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Ford Focus Zetec S review

  • Sportiest Focus tested
  • Price from 18,745
  • On sale now
Words ByEuan Doig

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What is it? Until the full-on Focus ST appears next year, the Zetec S is the sportiest trim available.

For 1250 more than the equivalent Zetec model you get 17-inch alloys, sports suspension, LED tail lamps, an engine start button, sports pedals, a 'premium' centre console finish and a bodykit of slightly dubious aesthetic value.

However, Zetec S trim is also the cheapest way to get yourself into a Focus with the most powerful engines available so far. We've driven the 1.6-litre Ecoboost 180 model and the 2.0 TDCi 163.

What are they like to drive?Quite different, actually. The turbocharged 180bhp 1.6-litre engine is sweet. Aside from feeling fractionally flat when you pull away from idle, it is strong from 1400rpm all the way up to 6000rpm, after which the power delivery flattens out again.

However, keep the engine working in its true comfort zone between 2500rpm and 5500rpm and you've got a genuinely engaging driving experience. The gearbox is also light and precise, which makes flicking up and down through the ratios a joy.

The 161bhp 2.0-litre TDCi is a different kettle of fish. It's certainly strong, producing 251lb ft of torque. As with the petrol, it feels flat at low revs, but once the turbo puts its shoulder behind you, progress is swift until the 4000rpm mark. It's a gruff engine, though, and lets you know exactly how hard it's working both with a gravelly note and vibration through the pedals.

The two cars handle differently, too. The presence of sports suspension has given the petrol an added sparkle. It allows the car to change direction almost without inertia, and keeps body pitch and roll completely in check. In short, it makes driving the Focus, which is already a great-handling hatch, even better.

There's barely any penalty in terms of ride, too, so supple is the set-up. You notice it's a bit firm when you initially pull away, then forget all about it.

The steering is light, quick without being overly sharp, and gives you a decent idea of how hard the front tyres are gripping.

The diesel can't match these highs. The extra weight of the engine takes its toll, making the car noticeably slower to change course when you want it to, and making the handling feel decidedly nose-led.

The suspension feels even stiffer than the petrol's, too, perhaps to compensate for the extra weight up front. You can't help but notice the extra fidgeting and bobbing. It's still a good, engaging sporting hatch, but it isn't as good as the petrol, which is a peach.

What are they like inside? Much like any other Focus, although you get some sporting adornments, such as sports pedals, an engine-start button and the premium finish on the dashboard which, basically, amount to satin-textured body-coloured plastic.

The driving position is, as ever, perfect. The relationship between seat, wheel and pedals is spot-on, and the range of adjustability means anyone can get comfortable.

The list of standard kit is extensive, and includes air-conditioning, digital radio and Bluetooth.

The cabin is certainly roomy and stylish, even if the plastics aren't quite a match for those in a Golf.

Should I buy one? If you're in the market for a sporting Focus, and don't do a vast number of miles each year, we'd heartily recommend that you try the 1.6 turbo Zetec S. It is truly great to drive, punchy and well worth the 20,745 asking price. It'll do 47.1mpg too, which means there's little downside to having all that fun.

The diesel is less of a success. Yes, it is properly swift and will do an average of 56.5mpg, but we think you'll get just as much enjoyment out of the sweet 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi Zetec model. It's a shame Ford isn't offering the lower-powered diesel in Zetec S trim now that would be a good warm hatch for those with a lot of miles to do.

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What Car? says

Euan.Doig@whatcar.com