Let’s face it. You cannot go down any road without seeing an SUV, and because of their popularity, even brands such as Bentley, Rolls Royce and Lamborghini are making such cars. However, this car proves you don’t need such a vehicle to fit in with the ‘lifestyle’ crowd.
It’s the Ford Focus Active, or the Active X to be precise. It’s the new rugged version of the Active that is available in both hatchback or estate versions, and as you can see here I have the estate. I genuinely believe, this is a more worthwhile car than an SUV, and I’m going to show you why.
A gargantuan boot
Let’s start with the boot, because well, it’s gargantuan. To be exact, it offers 608 litres with the rear seats up, and to put that in to some sort of perspective, that’s over 100 more than I had in the Honda CR-V Hybrid I reviewed a few weeks ago, and that wasn’t what you would call small. What’s better still is that the load lip is low and you have no nasty step in to the boot floor, which is handy if you want to load bigger items or dogs.
Not enough space? Ah-ha, fold down the 60-40 rear seats and you’ll have 1,650 litres at your disposal, handy if you want to load mountain bikes or whatever lifestyle items you want to put in here. Who knows, you may in to extreme ironing. Yes, that really is a thing, look it up. If you do happen to fold the rear seats down, you’ll find that they fold virtually flat, which makes the boot even more practical.
Whilst I’m taking about practicality, I just want to finish the boot of by highlighting the handy pop out hooks that keep you shopping in place, the 12V socket, the levers to fold down the rear seats, and a strap which makes removing the luggage cover easier than other cars. So far, so good.
It’s actually engaging to drive
Often when I drive an SUV, it’s normally the same story; it’s safe, spacious, and practical, but a little…vanilla to drive. Well, the great thing about the Focus Active X is, well, it’s a Focus, so it’s an engaging car to drive. It does roll a little bit more in the corners compared to a standard Focus because of the 30mm increase in height (34mm for the rear), but it’s still a genuinely fun car to drive.
The steering is direct, it’s got a decent weight to it, and the feedback’s not too shabby, either, so I think this is a car you will actually enjoy driving. It’s an entertaining car to drive around corners, and it feels more precise than a lot of the SUVs I’ve driven.
However, I’m sure not all of you are overly fussed whether this car is any good or not in the corners, so let’s change my focus somewhat. Let me talk you through what engine I have slotted underneath the Metropolis White painted body. Actually, just a quick one on the colour, it’s exclusive to the Active and the Active X, but to be honest, I still cannot make my mind up on whether I like or not, what do you think of it guys?
Anyway, back to the engine; it’s a 1.5 litre three cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost petrol, which produces 150hp with 240Nm of torque. It can be mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, or you have an all-new 8-speed automatic, which is what I have here. For those of you wondering, the Active is not four wheel drive, but you do get two exclusive driving modes for the Active, Slippery and Trail.
This engine when mated to the 8-speed automatic will get the Focus to 62mph in 9.9 seconds, and the top speed is 125mph. The engine and the gearbox perform well, offering a peppy driving sensation with minimal turbo lag.
Whether you’re using the 8-speed auto in Drive in Manual mode you’ll find it slick, and pretty seamless, so I doubt you’ll have many complaints. It’s certainly better than the 6-speed auto I tested in a Fiesta some time back. Earlier I mentioned the Slippery and Trail drive modes, but that’s not all you have to choose from; you also have Normal, Eco and Sport, which are all pretty much self explanatory.
Place the car in to Sport and you get better throttle response, the 8-speed auto will hold on to the gears longer, and the steering also increase in weight. It’s an entertaining mode to be in, and you can have some decent fun in this car, even though, it’s not an ST-Line, ST or an RS.
Not only is this 1.5 litre petrol pretty punchy, but it’s got some brain to go with the brawn as it’s able to deactivate one of its cylinders to give you better fuel economy. What’s better still, the underside of the body has been designed in such a fashion to reduce drag, and there’s also an active grille shutter, which can automatically open and close. So with that in mind, what fuel economy does this car offer?
On a combined run, Ford states that this engine should deliver up to 40.9mpg, and in emissions are 136g/km of CO2. In my experience, I was able to get around 40mpg, but if you want more economy, then take a look at the 1.5 litre diesel, as that offers 64.2mpg on a combined run, with 91g/km of CO2 emissions.
What other engines are available?
Just in case this engine doesn’t light your candle there’s also a choice of a 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine that offers 125hp, a 1.5 litre EcoBlue diesel which offers 120hp, or a 2.0 EcoBlue diesel which offers 150hp, all of which can either be mated to a 6-speed manual, or an 8-speed automatic.
What about the rest of the car?
So far I’ve ascertained the Focus Active X is a rewarding car to drive, but what the other elements of the car such as comfort, refinement, etc? Ride comfort is good, although the bigger alloys (Active X gains 18″ over the Active’s 17″) do cause the ride to be a tad busy at slower speeds but the suspension does a commendable job of soaking up the bumps.
Unlike the ST-Line I drove last year, the Active X has got independent rear suspension, as well as the ‘Rough Road’ suspension that comes standard on all of Ford’s Active models. It’s designed to give better comfort and damping if you happen to venture on a beaten track, and in my experience, it worked pretty well.
Mind you having said that, I wouldn’t there isn’t a night and day different between the ST-Line and the Active X, which I think is testament to Ford’s engineers, as even the sportier ST-Line feels perfectly compliant. Naturally, the Active X is the more comfortable car to sit in, although as I said, the difference isn’t major.
Refinement is of a good level; yes, there is a bit of road noise that enters the cabin, but the wind noise is well controlled, and the engine works away in the background in near silence when you’re cruising. Visibility out of the car is also good, but the car on test has blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a reversing camera as options, to make life even easier.
Value for money
Another reason why I’d opt for the Active X over an SUV is value for money. It starts from £24,405, offering features such as Active styling, 18″ alloys, panoramic roof, 8″ touchscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, smartphone connectivity, navigation, dual zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, heated front seats, automatic lights and wipers, LED front fog lights with cornering function, selectable drive modes, twin exhaust and rear privacy glass.
To put that in to some kind of perspective, a Nissan Qashqai in a similar spec would cost you £25,945, although that model (the N-Connecta) does come with more safety kit as standard. Also, in case you’re wondering, that Qashqai had options to help bring it to a similar level to the Focus Active X.
What about the rest of the practicality?
Earlier I mentioned the big boot of the Focus Active X, but what about the rest of the car? Like the standard Focus, rear legroom has been considerably improved over the third generation, which is great news for taller people like (I’m 6’2″). Even when I was sat behind a driver’s seat set for me.
Headroom in the back is a little tight if you’re not sat in the middle sit due to the supports needed for the panoramic roof, and getting three adults in the rear may be a bit of squeeze, but on the plus side, the transmission tunnel is minimal. Sadly there’s no armrest in the back, but you do get a 12v socket in case your rear passengers want to charge their electrical devices on the go.
There’s a good amount of cubbyholes to be had in the front, and getting a good driving position is a doddle as the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, plus the driver’s seat is 6-way electronically adjustable.
How safe is it?
Very, is the answer to that. As standard, the Focus Active X comes with six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, speed limiter, intelligence speed assist, and post collision braking. This was enough to gain the car five stars from Euro NCAP, but the car on test had added features such as head up display, blind spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beam.
Some may see the Focus Active as a bit of a marketing ploy, a car that’s a bit pointless. I disagree, however, as I feel this is a worthy alternative to an SUV. Ok, so there’s no all wheel drive option, but how many of the SUVs bought get some proper off-road action? I doubt it’s that many.
Yes, this doesn’t offer a high commanding driving position either, but it has more space than the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, it offers a little better value, and it’s a better car to drive. For me, this car could be a bit of a no brainer.
Car Obsession Rating: (4.5 / 5)
- Offers plenty of space
- More engaging to drive than your average SUV
- Decent value
- High safety levels
- Automatic gearbox works well
- Lacks the high commanding driving position some may yearn for
- Panoramic roof eats in to headroom
Skoda Octavia Scout
The Octavia Scout will be a strong choice for those who buy in to Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ ethos, and unlike the Focus, it can be had with four wheel drive. I’d argue the Focus looks better, but that’s subjective of course. It’s also worth noting that the Scout will cost you more money as well.
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
The Golf Alltrack will be a similar proposition to the Octavia, although that should come as little surprise as they come from the same family. Price for the Alltrack is to be confirmed, but you can almost guarantee it will be higher than the Skoda, meaning it will be higher than the Focus as well. However, the allure of the VW and Golf combination will warrant the extra cost.