Motors

Ford's shifting Focus

The Ford Focus remains a fine family car with many admirable qualities - but buyers have shifted their focus to SUVs and EVs, says William Scholes

The Ford Focus has been hit by supply problems.

AS anyone who has explored buying a brand new car recently will know, lead times are long, supply short and prices high, writes William Scholes.

Many car-makers don't seem to have recovered from the enforced Covid shut-downs of two years ago. Getting production back to pre-pandemic levels has been stymied by a global shortage of the superconductors - microchips, basically - which are as essential a part of a modern car as steel for the bodywork, rubber for the tyres or glass for the windows.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had a further destabilising effect, albeit affecting some manufacturers more than others.

This is happening at the same time that customer demand for electric cars has rocketed - yet car companies can't in most cases build them quickly enough.

The outworking of all these factors can be seen by visiting manufacturer websites. Mini, to take a random example, has, among other things, stopped offering manual gearboxes. "By easing the complexity of our production processes, we can cushion the impact of supply and widen the availability of our vehicles to as many customers as possible," it says.

Or if you Google 'Volvo' and follow the link encouraging you to 'build your Volvo today', you'll find lead times of up to 10 months on the XC40 and up to 18 months on certain XC90 variants.

Ford seems to be particularly affected by all this upheaval. "Due to customer demand and supply chain disruption, new factory orders are currently unavailable on new Focus..." announces its website.

Nor can you order a new Fiesta - perennially the UK's best-selling car until Covid came along - or a Galaxy or S-Max. Ordering is "currently limited" for the rather fine Mexico-built electric Mustang Mach-E.

There's no problem, it seems, in placing an order for Ford's SUV models, the Puma and Kuga, which have become fixtures in the top 10 of the UK best-seller charts.

And the Transit van sails on unaffected - last year it was not only the UK market's most popular van but also favourite vehicle overall.

That means the Transit SuperVan, as drooled over on another page by my colleague David Roy, is just as attainable today as a more humdrum Fiesta or Focus.

Ford does, however, hope to be able to sell you a new Focus or Fiesta later this year, while the SuperVan will remain a one-off (unless someone in Ford has a sense of humour and puts it into production...).

A key problem for the Focus is that the infotainment system - dubbed SYNC4 in Ford-speak - offered with the recently facelifted car uses parts made in Ukraine. For obvious reasons, then, that has been a problem while Ford gets a new supplier.

Another reason for the pause in new Focus orders is to allow the factory, at Saarlouis in Germany, to catch up on the backlog that has built up.

Even at that, there are reports that it will cut production at Saarlouis at the end of the summer. Ford wants to sell the factory and it means that when it goes, the Focus will go with it - perhaps by 2025. It's already stopped building another family car, the Mondeo.

The rise of the SUV is responsible in large part - you can't blame a car-maker for prioritising the more profitable, more in-demand model over one with falling demand - and so too is the repurposing of factories for EV production.

Whatever fills the Focus-shaped hole in the Ford line-up will be electric and based on the same platform as found beneath Volkswagen's ID3.

A large 'infotainment' screen dominates the dashboard of the latest Ford Focus.

But there's a bit of a way to go before all that comes to pass; you might not be able to buy a Focus right now, but should you buy one in the (near) future?

Anyone in the market for capable family transport should certainly consider it. To recap, the Focus swims in the same five-door family hatchback waters populated by the Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308, Kia Ceed, Mazda 3... and about a zillion other competitors.

These are, to be honest, all decent cars but the reason you might, were you given a free pick, have chosen the Focus over the rest was because it was the nicest to drive.

When the first Focus arrived in 1998 it was light years ahead of the decrepit Escort it succeeded. It drove beautifully and in the way it steered, braked and went round corners felt like a far more expensive car.

That has remained a constant throughout successive generations of the car - we're now on the fourth - and along the way sweet 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines arrived. These weren't necessarily as economical as punters might have hoped, but they were certainly nice to operate.

The latest Focus doesn't look as distinctive as the original once did but it remains very pleasant to drive.

It's got a decent boot (375 litres) and roomy back seats, so that's a couple of family car boxes ticked. That new - and very large, at 13.2-inches - infotainment screen is well above average for these systems. It's clear, bright, responsive and easy to connect your phone to. Ford gives you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too.

The heater controls are on the screen too - which I normally dislike - but it actually works OK here. Real knobs and switches are still better, obviously. There was a fine digital dashboard fitted to my ST-Line test car, too.

It all feels well built and of good quality too. Perhaps the cloth seat fabric lets the ambiance down a little - though these things are subjective - but this is a finely appointed car.

The test car had a mild-hybrid version of the excellent 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine in 123bhp guise.

The test car was in ST-Line trim, which gives you the cosmetics of the hot ST model but without the hair-on-fire sense of energy that car's 276bhp bestows upon it. Ford do this sort of thing well though, and the ST-Line looks the part with its smart alloys, spoilers and body kit.

Before they stopped taking orders, this combination - which comes only with a seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox - cost £27,470. What it will cost when orders resume is obviously unclear.

The Focus remains a highly competent family hatchback. But against the unstoppable rise of the SUV and a flood of electric cars, the Focus is starting to feel out of its depth. It's a fine car with many admirable qualities - but unfortunately buyers have shifted their focus elsewhere.

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