Motoring: Awful car, if you like ventilation

I should give up the witch hunt and come clean. It's fantastic, brilliant, amazing...
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Indy Lifestyle Online
FANTASTIC! BRILLIANT! Amazing! The greatest single leap forward since the guys at Apple got sick of typing letters and invented the personal computer. (I just made up the last eulogy.) Such are the reactions from level-headed journalists reviewing a new family Ford. Even Jeremy Clarkson loved it.

How could a car with such a humble background - it's still a Ford after all - harvest such tributes? I've been driving a Focus for the past two weeks and was determined to find fault.

I did 1,000 miles in the first week and used it for city commuting in week two. I have had three kids in the back, filled the boot with bags and driven it on tracks, motorways and French secondaries. I have even had a Ford engineer alongside to take the flak.

Many journalists have said they can find no fault with the Ford. I am pleased to be able to report that I can. Its ventilation sucks (or, to be more accurate, it fails to blow out enough fresh air). Many modern cars, sculpted to cleave the air cleanly rather than ram air into the cabin, suffer similarly, but the Focus seems worse than most.

The road noise, on some motorways, is worse than I'd expected. You can hear quite a thrum on some surfaces. And the ride is firm. The Focus is biased to sharp handling more than soft riding although there's actually nothing uncomfortable about the way the Focus moves over broken tarmac.

Alex Moulton, designer of the Mini's rubber suspension and now maker of collapsible bicycles, reckons that the windscreen pillar is too steeply raked, which makes access difficult for older people. Besides that, he rather liked it.

The boot is smaller than the outgoing Escort's but still seems big enough, and the liftover height of the boot is also higher than normal. "That was a styling decision," said the Ford man. "We wanted the rear bumper to be quite high."

The Star Wars-style dash is a bit strange. Besides, a Golf's dashboard, as well as looking classier, is made from sterner stuff. A Golf's cabin still feels more upmarket, never mind that the VW is inferior in just about every other way.

That's the extraordinary thing about the Focus. It has not only muscled its way to the front of the class but, in most important areas, it has done so with such conviction that everything else feels rather second- rate. It's even good to drive around town in traffic, thanks to its excellent pedal actions and steering. In sharp contrast, the new Vauxhall Astra has an appallingly balky gearbox, while the new Peugeot 206 has pedals that are badly angled and impossible for big shoes.

There I go, flattering the Focus. Maybe I should just give up the witch hunt and come clean. It is fantastic, brilliant, quite amazing.

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