Motoring: Small thinks big
The Ford Focus is a little estate with room to spare.
Saturday 30 January 1999
What was significant about its victory in the COTY was not just the margin of its win, which was big, but the widespread nature of its popularity. The judges from France liked it just as much as those from Finland; ditto the Greeks, Germans, Belgians, Britons, Swedes and Spaniards. Often the COTY judges back their national favourites. Not this year. The Focus wiped the board. To cap off a terrific couple of months for Ford, the Focus has just picked up top marks in the official NCAP European safety tests.
But like any new star, there comes a time when the sparkle will start to flicker. And that's when the critics, who have lauded the new Focus like no other mass-made car I can remember, will be poised, knives ready to thrust.
The first big opportunity for the knockers comes when a car's model range starts to proliferate. Yes, yes, the hatch may be ace. But can the other versions which follow possibly be as good? Well, the Focus range is about to go from hatch only, to estate and four-door saloon as well. Here, we test the load-lugging estate version.
Let's start on a sour note. The hold-all model doesn't look as elegant as the freshly-styled hatch. The estate's back end looks rather grafted on, like a box-room extension to an already handsome building. The stylish Sloane Square front sits uncomfortably with the suburban semi-detached stern. There are very few estates that look like they were designed as estates from the outset, with most looking like converted hatches or saloons.
In lugging capacity, though, the new estate is excellent. Ford claims it is the roomiest car in its class, and if you start to cart around big loads you'll be unlikely to gainsay them. The carrying area is high, wide, uncluttered and well able to accommodate large objects. The rear seats fold forward, to let in more luggage. Pity the bottom back-seat cushion is one-piece, when the rear backrests are split 60:40. It's one of the few obvious signs of Ford penny pinching, and does compromise the car's load-carrying versatility.
As with the Focus hatch, the rear seat is outstandingly roomy, offering excellent head- and leg-room. In every area except shoulder-room, it is as spacious as the Mondeo in the next-class-up. Trim quality is also good, even if the Focus lacks the class of the Golf.
The dashboard is a strange futuristic design, which won't appeal to everyone. But it sites all the controls very conveniently - including the radio, up nice and high in the centre of the dash. The only blemish is on the top-range Ghia version, which gets awful fake wood, which clearly comes from a cheap tube rather than a majestic tree.
The Focus estate drives superbly. It handles and steers as well as the Focus hatch, the class benchmark, and is well ahead of rivals. It's only when the load starts to get really heavy that its fleetness suffers.
There's a range of engines on offer, but the best is the 1.6-litre petrol engine. It is smooth revving, pleasingly brisk and extremely economical. You should have little difficulty getting close to 40mpg. If you want more zip, but less refinement, the 1.8- and 2.0-litre engines won't disappoint.
Personally, I'd stick with the more handsome five-door Focus hatch, and pay the home-delivery fee every time I buy too much at Ikea or Homebase. But if you really want the carrying capacity, and fancy a small estate, then there is no better choice. The styling may be more disjointed than the hatch. But the Focus estate is still a terrifically good car.
Make and model: Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec estate pounds 14,000
Engine: 1,596cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 100bhp at 6,000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front wheel drive
Performance: Maximum speed 115mph, 0-60mph in 11.0 seconds, 40.9mpg average
Citroen Xsara 1.6LX estate pounds 13,635. Good ride, nippy enough and quite roomy, but lacks the engaging driving manners of the Focus
Peugeot 306 1.6LX estate pounds 14,220. Stylish, good to drive, soft riding, but not as spacious as the Ford
Vauxhall Astra 1.6LS estate pounds 14,045. Probably the Focus's keenest rival. Spacious and handsome, but the cabin's trim is second-rate
Volkswagen Golf 1.8CL estate pounds 13,920. The estate Golf still uses the old Golf's underpinnings, so it's outgunned by the new Ford in just about every way
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
iJobs Money & Business
$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer Office...
$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...
Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...