Ford Focus TDCi - Driven

Ford's successful Focus range is now in its third model cycle. Each model seems to be less daring than the previous one stylistically, but all have been acclaimed as being very competent, if not quite class-leading by the European press.

I had the opportunity to drive about 3000km in Europe in the best-selling diesel engine version, with manual transmission. So how did it stack up in everyday city use, on Autobahns and loaded with four people at times? Very well, I'm pleased to report.

To look at, the current model seems a little contrived in its details the exaggerated tail lights and unusually shaped under bumper air intakes don't work cohesively with the overall shape. Nonetheless, the styling doesn't cramp the style of door access and other vital elements (which is the case with some competitors in the field). Ford has freshened and improved the front since I drove this car.

The finish of the car, inside and out, seems to be of a good standard, with fit lines admirably tight though at speed there's too much wind whistle from the front windows.

Inside, the Focus is very pleasant, even in the middle of the range version tested. The upholstery material is nothing to write home about, but the seats are decently supportive, and still comfortable after spending all day continent-crossing. The car's ride is excellent and compliant, without being overly soft.

The controls are straightforward and understandable. My biggest criticism though, is if the adjustable steering wheel is set in a low position (which I like), the top of the wheel obliterates the view of the speedometer from 80km/h to figures around 200km/h. Dumb design. Fortunately my sat nav gave a readout when we were doing 175km/h on an unrestricted speed section of Autobahn.

The Focus steers very nicely, with good weight and directness at all speeds from the electric steering system. Handling is one of the car's strong-points, always leaving the driver feeling confident in the car's abilities.

The 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine helps makes a fine car. It's the equal of a Volkswagen diesel quiet (for a diesel), torquey and very usable. The torque made it an easy car to either potter around town or cruise at low revs at speed, and there's no breathlessness when overtaking power is required. Unfortunately Ford Australia only offers the petrol version now.

As an overall package form one of the world's biggest manufacturers, the Focus is a well sorted, very competent package and enjoyable to drive. Starting at $19,990 drive-away for a 1.6-litre, petrol, sedan or hatch, the Focus is certainly sharply priced. The Focus is right up there with the class-leading Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf. But somehow the package doesn't entice the enthusiast in me enough...

 Engine type: 4-cylinder turbodiesel 1.6-litre
 Power: 86kW
 Torque: 270Nm
 Transmission: 6-speed manual as tested
 Performance: 0-100km/h 11.1 seconds
 Price: $24,000 at time of writing
 Text & main photo - Paul Blank (copyright)