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Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi Powershift tested

The nice man from Ford has already prised the Focus’s keys from the grasp of the carwow content team, so what did we learn from our week with the car?

Well, first and foremost, it deserves its reputation as a fun-to-drive hatchback that combines that talent with a comfortable ride and quiet cruising ability. Its strengths are even more apparent when fitted with the PowerShift gearbox that can be fun when you want it to be, or easy to live with when you don’t. We would be surprised if it doesn’t become a popular option in the future, even though it costs £1,250.

This facelifted model also comes an improved interior with a Sync2 infotainment system that’s easy to use – for the most part. It’s a big improvement on the old model, but not quite up to scratch when compared to the class leader in this department – Volkswagen’s venerable Golf.

So should you choose the Focus if you’re in the market for a family hatchback? On the strength of our seven days with the car – yes, you should. Keep reading to find out exactly why and don’t forget, you can put the Ford Focus in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save if you want to buy one.

Day 7 – driving glows and night time woes

The Ford Focus has built itself a reputation as a family car that you also enjoy driving, so we put that to the test taking it on a 70-mile round trip one evening simply for the fun of it.

First of all, let’s talk about the automatic PowerShift gearbox. It follows the same ethos as the DSG ‘box fitted to Volkswagen Group cars. The twin-clutch design means it offers smooth changes, with little (if any) negative effect on fuel economy and none of the ear-straining noise of the CVT gearboxes favoured by the likes of Honda and Toyota. What it also means is it gives you more control than a regular auto, thus making the car more involving to drive.

We wish those headlights could light up more of the road

As our evening jaunt kicked off it was the PowerShift’s ease of use that really hit home. Bar a very slight lurch when moving off, the gearbox operates extremely smoothly – under light acceleration you would be hard pushed to notice it moving through the gears at all.

Its more playful nature is revealed when you pull the gear selector into S (for Sport) mode. Do this and the car holds onto its gears for longer – for accelerating quickly out of corners and making pacey overtakes on A-roads. Meanwhile, the paddle shifters (a £100 option on our car) let you change gear manually, much like Lewis Hamiliton et al do when they’re rocketing round Formula 1 circuits.

Couple that to the tight body control (which Tim has already alluded to further down this article), as well as the plentiful grip and it all adds up to make the Focus far more enjoyable to drive than a regular family hatchback has any right to be.

As the night drew in on the dark country roads of our return journey we did find one negative – un-nerving dipped headlights. That’s not a criticism of the Titanium X model’s standard bi-xenon headlights per se – they’re plenty powerful and even follow corners in the road, but they could do with a little more range when dipped. Instead, you have to choose between less visibility than you would like or constantly flicking between dipped and full beam. A simple height adjuster would solve the problem, but we failed to find such a feature on our test car.

Keep reading for more thoughts on our week with the Ford Focus PowerShift.

Day 6 – Sync2 infotainment in the Ford Focus

A cross-town dash from South to North London gave us the perfect opportunity to test the usability of Ford’s new Sync2 infotainment system. It’s used to control everything from the car’s ventilation to its radio and sat-nav.

Thanks to the clarity of the car’s big eight-inch touchscreen it’s easy to use and has sub-menus in each corner that make it simple to navigate. Meanwhile, conventional buttons on the dashboard make it easy to adjust the climate control and stereo. The touchscreen is bright, but on a sunny August morning there was a touch too much glare on the screen, and it shows fingerprints easily.

The Sync2 screen is a bit of a fingerprint magnet

Our time using Sync2 got off to a good start. Unlike some systems, such as the ones used in various Citroen and Peugeot models, Sync2 makes it easy to enter a postcode rather than a full address. And, if you don’t know the number of the house you’re visiting, the system simply guides you to the street itself. Even without a postcode, Sync2 makes navigation as stress free as possible, either by entering the exact address manually or giving the option to navigate to a city centre of your choosing.

Once underway it works well. While one half of the touchscreen gives you an overview of your route, the other focuses in on junctions and roundabouts so it’s easy to see where your supposed to be manoeuvring on the road. The simple clarity of a Volkswagen system isn’t there, sadly, but the Focus’s system is good enough to get to grips with on a short journey.

Unless, that is, you attempt to control it with your voice. Voice activation systems have a come a long way in the past ten years and that’s easy to see when you use Sync2. Press the ‘voice activation’ button and the car gives you a list of likely commands and what to say to enact them. Sounds simple enough. But stray from the audio visual guides and it’s easy to get stuck in a bog of submenus as the system attempts to understand your request – sending you to the wrong place in doing so.

So it’s a case of ‘close, but no cigar’ with Sync2, but we’re already looking forward to the third iteration of Ford’s infotainment system. Keep reading to find out what else we got up to during our week with the Focus.

Day 3 to 5 – motorway miles and cornering smiles

A 200-mile round-trip to Essex over the weekend gave us the perfect chance to test the Focus on a mix of motorways and twisting country roads.

Our half-lap of the M25 gave the Focus’s Powershift automatic gearbox a real workout, thanks to the obligatory school-holiday traffic chaos. It always picks the right gear for a 30mph stop-start crawl and, if you leave enough of a gap to the car in front, there’s enough engine braking when you lift off the accelerator to coast down to a near-halt, ready to gently accelerate back up to speed as the traffic moves off again.

Driven like this for 30 miles, followed by a 70-mile, 80mph cruise, our Focus showed 53mpg on the onboard computer. Like the Nissan Leaf we tested earlier this year, the Focus features a game on the trip computer to encourage you to drive more economically.

It’s part of Ford’s ‘EcoMode’ system and gives you a rating out of five for economical driving (based on your average speed and how well you anticipate having to stop). If you share the car with your family, you can encourage a bit of light-hearted competition to see who can save the most fuel.

Alternatively, you can just go a bit nuts down a country road and really enjoy the Focus’s excellent chassis…

Ford Focus handling

The Focus has something of a reputation among motoring critics for being one of the best family hatchbacks to drive quickly down twisty roads. It’s easy to see why – most modern hatchbacks such as the VW Golf have enough grip to let you go quickly around corners, but often it feels like the car doesn’t want you to do it. When driven with enough enthusiasm, most hatchbacks will start pushing wide in corners (known as understeering) and flashing the traction control light to tell you to calm down.

The Focus, on the other hand, plays a willing partner to any hooligan driving. The steering gives you enough of a sensation of how much grip the front tyres have, but it’s the accuracy of the steering that shines. Behind the wheel, you quickly get the confidence to place the car precisely – avoiding drain covers and ruts in the road as you go around bends faster than you’d have thought sensible. Ford clearly knows it has a bit of a cornering winner on its hands, so fits the Focus with grippy Continental SportContact 3 tyres to really help you scare the kids.

That reputation is well deserved. The Focus is the perfect hatchback for the mum or dad who likes to take the long and twisty way home from dropping the kids off at school. It’s no sports car, but it certainly doesn’t discourage fast driving – we approve.

Day 2 – Testing the Ford Focus Powershift automatic gearbox and boot

A 30-minute round trip to the nearest supermarket through dense London traffic usually highlights any flaws in a car’s ability to drive smoothly, and the Focus is mostly a winner.

The six-speed automatic gearbox (dubbed ‘Powershift’) is a doddle to use like most other modern dual-clutch units like the one found in the Volkswagen Golf. It’ll creep when you lift your foot off the brake pedal so it’s easy to enter and exit parking spaces smoothly. It shifts quickly but can change down a gear (called kickdown) with only small presses of the accelerator – you need to press the accelerator very gently if you only want it to accelerate a little without changing gear. It’s something you get used to within a few miles, however.

And the 1.5 TDCi diesel engine? It’s quite noisy at idle, but little of the diesel rattle makes its way into the cabin. In fact, the cabin is one of the quietest of any car we’ve tested, with no knocks from potholes thudding into the cabin.

The engine accelerates quickly away from a standstill, and there’s lots of power low-down in the rev range, making it easy to accelerate quickly into gaps in traffic. On our six-mile urban trip to Tesco, the on-board computer registered 39mpg – but that included accelerating briskly in stop/start traffic.

A trip to Essex over the weekend will reveal how fuel economy fares on the motorway – and we’ll also delve into something pleasantly surprising that could make the Focus a really great choice for anyone who lives in a city…

The boot is smaller than rivals’, but it’s still roomy

Oh, and the boot – often criticised because it’s smaller than other family hatchbacks – will only be a struggle if you try to take a family of four on holiday for two weeks, or have to carry a week’s luggage and baby accoutrements. In day-to-day use there’s plenty of room.

Day 1 – Spec and testing the door edge protectors

Our Focus for the week is a 118hp, 1.5-litre diesel (TDCi in Ford speak) with a six-speed ‘Powershift’ automatic gearbox. It’s a Titanium X trim-level car, meaning it’s the top of the range, and includes Xenon headlights, a heated windscreen, a leather steering wheel, a self-parking system and a rear-view parking camera. All in, it’ll cost you £24,545.

The one we’re testing has some options – metallic ‘Deep Impact Blue’ paint (£525), ‘Sync 2’ sat-nav and DAB digital radio (£250), steering wheel paddles for changing gears manually (£100), door edge protectors (£85) and, finally, the ‘appearance pack’ which adds 18-inch alloy wheels and tinted rear windows (£450). In total, this car costs £25,955.

That said, click on the compare offers button at the bottom of this article and you could save around £3-4,000 if you buy your Focus through carwow.

We’ve not had a chance to go for a good drive yet, but we’ve experimented with those optional door protectors. They’re rubber strips that pop out when you’re opening any of the four doors, protecting the metal panels from hitting any other objects.

As you can see in the video below, they can pop off if the door swings out harder than you’d like. They’re easily re-attached, however, and they do the job well. They’re hidden when the doors are shut, so we think they’re a wise addition – especially if you have kids who aren’t too careful about opening car doors.

We’ll update this article over the next seven days as we put the Focus through the trials of daily life. Will it get anywhere near the claimed 67.3mpg? The boot space is often criticised for being the smallest in the Focus’s class, but does it really matter? We’ll try to answer these questions and more – please leave any questions you have about the car in the comments below.

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