Aston Martin celebrates its 100th anniversary with a radical one-off concept car
Ford Focus review (2004-2008)
Replacing a car is never an easy task for any car manufacturer. However, when the car in question is the Ford Focus it really must be a nightmare. With the existing car is still being so far ahead of the game, still being the benchmark by which not only mainstream, but also new premium C-segment contenders are judged, the new Focus's toughest rival isn't from rivals models, but the car it replaces.
First impressions when the pictures were revealed weren't too encouraging. The now familiar edgy look has been softened, some now criticising the Focus for being too conservative. It's likely that they're the same that claimed the current car too radical, yet its sales success, stands as testament to the designer's ability to give the public what they want - whether the public realises or not. So give it a chance, particularly as in the metal it looks far better than pictures can convey, there's a strength to its lines, which while still obviously a Focus, has a more upmarket, solid appearance to it.
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The interior, the area where the current car really shows its age, is a huge leap forward in both quality look and feel. Soft touch plastics, neat design and great ergonomics enhance it to a level that's equal to, if not better than its key rivals like the VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra.
It's cosseting in there too. Despite this more cocooned feel there's actually more space on offer front and rear. Back seat passengers gain useful legroom in both three and five-door models, and there's a good-sized boot too, though the tapered roofline at the rear does mean there's limited headroom in the back for taller passengers. With comprehensive equipment, a wide engine range, similar pricing to the old car - the base model starts at just £10,895 - and the promise of estates, sporting models and a coupe cabriolet model too then there really will be a Focus to suit everybody.
The engines are able, if not spectacular in their performance, the 2.0-litre petrol needing working to produce its best, the 2.0-litre TDCi a far more relaxed driving experience with its easy torque allowing you to maintain good pace without the constant need to swap gear ratios. A 1.6-litre TDCi mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) was also tested, but it's fussy and demands revs from the engine, to the detriment of refinement. Really in a car like the Focus you'll want to be changing gears yourself.
On the road
Why manually change gear? Because the Focus has always excelled is on the road, as a car to be enjoyed. This second generation Focus is no different. On the winding Italian roads on the Focus launch it rides with excellent composure, the fine body control, decent ride and well-judged damping allowing precise body control with little body roll or pitch, even in when pushed hard. Grip levels are high, mild understeer apparent should you enter a corner too fast, the ESP stability control tidily, and discretely intervening to tidy that up.
With its well-weighted communicative steering giving you a clear message as to what's happening on the road it's easy to judge its limits, lessening the likelihood of such electronic intervention, allowing you to drive the Focus swiftly, with utter confidence.
It's this ability that's always marked out the Focus as a special car. To those who haven't driven it it's just another humdrum hatchback from a mainstream manufacturer, a stepping-stone up the car buying hierarchy that many will ignore due to the lack of a 'premium' badge. But really, the Focus is a car you must sample to understand, it might be a car for the people, but it seems that Ford are keen for those people to enjoy themselves. With the new car you'll do just that, and really there's no greater praise for a car that has to be so many things for so many.
Pricing & range
The car will start at just £10,895 on-the-road when it goes on sale in January 2005. With highly competitive specifications across the range the Focus should pick up where the current car leaves off, heading straight to the top of the sales charts. The more conservatively styled replacement will be available as three- and five-door versions from launch. The estate model will be introduced at the same time, it costing between £800-£1,400 more than the five door depending on specification.
Model choice will be enhanced with the usual LX, Zetec and Ghia trims joined by new Sport and Titanium trim levels; the latter a more modern alternative to the traditional range-topping Ghia trim which will still be offered.
Standard equipment across the range is generous. The emphasis is on safety, all coming with ABS and front and side airbags, with higher trim levels gaining full curtain airbags too. ST sporting models will also be offered, as will a 'coupe-cabriolet' featuring a folding hardtop roof to rival models from Peugeot and Renault. Both the coupe cabriolet and ST models are to be shown at the Paris Motor Show, Ford launching the entire range quickly. The class leader in driving dynamics, the Ford hopes the new, smarter look will help the Focus take sales from the Golf, our first impressions suggest that it may be just the car to do it.
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