|Ford Focus Estate 1.5 TDCi EcoBlue ST-Line|
|The story: Ford’s new Focus is here, and it’s still one of the best-driving family cars out there. But does the estate version maintain that mantle – and can it rectify the disappointing practicality of its predecessor?|
|Key rival:||Skoda Octavia Estate|
Ford has always been very clear about what the Focus offers the small-family-car market. It is, they say, the driver’s choice – as it always has been. And while successive versions have undoubtedly diluted the outright sharpness of the original, the Focus has always been at the top of the pecking order in terms of pure driving enjoyment.
Trouble is, while that might cut it as far as the hatchback is concerned, an estate has to offer more than thrills alone. And it was on practicality and space – the most important factors for a load-lugger – that the previous Focus Estate fell down.
Happily, this new model sets right the wrongs of the old car. Whether the seats are up or down, the Focus Estate’s rear compartment is now as capacious as many of its best rivals’. It’s a pity the rear seat-backs fold in only a 60/40 split, but at least they fold flat without leaving an appreciable step, and there are some neat touches elsewhere, such as the way the retractable load cover can be stowed in a special slot under the boot floor when removed.
There’s loads of room on offer in the back, meanwhile, and the well-shaped backrest offers more support than most rivals’, meaning the rear bench is a comfortable place to spend time. And of course, as per the hatchback, there’s plenty of room up front too.
Sadly, the dashboard is also shared with the hatchback, which means you get cheap, scratchy plastics that don’t feel particularly high-quality, and a slightly sluggish and dated-looking infotainment system. If you’re going to spend all day on the road, this isn’t particularly the dashboard you’d want to be looking at.
That’s a real shame, because elsewhere the Focus makes a tempting company car. It’s just as sharp to drive as you’d hope, with quick, light steering, nice balance and a mobile, playful chassis. Yet despite this, it also rides comfortably.
Granted, it doesn’t have the ultimate finesse of a Volkswagen Golf in this lower-spec form (larger engines get a more sophisticated suspension set-up that’s one of the best-riding around) and it’s susceptible to a touch too much road noise, but it manages rough urban roads more fluently than most.
What’s more, this little 1.5-litre diesel is remarkably sweet, endowed with a likeable blend of flexibility and smoothness that make you wonder why you’d ever need anything more, especially with such competitive emissions and fuel consumption figures.
That interior quality means the Focus Estate can’t challenge for the class lead. But it is a solid contender with a cracking blend of talents. If you do want a small estate that’s both comfortable and genuinely good fun to drive, you can now pick this one without having to compromise on practicality.