Monday, September 15, 2008

The Focus: One month on

It's been nearly a month since I picked up the Focus and, so far, things are going well.

I'd said from the start that my new car had to be a good long distance cruiser and a load-lugger. This was based on the possibly somewhat idealistic notion that it would be used to ferry mountain bikes and other paraphernalia as part of my 'active and exciting' lifestyle.

Actually, that's exactly what it has done. Since picking the car up, it's completed no less than four trips to the local mountain bike trails in Broxbourne Woods with two hefty full-suspension bikes in the back. It's been on a 500 mile round-trip to the North Yorks Moors, again with a bike in the back. And it's been used to 'roadie' equipment around for my pro-muso girlfriend.

It's covered over 2,000 miles already – demonstrating that I'd heavily underestimated my annual mileage. During that time it's averaged a somewhat disappointing 36.5mpg, but what's more surprising is how constant that figure has been. My normal weekly commute on the M25 draws fuel at a rate of around 37.5mpg. Yet on a more enthusiastic and slightly less law-abiding dash up the A1 with the air con on full blast and the headlamps ablaze, followed by two days enjoying the North Yorkshire B-roads it still returned fractionally over 35mpg.

Although this isn't bad as such, I'm slightly frustrated to admit that my TVR gets within about 10mpg of this figure and something like a sedately driven Elise would comfortably exceed it.

Still, while it may not be an Elise, the Focus has proved to be a very satisfying drive given its humble origins. In fact, in a funny sort of a way it reminds me of the baby Lotus. The free-revving Yamaha-designed engine fizzes not unlike the Toyota unit in the S2 Elise and there's something very reassuring about the steering feel as you turn in to a corner. You seem to know exactly what the front end is doing.

Unfortunately in its current state that is invariably understeer, especially in the wet. I suspect this is due to the combination of rather dubious budget tyres on the front and much softer premium-brand rubber on the rear. Once I've procured some new tyres it should be far more neutral and hopefully we'll see more of the throttle-adjustability for which the Focus chassis is renowned.

Other than that, the Focus has very much lived up to expectations: The leather seats are some of the comfiest I've sat in and will happily tackle London to York in one hit. The stereo system produces a powerful and pleasingly crisp sound for a standard-fit unit and the CD changer (although somewhat temperamental) is a handy feature.

The engine is very quiet at cruising speeds, even when pressing on. Wind and tyre noise are somewhat more noticeable, but it's still a pretty peaceful environment in which to cover miles and the latter may well be improved with new rubber.

The only real complaint I have about the design is a very minor one. The steeply raked windscreen seems to be perfectly angled for catching glare. It's sufficiently intrusive that I've taken to wearing (polarised) sunglasses pretty much all the time. It generates some odd looks at dusk, but saves squinting.

Finally, there are a couple of minor electrical issues that I should have spotted on the test drive. On the single wipe function the windscreen wipers only work while you are pressing the stalk down; release it and they just come to a halt in the middle of your field of view. Secondly, the remote central locking doesn't work. Time to speak to the dealer methinks.

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