Richard Aucock
08/07/2009 06:09 | By Richard Aucock, contributor, MSN Cars

Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi saloon review (2005-2008)



Ford Focus Saloon (© Ford)

Overview:

Model: Ford Focus saloon
Bodystyle: 4dr saloon
Engine: 2.0-litre TDCi turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Date of test: July 2005

What is it?

The previous Focus saloon had a rear only a pen pal could love, with lines remarkable only for their peculiar incohesiveness. It sold well in America but did exactly the opposite over here. Undaunted, Ford is back, with the MkII Focus saloon but with no real message other than stressing its “elegance”. This is not to be a key part of the Focus range and the company admits it will continue to sell in handfuls rather than by the lorry-load. But at least now, dealers won’t be embarrassed to have it in their showrooms. It’s fair to say the styling has been transformed from before, with crispness to the rear previously lacking, and an interesting profile that sits well alongside the saloon. The front is the same as the Focus hatch, and none the worse for that, as is the interior.

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Where does it fit?

Years ago, the small saloon market used to be a key one in the UK, with Ford’s Orion battling against Vauxhall’s Belmont – but not anymore. Hatchbacks are where it’s at, leading many manufactures to not bothering with saloons at all. Where is the Vauxhall Astra saloon, for example? Those that do pitch them ‘upmarket’, at an older clientele than buyers of hatches – so, in the Focus line-up, Ghia and Titanium trims feature, rather than racy Zetec and Sport. Dealers and Ford itself rather like this; the entry point for saloon models is £15k, rather than just under £11k for the hatch, while the 2.0-litre TDCi Titanium model we drove was, before options, £18k. Just 10 per cent more would get you into a diesel Audi A4. Not that the Audi is a Focus rival – look to the Renault Megane Sport Saloon, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta and Volvo S40 for competitors, with the Mazda and the Volvo actually being the same car beneath their respective bodies.

Is it for you?

The Focus is now a better-looking alternative to a Mondeo saloon, rather than an ugly kid brother everyone tries to avoid. So if you cannot stretch to a diesel Mondeo, it’s a fair alternative that offers more standard kit and a more advanced 2.0-litre diesel engine. But really, it is only saloon devotees who will hunt out a 4dr Focus, as the hatch offers all that it does, plus a more modern appearance, for less cash. Ford seems unwilling to pouch the ‘budget junior exec’ line, so if you’re a frustrated company car driver who wants a 3-Series but can’t afford one, you won’t find much to lure you here, despite the Focus’s proclaimed chassis. Surely, Ford, a tasty Zetec model with a more sporting bent could have added extra fizz and appeal to the range?

What does it do well?

It should drive even better than the already-superb Focus hatch. Why? The saloon rear means the bodyshell is stiffer, which in theory means the handling is even sharper and more accurate. Really though, you will be hard-pushed to notice, as the standard car is so exceptional. Needless to say, this drives so too. You will notice it’s even more comfortable though, because the seats are set appreciably higher for a more commanding, more regal view out. And the perches are brilliant. The 2.0-litre diesel engine has impeccable manners, with petrol-like feel at low revs where other diesels will grumble and surge. It responds to the throttle with alacrity too, almost as if Ford has geared it to have 80 per cent of response in 20 per cent of travel. Rather satisfying on the motorway, not to mention relaxing. More frenetic use will also please, through the quality of the six-speed gearbox, the progressive brakes and light clutch.

What doesn’t it do well?

As the hatch does so little wrong, then neither does the saloon. Perhaps the diesel engine can seem a little clattery, but do not confuse this for harshness or excessive noise. It’s just that the rest of the car is so quiet, it allows you to hear the engine more clearly. Bizarrely, it can feel a little too eager on fractional throttle openings at times, thrusting you discreetly to speeds to risk your licence, while those coming from a Renault or Volkswagen will notice the ride is firmer. It is better, as time soon proves, but initial impressions may bemoan the loss of a marshmallow feel. The biggest gripe we have, however, is with pricing. Climate control, ESP, Euro IV compliance, cruise control and CD autochanger should all be standard, not options that push the price up by £1,850. You really could get an A4 for that.

What’s it like to live with?

An often-overlooked advantage of saloons is the enormous boots they offer – bigger than the equivalent hatchbacks, as the Focus proves. Offering 526 litres, it’s a gigantic 35 per cent bigger than the hatch (inconceivably, it’s bigger than a Mondeo saloon, too), and much more secure too as luggage is locked away and hard to access. The opening could usefully be bigger though, to take full advantage, but many rivals are much worse in this respect. Otherwise, it is painless to live with. The diesel engine returns nearly 50 to the gallon and although Titanium trim pushes the insurance rating up to group 10, one more than the same-engined Ghia, it will be worth a slightly higher proportion of its list price come resale time – even though overall, saloons will be worth slightly less than hatchbacks. Service intervals are a little short at 12,500 miles, meanwhile, and the lack of variable intervals is a gripe when many rivals can offer them. Minor gripes? The box atop the dash never seemed to shut cleanly and was slightly out of line when closed, the door panels look plasticky and cheap, while the light in the astray seemed not to extinguish when closed.

Would we buy it?

Unless we had removal van levels of luggage to cart around, we would buy a Focus Zetec hatchback with this engine, enjoy the tremendous drive and £1,000s in the bank. Ford has pitched the Focus saloon range upmarket and while its target buyers will like this and not grumble, most people will not be willing to pay the extra for a car that looks good, but not as good as the hatch. Not that they will even consider it anyway, because small saloons as a rule just aren’t cool. The Focus could have been, with its smart new style mated to a moody bodykit and sporty bent, but buyers are too few for the marketing to be worth Ford’s while. So a fantastic car to drive, which we would not buy. That’s a rarity. But then, so will be the Focus saloon.

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