Ford's Focus is best known as a family hatch, but if you need a little added practicality, look at the estate version before you get drawn into the SUV marketing spiel. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Ford Focus Estate has been given a proper working over with a revised front end, a more user-friendly interior, more efficient engines and some suspension tweaks that aim to remind us what made the Focus great in the first place. It's not the biggest or the cheapest estate in its sector, but it might just be the most appealing all-rounder.
Such is the pull of small SUVs that the estate car seems to have had its last rites read time and again yet still they struggle on. The reason why they refuse to die? They're a good idea. What's more, if people were honest about why they really needed a vehicle, an estate car would make more practical sense. They carry just as much as many SUVs, yet they're better to drive, they're lighter and more aerodynamic which means better efficiency and they're usually cheaper to buy too. Ford's brought us some brilliant estates down the years but as much as we've warmed to the Focus hatch, the five-door estate has never occupied a huge slice of the overall Focus sales pie chart. Perhaps this latest version can formulate a more convincing argument.
Ford has subtly tweaked the handling of this car, making changes to the suspension to improve the ride and slightly lightening the steering. As a result, it's a better long distance travelling companion, though some may feel tha the car now lacks a little of its earlier sharpness. It's still a much better drive than most of its competitors though. The engine range has also been much revised. Let's start with petrol power. Though at the foot of the range, it's still possible to get the old-tech 1.6-litre Ti-VCT unit in 85, 105 and 125PS guises, the mainstream petrol line-up is these days primarily based around the brand's clever 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo EcoBoost unit, offered with either 100 or 125PS. Above that now sits a 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit, offered with either 150 or 182PS. EcoBoost technology is also used in the hot hatch models, with a 2.0-litre 250PS unit used in the Focus ST. Those in search of a diesel have a choice between the old-tech 1.6-litre TDCi units, offering either 95 or 115PS. Or new-tech 1.5-litre TDCi engines offering either 95 or 120PS. Make sure you know what you're getting. Above these, there's an uprated 150PS 2.0-litre TDCi unit, also offered in 185PS guise to Focus ST buyers.
Design and Build
There's space for four adults without too much of a squeeze, but levering a third body onto the rear bench will be a bit of a pinch. The boot measures 490-litres to the parcel shelf, which isn't bad but there are a couple of caveats to consider. That's without a spare wheel included and having been stranded by the roadside when a tyre's blown out and a can of 'mobility' foam isn't cutting it, I value at least a space saver spare. Secondly, something like a Skoda Octavia is going to offer quite a bit more carrying capacity. The restyle to this latest Focus estate looks good, from the Aston Martin lookalike front grille to the neatly integrated extra glazing at the rear end. It rides on the same wheelbase as the hatch with a bit more overhang out back, and should you fold the rear seats, you get up to 1,502-litres of space. The centre storage console offers more space as well as a new sliding, integrated armrest, accommodating a variety of bottles and cups with the capacity to simultaneously hold a litre water bottle and a 400ml cup. The fascia design is more intuitive, that button-strewn centre stack and steering wheel being tidied up considerably. The black satin trim and chrome detailing contribute to a cleaner aesthetic too. Many of the controls are now marshalled by the SYNC 2 high-resolution, 8-inch colour touch screen system. This includes voice control for 'easier' access to audio, navigation, climate control and compatible mobile phones.
Market and Model
Focus estates open at just under £18,000, which will net you a 105PS 1.6-litre Style trim. From there, the trim structure steps up through Zetec, Zetec S, Titanium, Titanium X and then ST-1, ST-2 and ST-3. The entry-level version in the Focus hatch range - Studio - is not offered with the estate body. There's a whole host of new gear to take on board. The Perpendicular Parking system is a development of the old Active Park Assist to guide the car into a parallel parking manoeuvre, but the addition of extra sensors now opens up features like Cross Traffic Alert, which warns drivers reversing out of a parking space of vehicles that may soon be crossing behind them. Ford also has improved its popular Active City Stop collision avoidance system, which pre-charges the brakes and - if the driver still does not respond - reduces engine torque and automatically applies the brakes to reduce the impact of collisions. It has been enhanced to operate at speeds of up to 50 km/h, compared to 30 km/h with the old version. The existing Adaptive Cruise Control is now bolstered with a Distance Alert and Indication function. Even with the cruise set to 'off', drivers can set a preferred distance they would like to maintain with the vehicle ahead. Should the driver get any closer, the system issues a three-stage dashboard display warning - from grey to yellow to red before a chime is sounded.
Cost of Ownership
If there's one trend we've seen emerge in recent years it's that you don't automatically need a diesel engine to get decent economy. The latest Focus estate underscores that with some cracking petrol engines. Whether you choose the 150 or the 182PS 1.5 EcoBoost petrol engines, they're both good for 50.4mpg, which is remarkable given the amount of performance they offer. Even the ST, a car many will remember from the 2.5-litre fuel-hog days, is now capable of 41.5mpg. Go diesel and even the worst performer gets 64.2mpg. That's the 2.0-litre TDCi with 150PS and the automatic gearbox. The manual 185PS ST diesel is a little more economical at 67.3mpg. Only the 1.5-litre TDCi diesel engines manage to dip under the 100g/km emissions barrier, but the rest of the range does a pretty good job of keeping a cap on emissions. The ST petrol is the worst offender and even that emits just 159g/km. Cheap insurance and very low servicing costs are a given for the mainstream models.
The Focus estate has always seemed a bit of an afterthought from Ford. It was neither big enough or buoyed by serious promotion and that hasn't and won't change, for the short term at least. What does seem to be changing, slowly but surely, is customer perceptions of estate cars in general. Maybe it's a backlash against suburban SUVs that once smacked of active lifestyles but now just scream shopping and school run. The estate car is quietly staging a revival. If you're looking for an estate car of this size, the fact remains that the Focus is one of the very best. It's not the biggest and nor is it the cheapest, but as an all-rounder it takes some beating. The 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines are well worth a trip and in the shape of the ST Estate, Ford has a real Q-car on its hands. That one might just become the sleeper hit of 2015.