Has the car industry got the crossover craze back to front? We’ve been subject to an armada of chunky compact SUVs that are markedly different in design and execution to more humble hatchback siblings their makers no longer seem interested in selling you. Ford, however, has trodden a less-beaten path of late.
That leads us to this: the new Ford Focus Active. It’s the latest Ford hatchback to gain the rugged, Active trappings and trims, joining the pumped-up Active versions of the Ka+ and Fiesta. Key to this are tougher-looking front and rear bumpers, protective black plastic cladding lining the arches and sills, a set of roof rails, and a raised ride height courtesy of revised suspension and larger tyres. Some Active bespoke trim elements and finishes appear in the cabin, too.
The new Active trim adds an SUV spin to Ford’s popular family car, with the visual transformation based on what is essentially a mid-range Zetec model. A choice of two petrol and two diesel engines are presented, while the Active setup is also available on the Focus Estate.
Standard equipment highlights taken from the Zetec include cruise control with a speed limiter function, lane keep assist, automatic headlights, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. As well as a mock-off-road makeover, the Active builds on mid-spec Zetec trim by adding navigation, voice control, a 4.2-inch driver information display embedded in the instrument panel, and keyless start. An Active X model loaded with almost every optional extra is also offered.
Adding off-road appeal to regular family members is not something new in the car industry – think Skoda with its Scout cars, Audi with its Allroads and, of course, the numerous Cross Country Volvos we’ve seen through the years.
However, given the Focus’ place as an extremely common sight on UK roads (it’s the second best-selling car in Britain behind the Fiesta, and 21,000 new-generation models have already been registered since launch in September), the Active could be a take on the genre with serious mainstream appeal.
The entry-level 123bhp EcoBoost 1.0-litre petrol engine provides an adequate level of performance, but many Focus Active buyers, and particularly those going for the larger Estate, will find the extra power of the 1.5-litre petrol, or the additional grunt offered by the diesels, easier to live with. The 200Nm of torque offered on overboost by the 123bhp EcoBoost doesn’t feel like it goes that far and, when loaded up with kit and family members, it could easily become sluggish.
To give it its dues, though, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost is a supremely refined three-cylinder unit, being very quiet not only at a cruise, but also through the gears during hard acceleration.
The Focus Active drives almost exactly the same as the regular Focus, save for an extra bit of body roll and fidget thanks to the taller, unique suspension tune. The fundamental sweetness of the Focus’ chassis setup is still there to be exploited, and the additional bits of spring and tyre mean the Active boasts a slightly more supple ride than the rest of the Focus field. Not only is this a decent car to hustle cross-country, it’s also a superbly comfortable one for long-distance motorway slogs. The steering and the manual gearbox, meanwhile, are pleasant and effortless to use.
One thing the 30mm ride increase doesn’t result in, though, is a tall, commanding driving position – something many prospective crossover buyers no doubt crave. It hardly feels different to the regular Focus from behind the wheel, so if a compact crossover is on your shopping list mainly for this reason, the Focus Active isn’t going to cut it.
Underlying its true position as a slightly taller hatchback rather than a true SUV is the drivetrain. All-wheel-drive isn’t available, and every Focus Active is front-wheel drive, albeit with a couple of off-road driving modes, tailoring the traction control for slippery and soft, soggy surfaces. Dirt trails shouldn’t be an issue, but it likely won’t venture as far off the beaten track as a compact SUV equipped with a proper all-wheel drive system might.
That’s said, if you can be tempted down from a loftier driving position and need a crossover for a little extra peace of mind, rather than actual off-road purposes, the Focus Active has more than just tidy road manners in its locker.
Starting from £21,900, the Focus Active commands a premium of £2,250 over the regular Focus in Zetec trim, but you do get extra equipment, as well as those revised looks and suspension. More interestingly, that £21,900 starting price looks very tempting compared to the regular C-segment crossover field.
For the money you get what is, in essence, a pretty well-equipped and rough-track-ready Focus for the price of a SEAT Ateca in its most barebones form; you’d have to pay £24,310 for a similarly equipped Skoda Karoq SE L with a 113bhp 1.0-litre TSI engine. Cabin space in the Active is comparable with those cars, even if the 373-litre boot is competitive with similarly sized family hatchbacks, rather than similarly sized SUVs.