Ford’s Active trim, in which it mixes regular-car costs with mild SUV looks, has reached the Focus range, and is available on hatch and estate models
On the road
On the road
1. As with the Fiesta and Ka+, the extra cladding works well in making the Active models stand out, not that Ford likes it to be described as cladding.
2. From the inside, only a couple of logos really differentiate the Active model, which means the same mix of decent and not-so-decent plastics, including some bits where cost has been taken out.
3. Pricing the Active at the same level as other trims, rather than at a premium, is a canny move.
The biggest company car new arrival of 2018, namely the Ford Focus, is now pretty much complete with the arrival of the Active models.
Ford sees its Active cars, which number three with the previously launched Fiesta and Ka+ Active, as straddling segments. That’s because they offer the running costs, purchase price and practicality of a regular hatchback or estate, but the looks, higher ride height and, with the Focus’s drive modes, extra off-road ability of a crossover model.
The Focus Active comes in five-door hatch or estate forms, with a pair of petrol and a pair of diesel engines. The petrols are 125hp 1.0-litre and 150hp 1.5-litre units, while the diesels come in the form of 1.5 120hp and 2.0 150hp, with all four coming attached to a six-speed manual gearbox or, for an additional £1450, an eight-speed automatic.
Compared with the regular Focus, the Active gets a 30mm rise in ride height, higher-profile tyres better suited to venturing off road, roof rails, beefed-up front and rear bumpers and skid plates, plastic wheelarch cladding and a selectable drive mode that includes Slippery and Trail settings. The former is designed for wet, loose or slippery surfaces, and reduces the accelerator aggression and increases traction control impact. Trail function is for what Ford calls “deformable surfaces” such as sand, mud or snow, and also reduces throttle pedal aggression while increasing the wheel slip allowed by the braking system and increasing the wheel spin allowed in order to clean the tyres. The new settings join the Normal, Sport and Eco functions of the regular Focus.
The model comes in Active or Active X trim levels, with the lower car getting 17-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, satellite-navigation and Ford’s Sync infotainment system, while the £2500 upgrade to Active X adds a bundle of kit including 18-inch alloys, panoramic roof, front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a powered driver’s seat and body-coloured electrically folding door mirrors. That’s a lot of kit for the price of the upgrade. The Active also gets two colours not available in the rest of the range – Orange Glow and Metropolis White.
Ford is keen for the Active to not be seen as an outlier of the line-up, which is why it has incorporated the new model into the existing pricing structure; it sits at the same price as the sporty ST-Line and ST-Line X or the more equipment-orientated Titanium and Titanium X trim levels, rather than being offered at a premium. The idea is that the brand has expanded its Focus line-up to cover all the bases, whether the driver desires sportier looks, more premium equipment or a style of car that at least hints at the fact the owner has an active lifestyle.
The Active’s case is helped at this point by it holding the best residuals in the Focus line-up, ahead of even the ST-Line models.
The boot on the Focus Active estate, a body style that costs £2500 more than the hatchback, matches the 575 litres of the regular estate, which is still well below the class average but is at least better than the tiny 341 litre effort in the hatchback. Unfortunately, it’s still smaller than the load areas in virtually all the car’s rivals; for example, the Peugeot 308 SW has 660 litres of boot space. It does though have a useful folding boot floor that can separate items or stop part-loads rolling round the boot.
Rear space is a better story, with the car capable of taking two adults in decent comfort,and three at a bit more of a push.
Up front, there is decent stowage space, but the quality is mixed. While some soft-touch plastic is evident higher up the cabin, it doesn’t take long to spot the cheaper, scratchier variety on the door pockets, glovebox lid and other areas around the cabin; this is a shame, but is an issue that also blights the rest of the Focus range.
Ford’s EcoBoost petrol engines are playing an ever-more important role in the Focus line-up, accounting for 73% of sales at the brand’s last count, and the more powerful of the two on offer in the Active is the one we’ve tested here. At 125g/km in manual form, it has the highest emissions of the four alternatives, but that’s still well below the outputs of the car’s crossover or SUV rivals, and is only a gramme per kilometre higher than the Titanium X with the same engine, though that does tip the Active up one BIK band higher.
The 150hp 1.5 is a good unit, offering decent progress with ease, and a good turn of pace when more speed is requested. At £1400 cheaper than the 150hp diesel, which only comes in the higher Active X trim, and with less than 10g/km between them in manual form, company car tax is significantly cheaper on the petrol, and it will take a very high-mileage driver to make the sums work for the diesel.
Also worth noting is quite how much more efficient the manual is than the automatic. While many of the latest breed of autos manage to be more efficient than their manual alternatives, that’s certainly not the case with the Ford eight-speed self-shifter, which comes out at between 1g/km-22g/km less efficient, depending on the engine choice. Add in the £1450 price premium, and you’ve really got to want the auto.
The 30mm increase in ride height doesn’t seriously harm the Focus’s much-lauded driving dynamics, although the Active does feel a little less agile than its regular sibling. However, there is a pay-off in ride quality, with the Active model feeling a touch better at soaking up the bumps.
Focus Active rivals are also an interesting question, because the more expensive Volkswagen Golf Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout models are four-wheel drive and don’t line up with the Focus engine options. So we have looked at a range of rivals that include the regular Golf Estate and a pair of crossovers in the form of the Mini Countryman and the Subaru XV, because the Focus sits neatly in the middle of that selection. It will have more natural rivals over the next few months when Kia launches the XCeed, while the Toyota Corolla Trek is a bit further away, due into next year.
The figures back up Ford’s story that the Focus sits between the lower-medium and crossover sectors, because it’s slightly less efficient that the Golf Estate, but looks a lot better than the bland VW, and is more efficient than the full crossovers. The Active X trim comes out as more expensive, but is better equipped than the Mini or Subaru.
It’s the pricing that gives the Focus a particular edge, in that there’s no premium for the Active versus equivalent trim levels that do slightly different things for different desires in a car.
There has been talk of the SUV boom slowing as drivers realise the implications include extra cost, worse efficiency and slightly less practicality from their higher-riding and more fashionable SUV or crossover. That may not come to pass, but the Focus is an intriguing middle ground.
The Focus is the third and, for now at least, final Ford to get the Active treatment.
Last summer the Fiesta Active (pictured) and Ka+ Active models were launched, both getting the same off-road style wheelarch cladding, slightly raised ride height and scuff plates, and the latest Focus has now joined the party following on from the model’s arrival in hatch form last September.
The new Focus range has since expanded to include estate, and the posh Vignale and Active arrived earlier this year. The ST hot hatch will complete the range in a couple of months.
Designed to offer SUV looks with the running costs of a regular model, the Active is priced at the same level as the better-equipped Titanium and Titanium X trims, and the sportier-looking ST-Line where equivalent engines are offered, giving customers a three-way choice of sporty styling, luxury kit or raised ride height SUV looks.
Ford sold 2000 Active Ka+ cars in the second half of last year, and 4400 Fiesta Actives.
The Focus Active straddles the gap between the regular Focus and Ford’s SUV range, which is being refreshed late this year with the arrival of the new Puma small crossover and all-new Kuga.
What they said
What They Said
“The Active’s rugged styling and versatility appeals to fleet customers and user-choosers looking to differentiate themselves by their outdoor and active lifestyles. Think of the relationship between the ‘full-fat’ ST hot hatch and the popular ST-Line series, which takes the spirit of ST’s styling and suspension without the power and hard-core ride."
“Ford Actives are crossovers in character and appearance but retain all of the handling and low CO2 of conventional car silhouettes – resulting in a desirable choice for company car drivers.”
Owen Gregory, Director of fleet operations, Ford of Britain
Need to know
Three things we like...
There’s a large and handy under-floor boot stowage area
The T-Cross looks like a stylish but mature crossover; typically VW
The big door bins are useful, especially as other stowage in the cabin is small
...And one we don't
The scratched area around the ignition is just one example of the cheaper cabin plastic
The small increase in ride height has a similar impact on the driving experience. The Active doesn’t feel quite as sharp as a regular Focus.
The Active does lose out slightly versus other Focus models, but is still ahead of crossover rivals.
Boot space is something of a Focus Achilles heel, although the estate more competitive than the hatch. Passenger space is better, with good room in the rear.
The X trim above regular Active gets plenty of extra kit for the £2500 upgrade, while the car is well priced alongside other Focus trim levels.
The extra Active styling bits and pieces work well in making the car stand out as a different model.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The ride quality feels softened slightly by the raised ride height, which absorbs more in terms of bumps and thumps, while petrol engine refinement is good.
Some of the interior quality is really nice, but other areas suffer from cheap and flimsy plastics.
Sync3 system is simple to operate, although it would be easier to find DAB stations if they weren’t grouped by ensemble. It would also be nice to easily use Ford’s in-built nav rather than Apple CarPlay when a phone is connected.
Whole life costs 8/10
Great residuals are a VW forte and are alive and well here, helping to counter the higher price.
CCT opinion 8/10
Clever addition that may be popular.
Ford may be on to something, with a small swell of opinion forming against SUV running costs and practicality. This could be a halfway house that suits.