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Ford Focus at the Pageant of Power

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We’ve recently tested the 67 mpg Ford Focus five-door and the Estate , as well as the 57 mpg Ford Grand C-Max , around the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power circuit – they may all be economical, but how do they perform in the handling stakes?

The new Focus five-door was launched in March this year, but the Estate has only recently appeared. Both the five-door and the Estate emit just 109 g/km CO2 in 1.6 TDCI form – which is equivalent to 67.3 mpg. This makes the Focus 1.6 TDCI Estate one of the most economical estates in its class.

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There is also the seven-seater Focus-based Ford Grand C-Max. In 1.6 TDCI form this can manage 57.7 mpg, with emissions of 129 g/km CO2, which makes it one of the lowest emission diesel seven-seaters.

The Focus, Focus Estate, and the C-Max/Grand C-Max are all based on the same new platform and they all share certain characteristics. The headline is that the new Focus is more refined, and it features lots of the latest technology. As with most cars that get more refined, in order to appeal more to the mass-market, the sharp driving dynamics of the previous incarnations of the Focus have been replaced by a more comfortable, easy-to-drive character.

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However the chance to take the cars around a racing circuit provided an opportunity to see if the handling was still up there with the best in class.

The Cholmondeley circuit starts with a narrow bridge and then a stretch that appears to be a straight, but which is in fact a long, sweeping right-hand curve. At the end of this is a sharp left which immediately goes into an even sharper left. There’s then a long straight that actually is straight, except for a man-made chicane. There’s then a series of off-camber left and right corners, culminating in a sharp left which immediately takes you over a hump-backed bridge, and on to the finish line.

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So, in summary, the circuit is technically quite demanding – more so than Goodwood. For the last two years the fastest car around the circuit has been a Lamborghini. So surely a diesel Ford Focus Estate would not be the car of choice? Well, this may be so, however the exercise proved that despite the new Focus being more refined, you can still have a great deal of fun driving it progressively. Even with its official combined figure of 67 mpg, the 1.6-litre diesel engine has sufficient torque to give good performance.

In terms of looks, the new Focus is an evolution of the previous generation model. However the Estate has been designed to be more style-conscious, and it succeeds in looking better than its predecessor.

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Inside, the quality of the cabin is improved, and there’s lots of standard equipment including Bluetooth, air conditioning, and electronic stability programme with torque vectoring control.

However it’s the new technology that’s the big story. Ford calls it SMART affordable technology, and it’s offered as part of a driver assistance pack option, which consists of active city stop, lane departure warning, lane keeping aid, driver alert, traffic sign recognition, auto high beam, and blind spot information system. This pack can be specified for an extra cost of £750.

There’s also a convenience pack which consists of active park assist and powerfold mirrors – all yours for just £525.

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But the main selling point of the Estate is its extra load carrying capability, and the Focus offers 476 litres with the rear seats up, and 1,502 litres with the rear seats down.

If you still can’t fit everything in, the Estate also comes with roof rails, allowing you to attach extra items such as roof boxes and bikes.

The 1.6 TDCI engine comes in two power levels, 95 PS and 115 PS. Both have the same 109 g/km CO2 emissions. There’s also a 2-litre diesel option, with 140 PS or 163 PS. Both versions emit 129 g/km CO2 when mated to a manual transmission.

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There are also petrol engines, a 1.6-litre TI-VCT with either 105 or 125 PS, both emitting 136 g/km CO2, and a 150 PS 1.6-litre EcoBoost, emitting just a fraction more, at 139 g/km CO2.

There are four specification levels, Edge, Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X. Prices start at £17,100 for the 105 PS 1.6-litre petrol Focus Edge Estate. The 1.6 TDCI diesel, as tested, costs £18,595.

If the Focus Estate sounds appealing, but you need to transport lots of people, then the seven-seat Grand C-Max might be the answer.

Although it can’t manage the 67 mpg of the Focus Estate, its 57.7 mpg is still amongst the class-leaders for a seven-seater.

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Many of the above points relating to the Estate also apply to the Grand C-Max – overall it f eels upmarket, refined, smooth and quiet (although there’s some wind noise at motorways speeds) , but it’s not quite as sharp to drive. It has a comfortable ride, but this translates into soft handling through corners – but after all, it is a people carrier, not a sports car.

Fitting seven seats in to this size of body is impressive, but compared to rivals such as the Volkswagen Touran, the centre seat in the second row is very small. And due to the higher roofline at the rear when compared to the five-seater C-Max, you’re left with a very tall body, which makes the rear wheels look tiny, and out of proportion. In fact, we think the previous C-Max model looked sharper.

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The interior feels modern and upmarket with lots of equipment, including heated seats, cruise control, satnav, Bluetooth, and wires for an iPod connection – although you can also connect an iPod through Bluetooth. The Grand C-Max has sliding rear doors, which may help to avoid denting the vehicle parked next to you in car parks, and it also has a powered tailgate.

Although we tested the same engine in the Focus, Estate, and Grand C-Max, acceleration does feel slower in the Grand C-Max, although in reality it’s officially only supposed to take 0.4 seconds longer to reach 62 mph from standstill than the Estate (12.3 compared to 11.9 seconds). The Grand C-Max should take longer to accelerate as it weighs a heavier 1504 Kg compared to the 1362 Kg of the Estate.

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The 115 PS Grand C-Max 1.6 TDCI Zetec costs £20,295. If you just want a five-seat MPV, the 115 PS C-Max 1.6 TDCI Zetec manages 61.4 mpg and costs £18,695.

Of course if you want a seven-seater with even more space than a Grand C-Max, there’s the S-Max, which just looks fantastic.

If you want a Focus with ultimate levels of economy, the Econetic is due to arrive in 2012 – along with the Focus Electric.

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So out of the cars that we drove, the Focus, Focus Estate, and Grand C-Max, which did we prefer? Well, we have a confession. The opportunity arose to take the first car around the Cholmondeley circuit in the afternoon as it opened for practice, and it happened to be the Focus RS500. It would have been rude to refuse this offer, and of course it’s always useful to compare notes between green cars and not-so-green cars. The RS500 generates 350 PS and 460 Nm of torque from its 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine. Acceleration from standstill to 62 mph takes just 5.6 seconds – and all of this in a front-wheel drive car.

This sounds like a recipe for disastrous torque steer, but the car’s engineers found a way to banish this front-wheel drive annoyance, and as a result the RS500 feels fantastic to drive, and it felt perfect for the twisty Cholmondeley circuit. Despite setting a blistering time in the diesel Focus Estate in the morning, we’re pretty sure that we not only smashed the Estate’s lap time, but that we probably set the fastest time of the day. What a shame that the lap wasn’t timed to prove our theory… and no we didn’t record the RS500’s fuel consumption either… We look forward to Ford developing a car that drives like the RS500 with levels of economy of the 1.6 diesel.

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Paul Clarke

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