It’s an undeniable fact that the conventional hatchback is dying out around the world. In the US, Ford has even stopped production of anything that isn’t a high riding SUV or the Mustang (and is even building the Mustang Mach E, a high riding all electric SUV).
Likewise, in New Zealand the hatchback market share is being consumed whole heartedly by the small SUV segment, and companies like Mazda are even declining to officially put a number on the predicted sales of the new Mazda3.
But we still have the Ford Focus, which is pretty much a conventional hatchback, and now there’s a high riding “SUV” version of the car. The NZ$39,490 Focus Active tested here is likely to constitute most of Ford Focus sales here, at least in my opinion. That’s because the Focus Active adds ride height that allows the more elderly to easily get in and out of but retains all the conventional Focus’ merits. It’s also priced identically as the mid spec Focus ST-line, which essentially dooms the ST-line hatchback.
The Focus active has very sharp handling, as you would expect from a Ford hatchback, but it also has a rather harsh ride quality where you would expect a softer ride in a car that can be a small off roader. It feels very much like the set up in the standard Focus, as if the engineers have merely lengthened the springs but kept the same spring rate.
You can change gear using the paddles on the steering wheel but when you hit a paddle the gearbox takes a while to consider what you have asked of it and then carry out the requested gear changes,. It’s far from the split-second reaction time you would expect. It’s better anyway to leave the gearbox in automatic and let the software sort out which gear is the most suitable.
As the gearbox is a dual clutch unit there’s an unavoidable pause between gong from a forward gear to reverse, but the Focus wants to really take a long time to switch gear. This makes three point turns on a crowded road a distinctly exhilarating experience as you watch large trucks approach at speed while you wait for the gearbox and clutch to get their act together.
I drove this car in the summer and it really takes a while for the climate control system to get used to the idea that you want actual cold air to emit from the vents. It’s not that the air conditioning itself is weak, but that when you change the temperature setting the system is slow to adjust anything. It’s more effective to manually adjust the air flow to max, rather than wait for the system.
Like any modern Ford product there are plenty of warnings and notifications that show up on the SYNC display, some of which you have to cancel manually if you want to see the instrument panel centre display. A key offender is the seatbelt warning system, which tells you which seatbelts are engaged. You find yourself automatically clicking the OK button, as the warning will hang around for a few minutes after you have started driving. It’s a sign of Ford carrying out nanny safety warnings to the nth degree, which seems to infest the company now.
The front seats are very supportive, with good side bolstering but leg room is tight in the rear seats when the front seats are slid all the way back. Headroom likewise can be cramped for people much more than six foot tall. The boot is nice and large, but there is a high loading lip that prevents you from easily sliding luggage into the boot. On the converse, it does stop things from falling out when you open the hatchback.
The Focus Active is almost certain to make up the majority of Focus sales. It’s priced identically to the mid-range Focus ST-Line, but adds a bit of ride height that not only gives the car an ‘SUV’ sales appeal but a higher seat height that allows people to slide more easily into the seats. This may seem a strange thing to highlight, but as I get older, wider and stiffer I realise that this is an important factor for anyone over 50 years old. And of course, it’s only really people over 50 that can afford a new car these days.