Note: Europe exclusive post follows.
Having taken my '03 Focus TDCi Estate in for a service, I am driving around
in an '05 Focus 5-door as a replacement for the day. So far, it has simply
reinforced my impression that I made the best choice in the Golf class when
I bought my car two years ago, and also that progress is not necessarily a
good thing. Certainly from the outside it looks a little more upscale,
although as a mini-Mondeo it has lost the feline appeal of the original
front end, and the interior design may look higher quality to some due to
its absolutely conservative layout, but to me the materials look no better
and I anyway liked the "new edge" funkiness of the old Focus and its more
organic curves. Certain ergonomic details are better now (finally you can
aim the vents from the AC system to blow on the driver...) but others are a
step back (the radio cluster is harder to read, the gauges have more glare
in direct sunlight, the steering wheel feels horrible with its cheesy
faux-aluminum inserts, the armrest is useless and obtrusive).
What really annoys me is the industry-wide trend towards bloated cars. The
new Focus is 14cm wider than the old one. This is substantial, and
completely changes the character of the car. It may be a mini-Mondeo in
concept, but I wouldn't be surprised if the two come out within cms of each
other under the tape measure. Those 14cm are felt on narrow, twisty
B-roads. Where I could toss my car into curves and place it perfectly on
the road, with the new Focus I was all too aware of the shrubbery whizzing
by a hair-breadth from my offside mirror. Sharing the B-roads with opposing
traffic, especially trucks, is a bit dodgy now. Okay, it's not a Mercedes
S-class, but it has lost its playful character due to its newly found
corpulence. I'm sure the extra size pays dividends for back-seat
passengers, although my subjective opinion is that you wouldn't really
notice in a back-to-back comparison unless you measured. To me, it's just
extra flab which has diluted the quality of the quintessential hot hatch.
This steady evolution from cars the size of the old 205 GTi to the current
Golf GTI is disturbing for the few like me who value a quick, compact
back-road tool, but it's what the market wishes.
Oh, and it didn't fit in my garage at home.
The other immediate killer for me is the feel of the controls. Ford has
followed the industry trend towards lighter and lighter controls. The
clutch has no resistance and engages high off the floor, while the brakes
are over-boosted and grabby. The shifter is lighter, but lacks the positive
engagement of the old box and is placed quite low relative to the steering
wheel. The Focus maintains its great steering, and ultimate grip is superb,
but the rest of the control interfaces are a let-down and detract from the
driving experience (for me).
It's actually a pleasant change to not be yearning for the newest model.
Can't wait to get my old faithful back from service.