Ford Focus Zetec S
'It's got more than enough poke to be a quick parental taxi'
Price: From £18,745
Engine capacity: 1.6-litre
Power output (PS @ rpm): 180 @ 5,700
Top speed (mph): 138
0-60 mph (seconds):
Fuel economy (mpg): 47.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 139
The new Ford Focus Zetec S is the sort of car you'll find at an out-of-town shopping centre or a "drive-thru" McDonald's on Saturday morning, most likely driven by a youngish dad who still thinks he's a boy racer but has two kids in tow. And to stave off the boredom as he ferries them to football practice and music rehearsals, he's opted for the sportiest trim of Ford's best-selling family hatchback.
It's a far cry from his days cruising the local high streets in a souped-up Vauxhall Nova, and he'd dearly like to have waited for the Focus ST - the 246bhp hot hatch the company is launching later in the year - but he has football kit to carry and miles per gallon to consider. Thankfully for him, though, the Zetec S still has sharp alloy wheels, a new sports suspension, sports pedals, a sports body kit and most importantly a responsive 1.6-litre engine from Ford's excellent Ecoboost range.
Developed specifically for UK buyers as a concession to British automotive tastes - Ford rarely breaks from its "One Ford" policy of offering the same models around the world - the suspension is 28 per cent stiffer than the standard Focus set-up, but the ride is still smooth enough for all the family and steering is quick (if lacking a little feel) and ideal for Britain's rough-andready B-roads. Bring up the revs and there's plenty of poke for a parental taxi, a clean gearbox and a sweet exhaust note under acceleration to keep you happy.
It's rare to find a mainstream model for under £20k that's this much fun to drive, but over three of four long runs I came to really relish climbing into the Zetec S. It's got just enough grunt and verve without the jarring ride and daily visits to the pumps normally associated with hot or warm hatches.
For the family it's perfectly practical and packed with safety kit. I helped a friend move house in it and with the rear seats collapsed, there was more than enough room to move the contents of one small London flat to another in two cramped trips. Sadly my car was "candy yellow", a colour I can only describe as looking more like vomit than any confectionery I'd be tempted to try, so I got some rather funny looks, which is a shame as the Zetec S should look good in its smart body styling kit.
If I were a true petrol-head I'd probably tell you to wait for the more powerful ST model later in the year, but there's really no need. The standard Focus is an excellent family hatchback and in the Zetec S trim it gains a dose of fun, with just enough flare.
THE COMPETITION The closest warm hatch rival is the new Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.6i Sri but that's £22,480. If economy is your thing, a 1.0-litre Focus is on the horizon.
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