Ford Focus

The new Ford Focus is great – but the 1998 original was the real revolution

The new Ford Focus range is available to order now
IF FORD’S new Focus drives anything like as well as it looks it should be one of this year’s big hits – but if you can save yourself roughly £17,000 if you want to drive a genuine game-changer.

Wander into a showroom with a blue big oval atop and you’ll be able to order the new kid on the block as either a five-door hatch or as an estate perfect for trips to the tip. It’s not only easier on the eye than the old Focus but cheaper too – £2,300 less to be exact, if you go for the entry model – and if you’re feeling flush there’s a plush Vignale model, with leather seats, a fancy radiator grille and electric everything.

But if you want something truly radical you’ll have to walk past the brand-new offering and go back in time. In fact, you’ll have to conveniently forget that there’s still one on every other corner and that you can pick them up for about 25p these days, because the original Ford Focus was a class act. In a way it’s a shame it sold so well because time and familiarity have dulled its impact.

Just think about what else you could’ve bought back in 1998. There was an Astra that handled neatly but looked about as interesting as a tax return, a solidly built but utterly boring Golf, the fantastic yet flaky Fiat Bravo, and a Peugeot 306 that handled beautifully but had a so-so reputation for reliability. Worst of the lot was Ford’s own Escort, which had been quietly getting better with every facelift but ultimately traced its lineage back to an iffy, me-too effort launched eight years earlier. If you wanted a family hatchback your choice was something that did one thing brilliantly or everything with a ‘that’ll do’ attitude.

So when the first Focus rocked up with its all-round independent suspension, its Punto-esque rear headlights and slightly mad angular headlights it’s hardly a surprise everyone sat up and took notice. It had lots of clever little touches – the boot badge that flips sideways to reveal the key slot, for instance – but the big change was just how well it drove. Every Focus I’ve driven over the years has been thoroughly entertaining on a quiet road and that sort of B-road sparkle is something you come to expect from Ford now, but it’s in a different league to the Escort it replaced.

No wonder it went on to become the nation’s best-selling car – and it’s because you still see them everywhere that we’ve all forgotten just how much it moved things on. I’m sure the new car will be a class act too, but it’ll never have the wow factor its (much) older brother did.

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Cars might fly – if they weren’t so expensive

PAL-V has launched its Liberty as the first production-ready flying car

KEEN students of irony will surely remember the past week as a pivotal week in Europe’s transport. In the same week that Chris Grayling announces that it won’t be too tricky to police Britain’s borders post-Brexit some Dutch blokes decide to launch a production-ready flying car.

But I wouldn’t get too worried about the prospect of unchecked immigrants zipping straight over the customs booths at Dover while border officials look on helplessly from the ground, perhaps wondering whether some sort of giant net needs to be built from the white cliffs upwards. If you’ve genuinely trekked halfway across Europe in search of a better life in Blighty you almost certainly aren’t going to spend Lamborghini Aventador money on the new PAL-V Liberty to get there.

That’s what this new three-wheeler, which has been claimed as a world first at this year’s Geneva Motor Show because its makers are taking orders in readiness for a 2019 launch, are asking.

For your £290,000 you get a mid-engined two-seater which uses not one, but two engines to rustle up 400bhp. The top speed’s 100mph in the air and slightly more on the ground, and once you take off it’ll be able to cruise for about four hours and roughly 300 miles before you need to fill it up again. And it runs on good old fashioned petrol, since you’re asking.

It is the closest stab anyone’s made so far at making a flying car that works, largely because its makers have realised that trying to mate an aeroplane or helicopter with a car always ends up being crushingly expensive to buy and run. So they’ve based it on an autogyro instead – a petite flying wonder with wings that fold away and tiny, lightweight petrol engines. Sean Connery managed to fight off an entire squadron of helicopters with one in You Only Live Twice, so they can’t be that bad!

But until someone invents a flying car that doesn’t require a Lamborghini price tag and 35 hours of flight training I don’t think they’re going to take off (sorry). Only when it offers Ford Focus-rivalling levels of practicality, an Audi A4-sized price tag and the intuitive driveability of either will we all be hopping into PAL-Vs and soaring through the skies to work. We’ve reached an age where we can wirelessly download Bruno Mars’ entire back catalogue onto a mobile phone in a matter of minutes, but a vision of commuting imagined in The Jetsons still seems hopelessly distant.

If you are serious about using the heavens over the M57 as your route to work I’d suggest a secondhand helicopter instead – the good ones start at about £50,000, which is a big saving over a PAL-V.

For everyone else it’ll have to a Golf, Astra or Focus. Sorry, traffic jams are here to stay…

Why the Range Rover SV Coupe proves that less is more when it comes to luxury cars

The SV Coupe revisits the idea of the original two-door Range Rover from the 1970s

FORGET everything you’ve ever learned about quality over quantity for a moment. When you wade into the world of the fabulously wealthy, less is usually a lot more.

The price you’d pay for a truly palatial pad in Kensington, Liverpool, for instance, would barely get you a one-bed flat in its London namesake. A main course at an upmarket restaurant in Marylebone or Mayfair costs more than I’d normally spend on a couple’s three-course night out in this part of the world. And don’t get me started on £6 pints.

It’s the same with cars too, as anyone who’s ever ordered a Porsche GT3 and traded rear seats for roll cages and stereos for stripped-back carbonfibre will know.

Which is why I have to admire Land Rover for unveiling its new, ultra-luxury spinoff of the Range Rover at the Geneva Motor Show last week. There’s lots of “contemporary design” and “up-to-the-minute technology” breaking up the slabs of wood and acres of leather you’d expect on the inside, and they are only building 999 of them, but what you can’t fail to notice is that for your £240,000 asking price you get two fewer doors. Automotive proof that less really is more in the world of cars, too.

What it does prove, however, is that if the money’s there then it’s not impossible to convert a five-door car into a three-door one; which makes me wonder why three-door cars much further down the pecking order are all being quietly killed off. The RenaultSport Clio – a car you’d expect to arrive sans rear doors, because that way the body’s stiffer – is now only available in five-door form, and it’s the same story with the Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic. Word has it that the three-door version of Audi’s A3 is being pensioned off, too. Which is a real shame, because for all the awkward fumbling you have with sliding seats forward and climbing through narrow gaps there is a youthful sense of fun about three-door hatches, and it’s sad to see it slowly disappearing.

The Peugeot 205 GTI just wouldn’t have had the same frisson of mischief had it been equipped with five doors, and nor would Renault’s Clio Williams or Citroen’s AX GT. They all had five-door cousins, of course, but it was worth eschewing the practicality for a stiffer bodyshell and cleaner looks. Surely if the argument works for the Range Rover all these years later – especially being positioned as a luxury spinoff – it’ll work for the next Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type-R, too?

It’s exactly the sort of petrolhead argument I’m hoping to win next time I visit the pub. Anyone got six quid they can lend me?