Ford Focus gains S-parkle

Ford is known for its hot-hatchbacks and the new Focus Zetec S certainly impresses, says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

As sure as night follows day a regular Ford will always be followed by a faster one. And so it is with this latest Focus, as the Blue Oval has developed a sporty-looking Zetec S variant to compliment its more sensible offerings.

The Zetec name is a popular one in the Ford universe. Promoted as the high-value variant, it's seen on cars boasting plenty of standard kit. There's also the unspoken implication that it might be a bit sporty, and it's not uncommon to see a bodykit bolted on for good measure. The regular Focus Zetec goes part way to delivering this experience, however this new Zetec S completes the circle.

In recent years Ford has exercised greater caution when adding bodykits to its cars, and the Focus Zetec S boasts a subtle treatment that delivers a good balance between teasing onlookers and not attracting the wrong sort of attention. The car's sporty character is further enhanced with a tweaked suspension set-up featuring stiffer springs and dampers. Rounding off the exterior changes are the standard fit 17in alloy wheels and LED tail lights.

In line with the car's exterior, Ford's designers have resisted the urge to go all Max Power on the interior. Aside from the aluminium-style pedals, there's the option of a contrasting colour for the centre console but, thankfully, no crazy bucket seats or race car-like steering wheel. In truth, the Focus's cabin is bold enough out of the box. The left-field fascia and chunky controls offer plenty of excitement in a world where most rivals are pretty conservative.

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That's not something you can accuse Ford of being when it comes to engine choice. There's sporty and then there's sporty, with a wallet-friendly 125hp 1.6-litre petrol variant kick-starting the Zetec S range and 125hp 1.0-litre and 180hp 1.6-litre turbo Ecoboost petrol versions. On the diesel front there's 115 or 163hp turbos in 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacity respectively. There's also a direct shift auto gearbox – Powershift in Ford parlance – for selected models.

Ford has historically been a popular choice for company-car drivers and, in diesel guise at least, the Focus Zetec S could be viewed as an option at the higher end of the fleet list. With the prospect of affordable CO2 tax bands and equally modest fuel consumption figures, there's no reason why it shouldn't be considered.

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Certainly, real-world performance from the higher output 163hp model is sufficient for all eventualities. The 2.0-litre unit boasts plenty of low-down torque for ambling along in traffic and never feels strained when accelerating hard. All the while its smooth character and hushed tone is a refreshing change from some of the more frenetic opposition.

You can double that sentiment when talking about Ford's 1.6-litre Ecoboost powerhouse. It may 'only' be a 1.6-litre lump but this 180hp turbo motor punches well above its weight. Smooth, refined, willing and rapid in equal measure, it's as close as you'll get to a hot-hatch this side of a Focus ST. Furthermore, the suspension changes to the Zetec S do much to reduce control body roll and impart a genuine sporty feeling. Thankfully not at the expense of comfort, as you can still sit on the motorway and grind your way through town without feeling shaken or stirred.

Pitched as a sporting alternative to the traditionally high-value Titanium specification, the Zetec S newcomer boasts a comparable level of kit only packaged differently. For the record, DAB audio plus a heated windscreen, front fog lights, leather steering wheel, MP3 player connectivity and sports-style front seats are the signature Zetec goodies. Adding the 'S' sees the inclusion of the aforementioned bodykit, better wheels, sports suspension and a few detail changes to the cabin.

To ease the pain of choosing the myriad options, Ford has chosen to bundle popular items into packs – parking sensors, power folding mirrors are part of a city pack. Active brake assist, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and a blind spot alert are part of the driver assistance pack.

As the Focus range grows, the five-door Zetec S hatchback and estate versions bring a welcome extra dash of sparkle. Looking quick even when parked, as an affordable alternative to a conventional hot-hatchback it's hard not to be impressed by Ford's efforts.

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