have the Focus’s torque (more so with the Mégane) and agility.
   In that respect it is down to the badge. Citroën and Renault mean French flair; Toyota means very little (now that Barry Crump is dead); Holden increasingly means Made in Korea (the Astra is an exception); and Ford means German quality at cheap prices.
   The only real reason that one would go Golfing is the Levi jean image of the VW. Since the Golf VI has not launched in these parts yet, the Focus is far better value, especially now a 1·6 is available, too. Even when Golf VI comes, the Focus is going to fight it strongly, thanks to that upgrade that makes it Ford’s most class-crossing car.
   It might not be a default choice like the Model T was in its day, but driving a Focus means a trip down Quality Street, even at the base end of the range. It’s more grown-up, more adult. And since Ford, unlike Holden, hasn’t populated its range with Daewoos, and instead has opted for sourcing everything in its passenger car range (aside from Falcon) from Europe, it might begin earning a more premium, old-world image to go with what is very good engineering indeed. •


* Note I said nameplate. The US–Canada Focus is a different car, actually the Mk I with new clothes. It’s barely worth a mention except for the bad excuse Ford’s North American operations makes about the Mk II’s high costs. Cobblers, say the Mexicans, who, like the rest of the world, thought that the US model was beneath them and got the second-generation one.


Jack Yan is founding publisher of Lucire.


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Ford Focus C307 facelift


Get high enough in the range and the Ford Focus would, to borrow from its advertising campaign, be a car one could take to the symphony



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Get more information about the Ford Focus (C307) on Autocade
Ford New Zealand

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