THE new Ford Focus has a lot riding on it – and I don’t just mean for the men in suits at Ford Motor Company. The Focus has always been a favourite here in Britain, outselling everything except the Volkswagen Golf and its own smaller, cheekier sibling, the Ford Fiesta.

So, when an all-new Focus arrives, we put down our copy of “SUV Today” and sit up to take note. Will it retain its driver-appeal? Will it finally get back to being a bit of a “looker”, just as the original was? Will Ford finally take the fight to Volkswagen and improve the interior quality and available tech?

Fear not dear reader as the initial signs are good. Very good, actually. From the moment I saw the new 4th-generation Focus in the flesh I thought the proportions looked just right. Sleeker, and with a longer bonnet than previously, the new Focus makes the Volkswagen Golf look decidedly plain.

Admittedly, my first introduction was with the sporty ST-Line X model in Desert Island Blue and it looks fabulous – but even the “cooking” versions look smart and fresh so I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed here.

Speaking of trim levels; there are many – from the entry-level Style, to Zetec then ST-Line, ST-Line X, Titanium, Titanium X and, of course, the Vignale. As well as the 5-door there is also a smart-looking Estate too. Later in the year there will be an “Active” version which is more – you guessed it – SUV-looking.

On-the-road prices for a 5-door Focus start at £17,930 and rise to £29,240.

Engine choice is also varied with the well-proven 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder EcoBoost petrol unit probably being the number one choice for most. It’s available with either 100 PS or 120 PS – although there is an 85 PS version available on the lowly Style model.

For those wanting more oomph there’s the 1.5 EcoBoost engine – similar to the one fitted to the fiery Fiesta ST but with either 150 PS or 182 PS.

There’s also a brand-new 1.5 EcoBlue Diesel engine available with 95 PS or 120 PS on tap. For those who need more pulling-power there’s also a 2.0-litre EcoBlue unit with 150 PS.

Transmission choices are simpler – a 6-speed manual or (on the more powerful models) an 8-speed automatic.

Don’t get me started on suspension options – simply put, the least-powerful models make do with a torsion-beam set-up while the more powerful models get a more complex suspension set-up. Oh, yes; there is also an “adaptive” option available.

Don’t worry about it though as all Focus models ride well and unless you’re a particularly “enthusiastic” driver you may be hard pushed to notice a difference.

Where you will most certainly notice a difference is between the old interior and the new. The new Focus interior feels like a quantum leap from the rather ho-hum interior of old.

My Focus ST-Line X model came with part-leather upholstery and red stitching with an 8in tablet-style infotainment screen mounted atop the dash that included Sat Nav as standard. Lower models get a 6.4in screen and no Sat Nav, although an upgrade doesn’t cost too much and I would say is worth the extra money.

What all trim-levels benefit from is a great driving position with both seat height and lumbar adjustment. For those who take regular long journeys I recommend the Comfort seat option which gives you 18-way manual adjustment.

The steering wheel has plenty of scope in both reach and rake and overall, I doubt if anyone would struggle to get comfortable in the Focus.

The dash layout itself is smart and uncluttered with the main dials being so clear I didn’t really need the optional heads-up display that came with my car. There’s also a smart 4.2in TFT colour screen between the main dials that is fully configurable.

Climate controls are easily reached in the lower half of the central dash with chunky, tactile dials for adjustment so there’s no need to go poking at the infotainment screen if things hot-up inside.

Generally, the fit and quality of materials is very good with soft-touch plastics everywhere except lower down in the cabin, although the door bins are now felt-lined to prevent your knick-knacks rattling around.

A striking feature on the automatic models is the large, knurled rotary controller for gear-selection. However, unlike the Jaguar version, this one doesn’t rise up from the centre console on start-up.

It feels airier in the front than the previous model too, thanks to the dash being pushed forward a little. Don’t forget this is a brand-new platform from Ford so they’ve been able to provide a more spacious feel throughout. The electronic handbrake also frees up space for a couple of cupholders and more cubby-space.

Rear passengers benefit too with the Focus now offering as much leg room as the spacious Skoda Octavia which means 6-footers should be happy even on the longest of journeys.

The middle seat is a little raised but the shallow central tunnel means there’s enough room to comfortably place your feet. Overall, I would say the Focus is class-leading when it comes to carrying 5 adults.

The boot, at 273 litres is better than the VW Golf but not quite as voluminous as the Octavia. It does come with a moveable boot floor though to make lifting those shopping bags in and out a little easier.

But is the new Ford Focus still worthy of the people’s award for driving satisfaction? Well, it’s certainly worth a nomination as the new platform gives a slightly wider track and loses around a whopping 1,300kg in weight – depending on the engine choice – to make the new Focus not only a breeze around town but a bit of an A-road stormer when you want to have a little fun.

The automatic 1.5 EcoBlue is very capable indeed. Steering is very direct with good feedback and the lowered ST-Line X remains fairly flat through corners but doesn’t feel at all skitish over pock-marked roads. I expect it thuds a little more than the non-sporty models but it’s certainly no bone-shaker.

The 8-speed automatic box shifts quickly enough for a conventional auto – there’s no dual-clutch here. Downshifts are quick and I found overtaking at motorway speeds was without drama.

The new Focus is quiet too; easily as quiet as the equivalent VW Golf with only some wind noise from around the wing-mirrors getting through.

Ford haven’t skimped on tech either – generously, all new Focus models come with pre-collision assist and autonomous emergency braking that will help you swerve around as well as stop before hitting anything. There’s also lane-keeping and lane departure warning systems to keep you within the white lines – something you won’t find on rivals at this price.

All models from Zetec and above get a heated front screen, climate control the excellent SYNC 3 DAB radio with touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The new Focus ticks all the boxes then – and that’s before we get ST or RS versions that should send fast-Ford aficionados racing to the Mountune website.

It’s a terrific-looking, well equipped, practical hatchback that will also reward the keen driver with its handling and poise.

Choosing the right model should be a doddle too as the price range is wide and there are a plethora of trim-levels and options to choose from. You just need to Focus on what you want . . .

RATING: *****

AT A GLANCE: Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue ST-Line X Auto OTR Price: £26,410 Engine: 1.5 turbo diesel Power: 120 PS Transmission: 8-speed Automatic 0-62mph: 10.2 secs Top Speed: 120 mph Combined Economy: 64.2 mpg C02: 116 g/km

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