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2007 Ford Focus 1.6 Style, 1.6 LX Automatic - 6th January 2008

Quick Drive

Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style
(Click to enlarge) Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style Ford Focus 1.6 Style

You know, traffic jams are good for something. As I sat there, in the seemingly never-ending queue on the A628 heading into Hollingworth for the 89th minute, I’d had plenty of opportunity to have a good fiddle with all the switches, buttons and controls that adorned the attractive, ergonomical and heavily textured fascia of this one-up-from-basic Focus ’tyle (no that’s not a typo, the "S" had curiously fallen off, or been nicked, from the badge on the rear).

I discovered that the units for the optional fuel computer can be changed from Metric to Imperial as you choose, and that at tickover this 1.6 uses 0.2 gallons of fuel per hour, whilst its average fuel consumption was 35.4 mpg and average speed 48 mph. I also discovered that when you wash the windscreen, the wipers operate for just the right length of time, not too long, not too short and that after they’ve finished they give another single wipe 3 seconds later. Hmm...what is it they say about idle hands? The steering mounted audio controls did everything expected of them and, as well as looking good, the audio system was easy to use and sounded great - not hi-end home-Hi-Fi great, but good enough. The quality of the materials was excellent, far better than the last Ford I owned (a 1996 Mondeo) and easily up there with the best of it’s rivals. I also had time to reflect on the fact that, in the previous 170 miles, I hadn’t once thought about the seats or driving position. This is a good thing and is absolutely how it should be. If you notice, the chances are it’s because you ain’t comfy. Actually, the seats were particularly comfortable and with just enough shape to hold me in position in the twisties.

Another thing that traffic jams are good for is highlighting the refinement of the drivetrain. Here the Focus was excellent. The light, smooth throttle and clutch pedal actions meant that creeping along in traffic was a painless and jerk-free task. It was also happy for me to (gently) take my foot off the gas in first gear and it pulled the car along at tickover with no nasty transmission shunt or kangarooing motion.

Fortunately, the rest of my journey hadn’t been so tiresomely slow. My route had included motorways, fast dual carriageways, and some fast, twisty A-roads. Once on the move, the 100ps 1.6 petrol engine really sung. It was quite vocal, but never sounded harsh or strained. It was free-revving and happy to send the tacho needle spinning into the upper regions of the rev counter, all the way into the 7s before the red light came on and the limiter kicked in. Keep it dancing there with some enthusiastic use of the stubby gear stick and it really is quite nippy - we’re talking adequately brisk here rather than serious speed, but there is something really satisfying about driving a car that’s happy to rev its nuts off without taking you into licence-shredding territory.

What it lacked in outright pace, the Focus made up for in momentum. The delightful, confidence inspiring handling, combined with quick, accurate steering enabled me to maintain more speed through bends than I would have thought possible with a sensible family hatchback. Fast roundabouts were dispatched with nonchalance and fast sweeping bends tackled with conviction. One small section of B-road, with medium-fast bends and ups and downs was so much fun I wanted to turn around and do it again...I didn’t because I had a schedule to keep to, but you get the picture.

As an added bonus, this back road fun doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality, and despite its relative lack of body roll it always remained comfortable and composed. The brakes were powerful too, with good bite and a progressive feel and when the ABS cut in it did so unobtrusively. Overall, the focus felt light and nimble and progress was more rapid than expected. Well, they do say the fastest car on the road is a hire-car!

Bad points; road noise is noticeable, in fact on the A50’s coarse pink surface it was irritatingly noticeable; the handbrake, obviously designed for left-hand drive cars, is too far to the left; the driver’s side door mirror is flat and doesn’t have the convex, curved edge you get on many cars so you can’t see what’s alongside you and...er...well, that’s it really...and I’m nitpicking there. Ok, yes, it could do with a little more pace, but there are bigger petrol engines available and diesels too to solve that minor issue. But apart from this, it really is hard to fault. It’s comfortable, reasonably spacious, well built, economical, goes well and it’s a hoot to chuck around. If William Morris had written "News From Nowhere" in 2007 I could imagine that the only form of transport in his utopian society would have been the Ford Focus. It really is, for most people, every car they’ll ever need.

Trouble is, if you’re like me, it isn’t all about "need", "desire" also comes into play, and with its dull, uninspiring, ordinary "plain-Jane" looks, it just doesn’t do it for me (although the new 2008 makeover is an improvement). Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a fantastic car and it is a real pleasure to drive, and that makes it all the more disappointing - I really wish I hadn’t enjoyed driving it quite so much. But, if it came to parting with my own cash, it wouldn’t even be on my shopping list. I’ve had my fair share of ordinary, I want something extraordinary. Ford, pull your finger out, give the next focus the looks to match the driving experience.


Ford Focus 1.6 LX Automatic

By way of comparison, I also recently got to drive a Focus with the same engine but with an automatic gearbox. Was the driving experience any different? Well...yes. The same compliant ride, confident handling and sharp, accurate steering were there but the zesty responsive nature of the engine was dulled somewhat by the auto ’box.

Now, if you really need a car with automatic transmission and your regular journeys are around town, then this one is very hard to fault. It’s changes are silky smooth and virtually unnoticeable. The gear lever markers are not illuminated but there is a large digital display on the dash to show you what gear you are in. Flick the lever across to the right from "D" to move into manual mode and the display changes from "D" to show the exact gear, from 1 to 4, you are currently in. Now you can change gears yourself...a quick pull of the lever to change up a gear or a push forwards to change down, useful for holding it in gear around bends or on hills.

Unfortunately, if you’re an enthusiastic driver like me, you’ll find it a bit frustrating. Whenever you lift off the gas the revs die away, even in manual mode, and this means when you apply the gas again the revs have to rise before there’s any pull. Also, you don’t have complete control over gear selection in manual mode - accelerate hard and it will kick-down, go too slow for the current gear and it will select a lower one or keep pushing to the red-line and it will change up for you - these are all probably good things and not something the average auto’ driver will encounter. All in all, it makes this 1.6 Focus feel sluggish and unresponsive. OK, I know what you’re thinking, the same criticisms can be levelled at most automatics, which is a fair point, but there are other automatics and semi-automatics out there that don’t discourage the enthusiastic driver to quite the same extent. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you really like to push-on, stick with the manual Focus.

Gav.

Ford Focus 1.6 Style
Ford Focus 1.6 Style

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