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Review: The new Ford Focus is the cream of the crop of family hatchbacks

The new hatchback will arrive in Ireland in late August.

NO OTHER CAR is as important to Ford as the Focus, so there’s a fair degree of expectation resting on the shoulders of this all-new fourth-generation model. Everything about it is new, from the more mature design to a much-improved interior that now provides more space – despite the car remaining the same size as its predecessor.

In an attempt to widen its appeal, the Focus now comes in a variety of different flavours to suit a broader range of palettes.

The regular model that comes in a choice of specification grades that are topped off with the Titanium version. There’s a sportier ST Line version that gets unique styling, stiffer suspension and sits a little lower on the road.

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For the more adventurous, the Focus Active lifts the car and adds more rugged looking trim, and crowning the range is the more luxuriously appointed Vignale model with bespoke bumpers, leather interior and other upgrades. In other words, there should be a Focus to suit most people in the market for such a car.

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Against the car it replaces, the interior is a marked improvement in both layout and quality of finish. You still get easy-to-read instrument dials, but a new freestanding touchscreen, measuring eight-inches on higher grade models ensures the Focus looks up-to-date.

Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system is simple to use but isn’t quite a slick as rival offerings. That said, with the provision of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, most users will be happy to use those features over the native operating system.

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Rear passenger space is good and feels less cramped than before. The improved sense of space is helped by a new side window design that lets in more light. Boot space at 375 litres is good, but not class-leading.

We sampled a range of engines and found the 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol to be the best for those sticking to city and urban commuting. Its smooth power delivery is helped by improvements to minimise fuel consumption by way of an industry-first cylinder deactivation for three-cylinder engines.

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When the engine isn’t under load one cylinder shuts off to reduce fuel consumption without any noticeable effect. Ford claims that the 125hp version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost can return consumption rates as low as 4.8 litres/100km, while emissions of 108g/km of CO2 give it an affordable rate of motor tax – costing €190 per annum under the current system.

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From inside, the Focus is noticeably more refined than previous models, even at motorway cruising speed the road and wind noise is impressively hushed.

While the small petrol engine copes easily at those speeds, if you frequently cover longer distances there are 1.5- and 2.0-litre diesel engines available with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions.

Refinements to the steering setup result in a much sweeter and more natural feel. Even in its basic specification, the Focus delivers crisp handling and excellent bump absorption. It will be possible to upgrade the suspension to adaptive dampers though we feel it isn’t necessary.

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With the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf still some time away, the Focus currently ranks as the best car in the segment. However, its full pricing has not yet been confirmed other than the starting price of €24,900, which could see choice models being more expensive than some rivals by the time it arrives in Ireland later this year.

But upon our first sampling, it is currently the cream of the crop in what is a highly competitive segment of the market.

READ: Is it more efficient to drive with your windows open than with the air con on? >

READ: Review: We drove Mercedes’ new posh pickup truck – the potent V6 X-Class >

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