2019 Ford Focus Active review – variety is the spice of life

The Ford Focus feels increasingly like the Heinz variety of cars.

Moments after I test one variant, another pops along, adding to the seemingly endless versions of this stalwart family hatchback.

A quick glance at the brochure for the 2019 car reveals four “standard” trim levels – Style, Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X – before you get to the more specialised models. Above Titanium X there’s the luxury-leaning Vignale and the sportily-styled ST-Line (and the higher-specced ST-Line X), and then off on their own little sub-sub-branch the lifestyle-focused Active and Active X. And that’s before you consider the ST hot hatch that’s just been launched.

It’s the Active that we’re concerned with here – a slightly more rugged variation of the Focus aimed at the sort of people who own a paddle board and a springer spaniel but don’t fancy something as bulky as the Kuga SUV.

In the Focus’ case that brief means a hatchback or estate body with a 3cm suspension raise, thicker tyres, protective cladding around arches, sills and bumpers, roof rails, and only the more powerful versions of the available engines.

The Focus Active gets a 3cm suspension raise over the standard Focus. (Photo: Ford)
The Focus Active gets a 3cm suspension raise over the standard Focus. (Photo: Ford)

Ford Focus Active

Price: £24,995 (£25,505 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol
Power: 148bhp
Torque: 177lb/ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Economy: 38.2-40.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 134g/km

It’s not going to conquer the Dakar Rally but it’s the sort of extra clearance and protection that might come in handy if you’re bouncing down a beach access road or crawling along forestry tracks to mountain bike trails. To help in such pursuits, the Active also gets an extra “slippery & trail” driving mode to adjust the traction control and throttle but there’s no four-wheel-drive option.

Inside, the Active gets unique and curiously appealing hard-wearing upholstery with Active details, privacy glass as standard and some shiny scuff plates.

Standard Focus interior with some funky hard-wearing fabric. (Photo: Ford)
Standard Focus interior with some funky hard-wearing fabric. (Photo: Ford)

Apart from those details, it’s the same layout as every other Focus, with clear, easy-to-use controls and decent ergonomics and space. Even after all these years the VW Golf might have it licked on quality but the Focus can hold its head up high among other rivals.

If you’re serious about practicality, the tested estate offers 575 litres of luggage space with seats up, 1,620 with them down, with a wide-opening tailgate for easy access and a clever adjustable boot board for keeping different sizes and shapes of load secure.

The estate boot is a useful 575 litres. (Photo: Ford)
The estate boot is a useful 575 litres. (Photo: Ford)

As standard, the Active gets the latest Sync 3 eight-inch touchscreen with sat nav, keyless start, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep aid but, astonishingly for a £25,000 car in 2019 does without parking sensors or keyless entry and gets manual one-zone climate control.

You can, of course, upgrade to Active X which offers much of the Titanium X’s kit. This is also the only way to get the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel engine.

Nothing says rugged like some plastic cladding and 50-profile tyres. (Photo: Ford)
Nothing says rugged like some plastic cladding and 50-profile tyres. (Photo: Ford)

Our test car came instead with the 148bhp petrol, which is a willing but occasionally gruff-sounding unit. Having sampled the Focus with the 124bhp version of this 1.5-litre engine, I’d be tempted by the extra oomph offered by this one.

Being an estate meant our test car also benefited from the more advanced multi-link suspension that’s helped the Focus maintain its enviable reputation as a fine-handling car. The taller ride and thicker tyres of the Active definitely give it a slacker feel on the road than other Focuses but it’s still better than any SUV. Sadly that softer ride still manages to transmit quite a bit of judder on bad road surfaces.

While many cars branded crossovers are now just small SUVs, the Focus Active is far closer to the original idea of the crossover – a standard car adapted to be a little more suited for rough conditions and offer the kind of practicality that people with active outdoorsy lifestyles need.

If that’s you, it’s definitely worth considering for what it adds over the standard car, just watch out for the weird equipment levels and bear in mind that there are alternatives out there in the shape of the VW Golf Alltrack and the soon-to-be-launched Kia XCeed.

The Ford Focus Active is worth considering if you don't want a full-blown SUV. (Photo: Ford)
The Ford Focus Active is worth considering if you don’t want a full-blown SUV. (Photo: Ford)

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The hidden faults plaguing some of Britain’s most popular cars

Some of Britain’s most popular cars are being affected by “inherent” flaws which manufacturers are keeping hidden from owners, according to new research by a leading consumer group.

Which? has found widespread failings in a number of models, including the best-selling Nissan Qashqai, that could leave owners facing large bills.

It is now calling on car makers to be more honest with the public about common problems and issue voluntary recalls to address them.

The consumer group carried out a survey of nearly 44,000 car owners covering more than 52,000 vehicles to assess reliability and found that the 2014-onwards Nissan Qashqai had the highest breakdown rate of the 276 models it ranked.

The family SUV is consistently one of the UK’s best-selling cars and the Which? study found that a fifth of all owners had needed to replace their car’s battery in the last year – almost five times the average rate for cars of the same age.

One in five Qashqai owners reported battery faults - five times the average for cars in the same age bracket. (Photo: Nissan)
One in five Qashqai owners reported battery faults – five times the average for cars in the same age bracket. (Photo: Nissan)

Read more: Hybrid and electric models are the most reliable new cars

Nissan said that it was aware of issues with batteries on older cars and had switched suppliers in 2018. It also said that it was working to address a problem with the body control module software on 2018-19 cars which could drain the battery.

Which?, however, said that it was unacceptable that Nissan had not warned owners of a potential battery fault which could leave them out of pocket if it fails outwith the car’s warranty.

Tesla troubles

The survey also found that despite owners loving their Teslas, more than a fifth of Model S owners (22.2 per cent) had been let down by problems with exterior features such as door handles and locks on cars aged three to eight years – that’s 10 times higher than the average for a car in the same age range.

Owners of the more modern Model X also reported similar problems in 10 per cent of cases, that Which? said suggested an inherent flaw in the cars.

Tesla was the worst performing brand in the three-to-eight-year-old category. (Photo: Tesla)
Tesla was the worst performing brand in the three-to-eight-year-old category. (Photo: Tesla)

Across all brands Tesla had the highest percentage of faulty cars in the three to eight-year bracket, with more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of all owners reporting an issue.

Tesla said that its warranties covered repairs and replacement of parts such as door handles for cars up to four years but Which? argued that this left owners of older models facing a repair bill for a problem that Tesla is well aware of.

Other models which performed particularly poorly in the Which? ratings were the Seat Alhambra and previous generations of the BMW 5 Series Touring and Ford B-Max, which all saw far higher than average failures.

Serious faults

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “It is concerning that it has taken Which?’s survey of thousands of motorists to uncover what are in some cases inherent flaws with some of the UK’s best-selling cars. Owners should be able to trust that manufacturers will make them aware of these issues and offer a fix when they see a recurring problem.”

“It is vital these manufacturers make the public aware of these serious faults and ensure vehicle owners are not left out of pocket should the issues occur outside their warranty.”

Seat Alhambra owners reported more than average exhaust and suspension problems. (Photo: Seat)
Seat Alhambra owners reported more than average exhaust and suspension problems. (Photo: Seat)

Seat said that it offered a three-year warranty on its new cars and that without more details couldn’t identify or explain the study’s findings that nearly a third of Alhambra owners had experienced exhaust and emissions issues and nearly a quarter had faced suspension problems.

Ford said it had offered extended warranties on cars affected by the automatic gearbox problem which a quarter of B-Max owners had experienced and was assessing out-of-warranty problems on an individual basis.

BMW said that despite a quarter of 5 Series Touring (2010-17) owners reporting suspension failures, such issues had affected a “tiny fraction” of its customers in the first half of 2019.

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Tesla Model 3 overtakes Ford Focus as UK’s best selling car in August 2019

Tesla’s electric Model 3 overtook the Ford Focus to become the UK’s third-best selling car last month, industry figures have revealed.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), more than 2,000 new Model 3s were driven off forecourts in August, bettered only by Ford’s Fiesta and Volkswagen’s Golf for popularity.

Figures also show that electric car registrations surged fivefold last month to take a record 3.4 per cent market share.

But overall demand for new vehicles fell as new diesel and plug-in hybrid registrations continued to fall.

Electric surge

Tesla’s Model 3 – represented by the “other” category – overtook the Ford Focus in August’s sales figures (Photo: SMMT)

In August, the SMMT reports that 3,978 Fiestas were driven off by new owners, compared with 3,439 Golfs and 2,082 “other” models

Tesla does not publish what it calls “regional sales figures” and is not a member of the SMMT, so its UK Model 3 sales were recorded as “other” in the trade group’s monthly breakdown of popular models.

Elon Musk, one of Tesla’s co-founders, said that he hoped the Model 3 would be an affordable electric vehicle (EV) option for many buyers. The US firm is aiming to sell 500,000 of the model annually by 2020.

Meanwhile, the market for battery-powered electric vehicles grew by 377.5 per cent, with 3,147 electric models registered in August compared to a year prior.

The SMMT said that “exciting new powertrain technologies” could come to market in the next few months, extending the range of EVs available to buy even further.

Demand for new cars fell by 1.6 per cent, with 92,573 new cars registered in August compared with 94,094 during the same month in 2018.

It marks the sixth consecutive month of decline as demand for diesel models dropped 12.2 per cent and for plug-in hybrids by 71.8 per cent.

Zero-emission dreams

Government grants for new low-emission cars were slashed in October last year, with hybrid models no longer eligible for the scheme.

Motoring groups warned that the change would leave the UK struggling to meet targets to reduce vehicle emissions.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “August is typically the new car market’s quietest month so the huge increase in EV registrations is very visible but especially welcome.

“It’s great to see consumers respond to the massive industry investment made over many years.

“To support a smooth transition and deliver environmental gains now, we need a long-term Government commitment to measures that give consumers confidence to invest in the latest technologies that best suit their needs.”

Private and fleet registrations fell 3.0 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively last month, while the smaller business market was down 34.7 per cent.

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Ford Fiesta ST review – hot hatch harnesses the power of three

As a native Scot and petrolhead, I confess to a little shame at having never completed the famous North Coast 500 before.

So when I was sent the new Ford Fiesta ST to test it seemed like the ideal time to venture north – a self-declared driver’s car on some of the most acclaimed roads in the country.

And the Fiesta didn’t disappoint.

Some people take supercars around the NC500 and while there are stretches that suit such beasts, far more of it is narrow and winding, peppered with single-track and shoddy surfaces. Better matched, then, to something small, nimble and responsive than something as wide as a bus and with 600+bhp to marshal.

Ford raised eyebrows when it announced that this ST would drop the old 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine in favour of a three-cylinder. However, the 1.5-litre three-pot is clearly up to the job. Its output is the same as the final special editions of the last gen – at 198bhp – and Ford have done a great job building a flexible, lively, yet economical unit that suits the nature of the car.

Ford Fiesta ST

Price: £21,150 (£26,550 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 198bhp
Torque: 214lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 144mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Economy: 32.1-46.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 136g/km

It revs willingly and despite the turbo kicking in early benefits from a good dose of revs. But it’s also flexible enough that you can drift around on reserves of torque (214lb/ft) if you’re feeling lazy. It even sounds good, thanks to some active exhaust valve trickery.

The 62mph sprint takes 6.5 seconds and there’s optional launch control, which Ford insists is for track use only but is available in two of the three selectable drive modes. These adjust the throttle, stability control and steering to suit “normal”, “sport” and “track” conditions.

Read more: Buying used: Ford Fiesta ST vs Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Since the very first Focus, handling has been Ford’s party piece and the latest Fiesta doesn’t let the side down. On the insane switchbacks of the Bealach na Ba and across the snaking single-track roads around the north-west, the little Ford responds quickly and neatly to every input.

Ford Fiesta ST Bealach na Ba

Even at low speeds it feels agile but as you press on it becomes increasingly responsive, dancing along with confidence thanks to unique force-vectoring rear suspension and the fastest steering rack this side of a Focus ST.

Use the sharp-shifting six-speed manual transmission to keep the turbo spinning and it reacts rapidly, squirting from corner to corner and fizzing along B-roads exactly the way a small hot hatch should.

Ford Fiesta ST Kylesku Bridge

Our car’s Performance Pack adds a Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential to help make cornering neater and quicker but with the steering just off-centre a heavy right foot can still provoke some obvious torque steer.

Such agility and liveliness does translate into a lively ride. The ST lacks the composure of the less engaging VW Polo GTI and is a good deal firmer than the standard car. One colleague reckons it is too rough as a daily driver but I disagree. This is, after all, a hot hatch and you need to sacrifice some comfort for such sharp handling.

Ford Fiesta ST

The appeal of hot hatches has always been that as well as being thrilling to drive when the conditions are right they can cope with the everyday tasks of a normal hatchback.

Its firm ride aside, the Fiesta does a fine job as a regular supermini.

You can have it in three or five-door shapes and while it’s still not massive inside there’s space for a couple of smaller passengers in the rear and those up front have enough room. The boot’s also a decent size – it swallowed four days’ worth of camping gear, so can easily accommodate a weekly shop or a pushchair.

Ford Fiesta ST interior

Nobody buys a hot hatch for its economy but the Fiesta’s achievements here also deserve to be applauded. Over 945 miles of some of Scotland’s best, most driver-focused roads it returned an astonishing 40.5mpg thanks, in part, to its cylinder-deactivation tech.

At £21,150 the tested ST-2 brings an eight-inch Sync3 media system with 10-speaker B&O Play audio, cruise control, lane keep aid, and eye-catching 17-inch alloys. Our car’s long list of options bumped that to north or £26,000 but it’s down to buyers whether a panoramic sunroof, full LED lights and a fancy paint job are worth splashing out on.

They’re nice but, the £925 Performance Pack aside, have little impact on the car’s main appeal.

At its core, the Fiesta ST is a riotous little ball of energy that nails its brief of being equally at home on a track, a B-road or the supermarket run.

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