First drive: Ford Focus Active brings crossover appeal without the SUV styling
What is it?
SUVs have boomed in popularity, and the craze shows no signs of abating. Crossovers, too, have proved hugely successful, offering SUV-like selling points in slightly smaller, less expensive packages. They’re pitched at outdoorsy types who need to be able to tackle sand dunes while carrying their surfboard on the way to catch some waves.
However, the reality of life is often somewhat less exciting, and therefore SUVs and crossovers can feel a bit like overkill, even if traditional hatchbacks aren’t quite suitable. That’s where the Ford Focus Active comes in, offering typical family car sensibilities with a little extra practicality thrown in – especially in the estate.
The Active trim is something we’ve seen on the new Fiesta and Ka+ in recent years, and now it’s been added to the latest generation Focus range. It adds rugged styling in the form of plastic cladding on the bumpers, new drive modes to improve grip off road, a raised ride height and a bespoke chassis configuration. It’s still front-wheel-drive, though.
The idea is to provide some ability to back up the aesthetic changes – the Active isn’t all talk and no trousers, even if the vast majority of owners will likely never take it any further from Tarmac than a gravel driveway.
What’s under the bonnet?
There are four engine options available in the form of 123bhp 1.0-litre and 148bhp 1.5-litre petrols, and 118bhp 1.5-litre and 148bhp 2.0-litre diesels.
Our test car came with the 1.5-litre diesel, which makes a lot of sense on paper thanks to economy claims of 49.6 to 54.3mpg and low CO2 emissions of 110g/km. It’s an acceptable unit, though it does feel a little old school in that its coarseness is noticeable, while the more powerful diesel will make driving more rewarding without giving away too much in terms of economy.
The pick of the engines though is the 1.0-litre petrol, which is quieter and smoother, and will be better-suited to those who don’t do many motorway miles.
What’s it like to drive?
The standard Focus has long been known to be one of the sweetest handling family cars on the market. However, with a raised ride height and a focus towards more off-road capabilities, you would expect the package to come undone. Well, it doesn’t… for the most part.
You see, at first, you’ll notice that the subtle ease with which a Focus usually handles has been lost. There’s added elasticity to the steering, which feels heavier and not as natural as before. However, that disappointment is quickly replaced with surprise as it’s still about nine-tenths as capable as a regular Focus in the corners.
In typical driving it’s largely as you were, with a comfortable ride improved by the long-travel suspension, and the raised ride height improving visibility. It’s easy to understand the appeal of crossovers in city life.
How does it look?
The Focus is a smart-looking car, but in Active trim it loses some of the elegance that marks out the regular model. That’s almost certainly deliberate as this is supposed to appeal to those who want something a bit more rugged, and in that sense it’s certainly successful.
With black plastic cladding on the wheelarches, the obviously raised ride height and unique front bumper with built-in bash plate, the Active looks fit-for-purpose. However, it doesn’t look like a natural fit because that sleek Focus design is so ingrained in the public consciousness. Perhaps it’s best described as an acquired taste.
What’s it like inside?
The Ford Focus is the quintessential family car, and as such it’s no surprise to find there’s plenty of space inside with excellent ergonomics. For the driver, lots of adjustability of the seat and steering wheel means finding a comfortable driving position is easy, too.
However, there’s no denying Ford continues to lag behind the Volkswagen Group when it comes to cabins. The materials used just don’t feel quite as premium as the Germans’ efforts, though this might play in its favour if you’re regularly jumping in with muddy boots from your latest excursion.
What’s the spec like?
The Active is quite well-priced, starting at £21,905 for the Active and £24,405 for the Active X, the same as for the ST Line and ST Line X. That means your choice is between sporty driving or ruggedness, with no cost considerations to worry about – equipment levels are near-identical.
For the cash, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, 30mm higher ride height, plastic cladding and scuff plates on the outside, as well as automatic headlights and LED foglights. On-board technology includes Ford’s Sync infotainment system with DAB radio, sat nav and smartphone connectivity all controlled through an eight-inch touchscreen. There’s also a suite of driver assistance systems, cruise control and keyless start.
Compared with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout, which are both hovering around the £30,000 mark, the Ford Focus Active seems like a great deal. It’s good to drive and has excellent equipment levels with just enough upgrades to be able to handle some light off-roading.
However, if your active lifestyle involves the need to take your motor further into Mother Nature’s back yard, then one of those four-wheel-drive alternatives – or a ‘proper’ SUV – might be a better bet. That said, if your car is more of a statement about your personality, the Focus Active will portray the right message and save you a few bob, too.