The new Focus Coupé-Cabriolet: Simply the best of its kind

Coupé-cabriolets involve compromise, and it's usually the driving that suffers. Not so with the Focus CC, engineered by Pininfarina. John Simister is converted

Model: Ford Focus Coupé-Cabriolet 2.0 TDCi
Price: from £19,270 (range spans £16,795-£20,210). On sale now
Engine: 1,997cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 136bhp at 4,000rpm, 251lb ft at 2,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 127mph, 0-62mph in 10.3sec, 47.9mpg official average
CO2: 156g/km

The electromagnetic spectrum is what it is. It can't be changed. The visible part can be blended in innumerable ways to create innumerable colours, but the ingredients will always be what they have always been. So it's hardly surprising that "new" car colours have usually been seen before.

Ford's new Focus Coupé-Cabriolet comes in some very nice new colours. They are from the palette not of Ford but of Pininfarina, the Italian car designer and building operation which builds the open-top Focus in Turin, and which helped to engineer it. One of these colours is almost identical to Ford's old Saluki Bronze (think Cortina 1600E, Capri, Mark 1 Escort, huge Zephyrs with bonnets like aircraft carriers). It's so retro that it looks modern again. Another new colour is almost Alfa Romeo Azzuro Fantasia, in which hue was finished the Alfa 156 I don't own any more.

Sparkling in the Tuscan sun, these colours suited the Focus well. It looked sporty, and could even have tended towards sleek had its bottom not been so big. But that's often a problem with coupé-cabriolets, whose solid roofs take up more space when stowed than a soft-top's does.

At least the Focus lets you into the boot's roomy cavity when the roof is folded without having to press a button to raise, laboriously, the stacked roof sections. That's the major snag of the Vauxhall Astra TwinTop and the Volvo C70; the price they pay for having a roof made up of three sections instead of the usual two. But do their bums look big? They do not.

Siena. Pininfarina. Ford plays the Italian-style card hard with the Focus CC. We first saw the open Focus as the Vignale concept car, reviving the name of another Italian carrozzeria which came to Ford as part of the deal when it acquired Ghia. As a concept it had lots of chrome detailing, some of which remains in the production version. The trapezoidal air intake under the front bumper (the face of Ford from now on) has a chrome outline, and there's a satin-chrome strip across the tail with FOCUS embossed on it: very Jaguar-esque. The Vignale concept had chrome strips along the sills, too, so look out for these on a future Vignale edition version. Maybe.

So, how did Ford convert the Focus into a convertible? Removing the roof took away a worrying 90 per cent of the torsional stiffness, so - as always with an open car - strength had to be put back elsewhere. This doesn't mean that the roof contributes 90 per cent of a Focus's strength in itself, by the way; it's simply that the roof is normally the final piece of the structural puzzle. The strengthening parts are pressed and assembled by Pininfarina, while the roof mechanism comes from Oasis, a subsidiary of Webasto, itself once famous for its fabric sunroofs.

The windscreen glass is regular Focus, but set back at a racier angle. This made the driving position seem too high, so it's now set 20mm lower than in a normal Focus. New foam in the seat cushion - soft in the middle for comfort, firm at the edges for support, accounts for 10mm, while the other 10mm comes from a new, lower position for the seat mountings.

This entailed a complete new steel pressing across the cabin, which will now be used in all Focuses. That's good; I've always thought that the front edge of a Focus seat is too high. Rear seat space is surprisingly generous for two, and there's acceptable headroom with the roof raised.

As a convertible package, then, the Focus CC works well. Where it could all go wrong, though, is in the driving. Usually a convertible has softer suspension to reduce shocks fed into the floppier body, but the Focus is different. The front springs are 8 per cent stiffer than in a regular Focus, the rear springs a surprising 33 per cent stiffer. All four dampers are firmed by 30 per cent. This is partly to cope with the extra weight, most of which is over the rear wheels, and partly to ensure a crisp, sporty drive. It means the engineers must have great faith in the stiffness of the CC's bodyshell. Either that or the thing will shudder over every bump.

It does not. True, I started my drive with the roof up, in which guise the Focus is quite a good-looking coupé. This was because of torrential rain, which the CC's roof seals managed to keep outside the cabin. Thus cocooned, I felt I was simply driving a lower, sportier Focus whose 136bhp, 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine felt effortlessly energetic.

Then out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the ritzy-glitzy Focus became a Spider (as Italians call convertibles) again. This is the point at which many coupé-cabriolets go to pieces, their first steering movements doing little more than taking up the slack in the structure. Not here. Certain road ripples cause an occasional gentle vibration in the windscreen, but that's about it. No other CC, in my experience, feels as solid as this one.

Which means those sporty suspension settings can work well. Amazingly well, in fact; I even prefer the Focus CC's balance to that of the ultra-sporty Focus ST, because the CC feels (and is) less nose-heavy. So it points beautifully into bends, its steering precise, its tail obligingly helping the pointing process. Usually a convertible makes you pay for your style by spoiling the driving dynamics, but not this one. It smothers bumps properly, too; bangs and shudders are banished.

In essence, the Focus CC feels like a lighter, more fleet-footed, more, well, focused Volvo C70, a car whose basic structure it shares. It hides its weight well if you're driving the diesel version, whose huge pulling power and six-speed gearbox make a great combination for winding, hilly roads. It sounds crisp, too, in a diesel-voiced way, so there's no aural annoyance when the roof is stowed, which takes 29 slightly jerky seconds.

I tried a 2.0-litre petrol version, with 145bhp, much less torque and a five-speed gearbox. The engine proved sweeter than it is in a Fiesta ST, but this time the Focus CC's weight was obvious. It moved along swiftly enough, but hills were harder work and the relaxation factor had gone. There's also a 1.6-litre version with an inadequate 100bhp, which is really quite slow without gaining much fuel economy over the 2.0.

The 1.6, though, is a bargain, starting at £16,795, cheaper than all its rivals. The price advantage continues with the other engines, making the Focus Coupé-Cabriolet the best value of all the CCs. With the possible exception of the Volkswagen Eos, which I have yet to drive, it's also the best. Full stop.

The rivals

Renault Mégane CC 1.9 dCi Dynamique: £20,510

Has a glass roof instead of a metal one, but rear seat space is very tight and the electric power steering feels very curious.

Vauxhall Astra TwinTop 1.9 CDTi Sport: £19,995

Three-piece roof eats into boot space, but its folding is pure kinetic art. A good-looking car, although it feels floppier than the Focus.

Volkswagen Eos Sport 2.0 TDI: £21,360

Expensive but handsome CC, loosely based on the Golf. Driving qualities praised by critics, and there's also a sporty V6 version.

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