Ford wants Focus to retake No.1 sales spot

Beaten into third place in the sales charts by VW and Toyota, Ford is hitting back hard in 2015 with a heavily revised Focus.

If you wanted to choose a new car launch that actually makes more of a difference to more of the people, then it's this one. Aston Martins and Ferraris may make more headlines and draw in the glamour crowd but it's the Ford Focus that is still the Acme of Irish motoring.

Ever since the first generation Focus was launched in 1999, it has consistently been one of the best-selling cars in the country and while in recent times the VW Golf may have knocked it somewhat off its perch, there is still a salient fact – since that 1999 launch, one in 20 of every new car sold in Ireland has been a Focus.

Recently, we’ve driven the high-performance Focus ST hot hatch (think of it as a jalfrezi) and heard news of the forthcoming even-hotter 323hp 4WD Focus RS (that’s a full-on, mega-chilli phall) but it’s now with the launch of the updated and upgraded standard Focus (tikka masala) that the battle to put Ford back on its Irish No.1 spot begins.

"We are launching several key new models this year," Ciaran McMahon, Ford Ireland's chairman and managing director told The Irish Times. "Including what I'd call our 'Big Guns' of Focus and Mondeo. Plus we've new C-Max, new S-Cmax, new Galaxy and of course the Mustang all coming this year. So I would see that third place in 2014 turning around in Ford's favour this year."


That’s not just idle market-share posturing either – Ford’s sales are up by a claimed 38 per cent in the passenger car market so far this year, and with the Focus counting for around 35 per cent of Ford’s total sales in Ireland, the key importance of this new model is clear to see.

So, what's new? Well, most obvious is the styling. At the rear, little enough seems to have changed bar some minor tweaks to the lights and bumpers, but at the front it's all new – narrower, more piercing-looking headlights and that now-signature Aston-Martin-style grille take away the slightly fussy styling of the old Focus and give it a cleaner look, with a hint of Liam Neeson glower.

It’s a handsome new look, even if the core of the car remains stylistically unchanged (and there are some odd lines along the side that look like dents in certain lights…) but the greater change is on the inside. Like the exterior, the basic architecture of the cabin is unchanged, but there has been a definite lift in quality. It’s not quite up to Golf standards at this first impression, but perhaps that is as much to do with perception as tactile reality – it will take a proper hop from one to t’other to really tell. Whatever, there are now clearer, more handsome dials, a sleeker switchgear layout and the big, bright new touchscreen that runs Ford’s new SYNC2 infotainment system. It’s impressive to use – intuitive and with the sort of big, bold graphics that makes it easy to twiddle on the go, but there are issues.

On the minor problem side there is an irritating beep that prefaces every sat-nav instruction (and we couldn’t figure out how to turn it off…). On the major problem side is that this big 8” version of the screen costs an extra €800. The standard 5” screen is still good, but less obviously impressive.

In equipment terms all Focuses get ESP with hill-hold assist, electric front windows, a tyre pressure monitor and Ford’s MyKey system that allows you to set speed and distance limits for anyone borrowing the car. Anyone who, say, might be a teenager and related to you…

The second-level Style model will doubtless be the best-seller though, with standard SYNC with five-inch screen, a USB port for your media player and 16” alloys. There are also some optional new safety systems including a park assist that can get you out of as well as into a space and a system that detects traffic approaching from either side when reversing out of a space.

While there's no sign of the new 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol in the lineup, there is the still-impressive 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost in 100hp and 125hp forms. The 1.6 diesel is still there in 95hp and 115hp variants and there's the new 2.0-litre diesel with 150hp. Amazingly, you can still buy the old naturally aspirated 1.6 petrol at the bottom of the range, but quite why anyone would is beyond me.

The 1.0-litre EcoBoost is still the pick of the range though. The 1.6 diesel that we sampled (in rather handsome and practical estate form) felt a little under-fed, but perhaps that can be put down to it being a bit ‘tight’ with only 500km on the clock. The 125hp EcoBoost felt far livelier and more responsive, but watch the fuel consumption – thus far, we’ve never managed to replicate Ford;s claimed fuel consumption in an EcoBoost model.

The Focus retains its dynamic brilliance though. The steering, accessed through a nicely proportioned new three-spoke wheel, feels firm, reactive and full of information about the road below. Body control is excellent and the ride quality, often an issue on the previous model, seems to have calmed down a lot. Certainly, it’s still the most driver-oriented car in the family hatchback mould – and superior to the vaunted Golf in that respect.

Prices start from €20,235 for the basic 1.6 petrol, but the 1.0 EcoBoost in Style trim will run you €22,345 while a 1.6 95hp diesel will cost €23,195. There’s also the carrot of a five-year warranty, currently being offered as a no-cost option by participating Ford dealers, and which Ford says it has no intention of stopping any time soon.

Will it be enough? Will a new Focus (and new Mondeo, and new C-Max et al) lift Ford back to the No.1 spot? Ciara McMahon certainly believes so, and told us that "this will sell without us over-indexing on rental sales or on pre-reg." Bold words in the motoring world of 2015. Ford will need a little bit of that 1999 magic to elbow past Toyota and VW.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring