Just like the outgoing model, the new Ford Focus already looks like a success. But unlike the outgoing model, it will need to be popular with buyers to be marked a real winner.
We loved the third-generation Focus for its standout dynamic qualities, value and safety. But it wasn't without its flaws either; the interior was fussy and the cabin wasn't as spacious as some rivals.
The fourth-generation Focus aims to fix all of that while building even further on its safety credentials and driving character.
Due to arrive in Australian showrooms from November, the all-new Focus will kick-start Ford Australia's passenger car line-up now that it has discontinued the cheaper, mainstream variants of the Fiesta city car.
Like before, it is a small family car that lines up against the likes of the popular Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 and will be offered in three model grades - Trend, ST-Line and Titanium.
All three ride on Ford's new small car platform that is longer, stronger and lighter than before and are powered by a 1.5-litre turbo charged three cylinder powerplant that drives the front wheels.
Both the entry-level and flagship variants will be offered as a five-door hatchback with an eight-speed automatic transmission while the ST-Line will come as either a hatch or a wagon and with the choice of an automatic or manual gearbox.
Prices have yet to be finalised for the range, but Ford isn't expected to change its position dramatically from today with the Trend likely to start at around $25,000 (plus on-roads), the ST-Line at around $26,000 (for the manual-equipped hatch) and the Titanium topping out just over $30k.
The wagon body style and automatic transmission on the ST-Line are expected to cost around $2k for each option.
Standard equipment on all models is quite generous with a comprehensive suite of safety systems including autonomous emergency braking with night-time pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping assistance, six airbags and a 180-degree rear-view camera.
All models will also feature Ford's latest Sync3 infotainment system with sat nav, Bluetooth, digital radio and smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices.
The Trend will run on 16-inch alloy wheels, have cloth interior trim and includes conveniences like automatic headlights, follow-me-home lighting and rain-sensing wipers.
The ST-Line has a unique body kit to complement its more aggressive and sporty stance, thanks to sports suspension that sits 10mm lower and larger 17-inch alloy wheels.
Inside the cabin, it gets a flat-bottom steering wheel, red stitching highlights and alloy pedals as well as dual-zone climate control and wireless phone charging.
The Titanium also has a unique appearance with chrome highlights in the bumper, LED headlights that can swivel around corners, have automatic high-beam activation and come with sequential indicators. It also increases the level of active safety features with the addition of active cruise control with stop-and-go in heavy traffic and evasise steer assistance, as well as blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, and has more luxuries with leather interior trim and a 675-watt, 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system.
A new platform that not only elevates on-road manners beyond the exceptional level of the current car but also liberates more space within the cabin.
The fourth-generation Focus is wider, lower and longer than the car it replaces and rides on a longer wheelbase with shorter front and rear overhangs.
The net result is there is 60mm more kneeroom in the back seat, ensuring there is more than enough room for a couple of adults to travel in relative comfort. The extra space will be appreciated by small families, as will the higher-quality cabin itself.
The front seats are supportive and offer plenty of adjustment to suit drivers of all sizes, with some nice little touches, such as the leather padding on the side of the centre console to make bracing your knee against the middle of the car more comfortable when cornering.
The cabin presents much better than before too, replacing the forward-thrusting, button-laden centre console of its predecessor for a cleaner, simpler and much more practical design that brings with it significantly greater small item storage spaces.
As is the trend at the moment, the infotainment system sits proudly at the top of the dash in a floating, tablet-style screen with crisp resolution while the menus are logicaly and easy to navigate. The Bang & Olufsen system in the top-spec Titanium is a cracker and sets a new standard for the small car class, with plenty of clarity throughout the volume range.
In all models though, there's now a large binnacle at the base of the dash big enough to keep your phone and wallet secure while USB and 12V power outlets ensure mobile devices remained topped-up - and connected - while on the move.
Those with an automatic transmission gain more space in the centre console thanks to a rotary controller for the gearbox and electric park brake.
The hatch has 375L of luggage capacity up to the parcel shelf, which isn't the biggest boot in its class but certainly spacious enough to handle everyday weekly duties like school runs, weekend sports activities and groceries. There's some nice conveniences too, such as luggage hooks, but the European test vehicles we sampled didn't have a spare tyre at all, just a temporary repair kit.
If you need even more space, the ST-Line wagon is a cool option. Not only is it longer by almost 300mm, it features a unique multi-link rear suspension set-up that pushes the damper mounting points further outwards in the wheel arches to create more space, with Ford claiming it has a capacious luggage capacity of 608L under the parcel shelf.
With a 60:40 split-folding rear seat, its load area can expand to over 1650L.
ON THE ROAD
All Australian-bound Focus variants will be powered by a new-generation 1.5-litre turbo charged three-cylinder engine that produces 134kW and 240Nm. That is, at least, until the high-performance models such as the ST and RS join the line-up in coming years.
Until then, the three-pot is a charming, efficient and refined little motor. It uses an integrated intake manifold with a low-pressure turbo charger and high-pressure direction fuel injection system to deliver a linear spread of power from low in the rev range, making it feel spritely around town and effortless at cruising speeds.
There is, of course, the usual thrumminess you get from a three-cylinder, with a slight vibration coming through the cabin at low revs and a warbling exhaust note under acceleration.
And while it does need to be worked hard when driven enthusiastically, it feels responsive, flexible and enjoyable when punting along a twisty road.
The thing about the Ford Focus, right from the very first generation introduced back in 1999, is that they have always stood out with brilliant dynamic qualities, balancing a comfortable ride with sharp and playful handling and backed-up by a well-calibrated safety net of electronic systems.
None of that changes with the fourth-gen Focus, except for the fact it does get better - albeit there is a caveat on that claim, as all the versions we drove in Europe were running with a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension setup.
In Australia, only the ST-Line wagon will be equipped in that configuration with all the hatchback variants featuring a cheaper torsion beam rear axle with variable rate springs.
Any variance between the two systems is likely to be minimal in everyday urban situations, where the Focus excels with a well-polished chassis that is compliant over bumps and well insulated from road and wind noise.
The steering is beautifully sorted too, feeling positive on centre for excellent high-speed stability and with a linear weighting across the ratio that feels more natural, particularly when returning to centre. Where the previous generation Focus - and the Escape SUV that it shared most of its underpinnings with - felt like the steering had an elastic quality, like it was being tugged back to the middle on a rubber band, the new one is smoother and more positive.
It also points well, turning into corners keenly with minimal push across the front tyres, and sits flat and sure-footed through the bends.
On a never-endingly twisty alpine climb on the test drive route out of Nice - the kind of roads used by the World Rally Championship in the season-opening Monte Carlo rally - the Focus never felt flustered, out of its depth or, frankly, underpowered. Sure, not even the ST-Line, with its sharper suspension settings, is fast enough to be considered a genuine hot hatch, but the foundations are there for a truly great one when the proper ST comes along.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Ford Focus has always deserved to be more popular than it has been, and the fourth-generation fixes any of the flaws of its predecessor while cementing even better dynamic foundations that could see it set new benchmarks for the class - and reclaim a few awards along the way.