Ford Focus 5-dr 2,0 Si (2009) Driving Impression

Ford Focus 2009

Although the second generation Ford Focus has been a strong seller locally for the brand in a segment where it has struggled during the past two decades (remember the Escort, Laser etc?), the competition is certainly heating up. Volkswagen’s Golf 6 has very quickly become the dominant force in this segment, but Honda’s quirky Civic hatchback is another strong rival, as are Opel’s Astra, Toyota’s Auris and the Mazda3. So the second-generation Focus’s mid-life upgrade was of particular importance to hang on to the foothold Ford has worked so hard to reclaim.

Consequently, the aesthetic changes are quite substantial and immediately noticeable, particularly at the front. The Ford Focus gains an aggressive new airdam, reshaped headlamps, different alloy wheels, more shapely wheelarches, a rear spoiler and some detail changes to the rear lights, among others. The basic design has aged well and the changes only add to the appeal. The Ford Focus looks like a substantial, yet subtly sporty machine. So far, so good…

Unfortunately, things go somewhat pear-shaped in the cabin. The interior design has not aged particularly well, and the attempts to uplift the ambience stand out for all the wrong reasons. The tacky, faux-carbon, plastic trim with its wavy black/grey print pattern that adorns much of the centre part of the dashboard is an eyesore, and the large piece of silver plastic in the upper half of the instrumentation panel looks like an afterthought at best, and an Autostyle item at worst. A more conservative approach may have been more successful, because the Focus’s basic facia is neat and tidy. Soft-touch materials are used for the upper sections of the dashboard, but it’s worth noting that the quality of the plastics take quite a noticeable dive south of the facia’s centre line.

Space for features in the Ford Focus

Where the Ford Focus claws back some lost ground against its rivals is in the space that’s on offer. It boasts a fairly long wheelbase for a C-segment hatchback, and Ford has made full use of this to give the Focus impressive rear legroom and even a spacious boot – there’s only a space-saver spare in the boot, though. The rear seatbacks are split 60:40 and fold down to unlock impressive cargo space.

Front-seat occupants have very little to complain about. The seats are nicely padded and the driver’s boasts height-adjustment. The seats’ cloth upholstery looks neat as well durable. The steering itself is also adjustable for rake and reach, which is always a big plus. The steering wheel is somewhat oversized, though, which may not please everyone.  Like most cars in this segment, the Ford Focus features a convenient centre armrest and cupholders for front occupants.

Standard equipment includes electric windows all-round, air-conditioning, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, a radio/CD system with USB plug-in functionality and four airbags. Unlike some rivals, there is no electronic stability system, or even traction control, with this Ford Focus model.

There ain’t no replacement for displacement…

In an era when most car makers are pursuing smaller engine displacements, aided by turbo- or supercharging, the Ford Focus sticks to an “old-fashioned” big-capacity, 2,0-litre four-cylinder. Of course, there are benefits to this formula – there are no highly stressed turbos to blow up, so the complexity is lower and therefore long-term reliability should theoretically be better. With 107 kW there’s also good power, but the torque figure (185 Nm at a high 4 500 rpm) looks less impressive. Performance is acceptable, though nothing to write home about, with a 0-100 km/h time of 9,5 seconds. In reality it feels a bit slower than that. The big downside with an engine such as this is fuel thirst. With a claimed – and difficult to achieve – consumption figure of 7,5 litres/100 km, there are several rivals that perform better in this regard.

The engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission. Gear changes effected through the somewhat cheap-looking, black plastic gearknob are not very slick – in fact, the changes can feel “crunchy” and it’s not too difficult to hit the gate between shifts.

On the road

Of course, one of the Focus’s big drawcards has always been the ride/handling balance on offer. With this model much of the appeal remains intact. The suspension displays good primary bump-absorption capabilities, and the ride quality is therefore impressive. Disappointingly, however, you can’t really say it’s the dynamic benchmark anymore. There’s significant body roll in the corners and the steering lacks weighting.

That said, this is not a Ford Focus ST, and the target market will likely “focus” more on its general comfort levels. With its impressive space utilisation, good ride quality and generous standard features list, it is certainly a hatchback that could double as a family car. It is in this scenario where the Ford Focus continues to impress.

Ford Focus - Verdict

The Ford Focus remains a solid, honest offering, but this segment is bustling with talent. Although the changes have boosted the car’s visual appeal, the interior is dating and the engine fails to match the power/economy balance on offer from some rivals. However, if your priorities include space and ride comfort, this is a car that should remain on your shortlist.

We like:

  • Attractive styling
  • Ride comfort
  • Standard specification
  • Space
We don’t like:
  • Ageing facia design
  • Fuel thirst
Fast facts

Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 107 kW @ 6 000 rpm

Torque: 185 Nm @ 4 500 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: 206 km/h

0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds

Fuel economy: 7,5 litres/100 km

Source: www.um.co.za

Also consider:

  • Volkswagen Golf (6) 1,4 TSI Comfortline: A very hard rival to beat, with superior refinement, excellent perceived interior quality and an engine that delivers strong performance and impressive economy. If you buy anything other than this, you’re buying at best, second-best.
  • Honda Civic 1,8i-VTEC EXi hatch: Underneath the very sci-fi exterior design and quirky instrumentation hides a solid, capable car with excellent standard specification, space utilisation and a 1,8-litre engine that loves to rev, yet which remains economical.
  • Opel Astra 1,8 Sport: An attractive, well-built rival, but just doesn’t have the spread of talents of the Ford Focus or, perhaps more importantly, the Golf 6. The 1,8-litre engine struggles to deliver fireworks that justify the Sport moniker. It also lacks the Focus’ overall spaciousness.

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