Ford’s Focus on smart way to lug loads
Ford's new Focus estate is so much more than just a tool to get the job of carring loads done, says Iain Dooley.
People-carriers and sport utility vehicles might have overtaken the humble hatchback in the desirability stakes, but the demands set out by company-car drivers revolve around a much simpler solution – space.
If you need to transport products, supplies or tools, there's still a lot to be said for the estate car, especially if you need your workhorse to look presentable in a client's car park and double as the family runabout. In this context a van won't do, making an estate car the sensible option.
Furthermore, making the decision between 'medium or large' isn't reserved for trips to McDonalds. The large estate, once typified by a boxy Volvo or Mercedes, can be a fine tool but also an unwieldy device at the weekend in a supermarket car park. Downsizing is all the rage, and has helped boost the fortunes of cars like Ford's Focus when the larger Mondeo was judged too big by some.
It's ironic then that's Ford's third-generation has grown slightly, although the increase is in the right areas. There's now more room for rear-seat occupants, and in estate form the added cabin space also boosts overall carrying capacity.
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Not that, from the outside, you'd judge the Focus estate to a wardrobe-swallowing monster. Its svelte lines and streamlined profile suggest this car is no less easy on the eye – and to park – than the five-door hatchback. In fact, its cleverly-crafted rear end and stylish tailgate do a good job of disguising its size.
With its flat load bay and ability to fold the rear seats simply, expanding carrying capacity couldn't be easier. The numbers are impressive too – 476 litres with the rear seats up and 1,502 litres with them folded.
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In the past such levels of practicality came at a price, namely that the driving experience was at best forgettable and at worst regrettable. Not so with the Focus. Driving performance and enjoyment have been attributes that can be traced back to the first-generation car, and while the emphasis now has swung more in favour of increased refinement and comfort the basic qualities are still present.
The cabin is noticeably driver-centric, with major controls close to hand. There's also no shortage of information available to the driver with a pair of clear electronic displays – one for the audio unit the other between the main dials.
Fans of the old car will feel right at home thanks to a familiar feel to the switchgear. Newcomers will be faced by a more upbeat and engaging experience than is available in some rivals and a light and bright cabin.
Being that's likely to appeal more to company drivers than private buyers, it's no surprise that Ford is heavily promoting diesel engines as the favoured option and the 115hp 1.6-litre unit ticks all the relevant boxes regarding economy, emissions and tax-related costs.
The refined engine emits only 109g/km of CO2. Factor in the now familiar trick ways of achieving the latter – active aerodynamic aids, engine stop-start – and the car's 67.3mpg official economy figure looks believable.
In real-world conditions the car is willing and capable of keeping up with the brisk pace of motorway traffic, and is flexible enough to trickle around town in a high gear to help save fuel and the environment. The engine stop-start function works well is quick to restart when you want to pull away from a standstill.
Aside from the obvious fuel economy and emissions figures, the complete absence of any related compromise – reduced performance or refinement – makes it a suitable all-rounder for tackling everything from the urban grind to the office to hauling tools or samples halfway across the country in one hit.
As a rounded package the Focus estate is hard to beat despite the increase in choice and competition in the time since the first-generation car hit the showrooms all those years ago. Fortunately for buyers seeking a sophisticated and refined product, the Focus has moved with the times – in some areas it's even managed to trump its rivals.
For some, their company car is little more than another tool to get the job done, like a stapler or pen. To view the Focus in this way does it a huge disservice – it's much more than that.
FORD FOCUS ZETEC ESTATE 1.6 TDCi (START-STOP)
Engine: 1.6-litre, 115bhp turbo diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 11.1 seconds; top speed 120mph
CO2 Rating: 109g/km