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Still the handling king

15.01.2002 (07.02.2002)

Handling, Driving experience, Heated Windscreen, Refined Engine

Oddball styling, Cluttered Dash, Main Beam Light, Quality suspect in places

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

Value for Money

Road Handling


Fuel consumption



27 Ciao members have rated this review on average: very helpful See ratings
exceptional by (2%):
  1. tartupets
very helpful by (95%):
  1. Mitsudan
  2. mriches-design
  3. shanklin
and 56 other members
helpful by (3%):
  1. jackiechan
  2. mufc-number-18

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Like many people over Christmas, I decided to rent a car for the festive season. I was driving all the way up to Edinburgh from Bedford, which worked out to be 372 miles each way, as well as a few trips here and there. A more economical way of getting there was by either plane or train but we had missed out on all the cheap deals by the time we decided we wanted to go. In total I did about 1500 miles in the festive week from Christmas to the New Year. This op isn’t going to be near as comprehensive as my Golf op, as I don’t own the vehicle, but I hope it will provide for some informative reading.

Anyway, Ford Focus! If you read my opinions, you will know I actually own a VW Golf, which is one of its main rivals. I had a choice between a Ford Focus and a Vauxhall Astra. I’ve driven both before but I simply prefer the driving dynamics of a Ford Focus. I had to get an estate version because I was accommodating for 4 passengers and luggage. The model I rented was a 1.6 Zetec. Features that came with this model included air conditioning, electric front windows, ABS and remote central locking. This model did not feature an alarm though.

Love it or hate it, you have to admit the Ford Focus body dynamics are different. Even to this day after 4 years since it came out, opinions are still very divided about the Focus' looks. It dares to be different with its combination of round moulded shell and angular lines. You can tell other manufacturers are following suit as well with this line of peculiar (if not ugly) styling. Just look at the recent Honda Civic, Peugeot 307, Fiat Stilo, and Toyota Corolla. Most of these newly released cars have a very similar front end to the Focus with its big diagonally slanted lights.

The dynamics of the dashboard are very different from other cars. It continues with its use of angles and curves and makes a welcome change from normal boring grey dashboards. Although it does look nice, the actual layout of the dashboard I found was quite cluttered and it was hard to know where the various switches and buttons were but I guess to a Ford Focus owner, this would become easier with time. As with any modern car, there’s the usual drinks holder and cubby spaces for putting odd bits and bobs. The glove compartment is pretty small but that’s all down to the fact that above it is the passenger airbag. This car has both drivers and passenger airbags.

The space in a focus seems to be humongous. I must applaud ford for coming up with a ingenious interior design which makes it possible for there to more room in length, height and width ways. The legroom is generous in the rear as well as the front. The only car I know off with more interior space in this class is the new Honda Civic, but I think that’s cheating as it looks more like a mini-MPV. The rear roofline even recesses to provide more headroom, which is well thought out. It small touches like this that impress me.

The estate boot space was very accommodating easily swallowing 5 or 6 medium size luggage cases. If that wasn’t enough you could fold down the rear seats, which gives you more room. In fact, the more I looked at it, the more I realise that it was the size of an old Ford Sierra estate. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say this, as most cars get bigger in size with every new incarnation. If you compared the space in a Ford Escort estate with a Ford Focus estate, you would think that they are in different size group!

Anyway, onto the best thing I like about the Ford Focus, the handling. I remembered originally thinking the talk about the Focus' handling was all hype, but I was proved wrong. For all the things that people can dislike about a Focus, the handling more than makes up for it. On the bendy roads to Edinburgh after the M6, every road was a joy to drive with the focus soaking up everything that it had been thrown. Some people might call it ugly but the body chassis actually helps the Focus' handling on the road.
UPDATE - The handling is improved on the Zetec models as it has toughened uprated suspension, which is lacking in the CL version. Thanks to Angusreid for that bit of info!

The 1.6 Zetec is quick off the mark, or at least it feels it and can reach a top speed of 115mph where permitted (basically nowhere in the UK). There are times when it can feel sluggish especially with a full load. The mid-range suffers a bit especially in fifth gear going from 60-80mph but once you are there you can quite happily cruise at the speed and the engine is quiet and refined. At this point I would like to point out that Focus series of Zetec engines are very refined and frugal. Being a Golf owner, I won’t be biased as I think the 1.6 engines are so much better than the one that VW but in there Golfs. The Zetec engines are a bit like the VTEC engines from Hondas which are usually associated with performance. But what a lot of people don’t realise, is its potential for better fuel economy as well. The 1.6 Zetec engine does on average 40.6mpg. I know its not a true representation of everyday driving as I did mostly motorway mileage but I did about 400 miles on a tank costing around £34. Not bad considering I drive a diesel!

Likes and Dislikes
A thing I love about Ford's in general is the heated front windscreen. Whilst I have to de-ice my windscreen on my Golf, and hope for it to melt, the Focus has the ability to melt the ice with a touch of a button. This is an excellent feature, which should be in more cars. The front windscreen has very thin heating elements in it which helps melt snow and ice. The downfall of this wonderful feature is the fact that the windscreen can look psychedelic especially in the dark and when it comes to replacing that cracked windscreen, I bet it wouldn’t be cheap! Great to know there is windscreen cover on insurance policies then!

Things I didn’t like about it? The mirrors were a little bit deceptive, and this could lead to judging parking distances being a difficulty, especially when reversing into a tight space. But like most cars, I think its just a matter of getting used to it!

Like I mentioned before, the interior is very cutting edge but can be subjective but I think in a way the layout is a bit cluttered and the plastic could be better. The seats are very supportive if not a bit too firm and this was evident on a long journey. This I guess is where the VW Golf wins over the Focus.

The main beam can also be a bit poorly and you have to switch it to the highest setting before you get good visibility in the dark, though for oncoming motorists, it can be a bit too bright.

I do really like the Ford Focus and I throughly enjoyed driving it for the short time I had it for. I wouldn’t have said that about the Ford Escort. I certainly couldnt called the Focus 'Boring'! I wasn’t sure about the looks when it first came out, but I’ve grown to not mind it so much. If you can get pass this point, then what lies underneath is probably one of the best cars to have come out of Ford ever, if not the best. Its totally rewritten the whole rulebook for producing a mass production car and even now, competitors are trying to keep up with it, if not just downright ripping it off! Personally, if I had to get one, I would go for a 1.8 Zetec engine, as it would give a bit more grunt and is still quite economical.

If I missed out anything please let me know and I will update this!
Welcome any comments! Hoped you have enjoyed this!

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Comments about this review »

shanklin 02.09.2005 14:44

This is a very well constructed review and although i don't know the vw golf very well, the interesting personnal views on comparison and actual ussage are a great asset as they tell people what they are buying, not just the material details. Personnal feelings are important when buying a car much like a house, it has to be right for the individual. Thanks a pleasure to read.

stumack 25.08.2005 13:10

Good review - I just dont understand how these cars are outselling the new Astras. And I say that as someone who's dad has worked for Ford all his life. I've got a new Astra SXi Digital and I would buy one of those over the Astra any day!

dp75 27.01.2005 21:08

Nice review. I'm thinking of buying a Focus soon. I've test driven one and it seems a great drive like everyone says. However theres no footrest in them!

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Product Information »

Manufacturer's product description

Ford present the Focus Zetec 1.6 5dr Hatchback with 5 Speed - (Man) / 4 Speed - (Auto), Front (FWD) running on Unle...

Product details

Body Type Hatchback
Fuel Type Petrol
Available Trims Ghia; LX; Style; Titanium; Zetec


Listed on Ciao since 18/06/2000

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Review Ratings »

This review of Ford Focus 1.6 has been rated:

"exceptional" by (2%):

  1. tartupets

"very helpful" by (95%):

  1. Mitsudan
  2. mriches-design
  3. shanklin

and 56 other members

"helpful" by (3%):

  1. jackiechan
  2. mufc-number-18

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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