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There is immense pressure on car manufacturers when they replace one of their models. They must strike a balance between making changes – hopefully improvements – while maintaining the character and charm of that particular model. Now add in to the mix, the fact that the model you are replacing is one of Britain’s best-selling car, and you can start to appreciate the effort that has gone into the all-new Ford Focus.

It’s only fair, then, that we sit and admire Ford’s handiwork for a moment. This is one of Ford’s more drastic re-stylings, but it has worked a treat. The overall body shape is sleeker than the outgoing car, with softer, smoother lines.

But this is the ST Line X model. It is the sportiest-looking model, barring the Focus ST which will join the range later this year. And the ST Line X adds sharp, aggressive features. I mean, just look at those front fog light surrounds. The ventilation holes in them are real, too!

This is one of Ford’s more drastic re-stylings, but it has worked a treat.

The ST Line X body kit is a cracking addition to the new Focus. It gives a broader, more muscular feel to the car. 18-inch alloy wheels fill the arches nicely, and a twin exhaust pipe and large rear spoiler finish off the rear end. Finished in Desert Island Blue, this Focus is a real head-turner. When you catch the car’s reflection in a shop window you can’t help but appreciate it.

And it’s because I spent so long looking at it that I noticed the rear door line is remarkably similar to a BMW 1 Series. Fitting really, because this new Focus is gunning for the likes of the BMW 1 Series, VW Golf and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

The step up to be a serious contender amongst premium brands is most evident when you take a seat inside. The cabin is a much-needed improvement in terms of both quality and design. The plastics are soft-touch, and the leather is of good quality. The dashboard is slim, which creates a more spacious feel in the front.

Gone is the cumbersome multimedia screen surround, replaced by a much thinner touchscreen ‘perched’ on top of the dashboard. This is a popular trend at the moment, and whilst not everyone may be a fan, there’s no denying it looks pretty sleek. Also sleek is the gear selector for the automatic gearbox: it’s a twist dial. This not only frees up space around the centre console, but impresses passengers too.

There are four engines available in the new Focus ST Line X: 1.0 and 1.5 EcoBoost petrol engines with 125PS and 182PS respectively, and 1.5 and 2.0 EcoBlue diesel engines with 120PS and 150PS respectively. All are available with a choice of 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic gearboxes.

Our test car had the 1.5 diesel, with an 8-speed auto. The performance figures don’t exactly make for exciting reading: 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds and a top speed of 120mph. If you want your Focus ST Line X to go anything like the way it looks, then the 1.5 EcoBoost will be the obvious choice: 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 138mph.

But then again, it’s not all about speed. Some people will choose the ST Line X because it looks tremendous, but the 120PS diesel engine will be plenty. And, when mated to the 8-speed automatic gearbox, it is delightfully smooth. Gear changes are seamless, and there are plenty of ratios to make the most of the limited power available.

On the motorway the 8-speed auto brings further benefit; keeping the revs to a minimum. Coupled to a hefty amount of noise insulation the Focus is incredibly quiet. You can barely hear the diesel rattle from up front, and can converse with fellow passengers at 70mph without raising your voice at all.

Which brings us nicely on to practicality. Open the boot and you’ll find a spacious boot. It looks a little smaller than the previous car, but its 273-litre capacity is only 4-litres less than before. The noticeable downsizing comes with the boot width: you might struggle to get a set of golf clubs in it.

For passengers, cabin space is more generous than ever before, particularly for rear-seat passengers. There is an abundance of leg room. That being said, the seat base is a little low, and lacks the leg support offered in the front seats.

The new Ford Focus is the most technologically-advanced to date. Standard specification of the ST Line X model includes, amongst other things: front and rear parking sensors, power-adjust driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless start, 8-inch touchscreen and cruise control with speed limiter.

There are also a host of impressive gadgets available as optional extras. With the Driver Assistance Pack you get adaptive cruise control and lane centring assist. The former maintains a gap with the car in front, slowing you down from your set speed if necessary. Lane centring assist operates the steering to keep you in your lane. Together, they make the Ford Focus somewhat autonomous on the motorway.

Other available options include opening panoramic roof, B&O premium sound system, heated steering wheel, active park assist (self-parking), an adaptive damping system and keyless entry.
All the improvements to the new Ford Focus have, inevitably, had an impact on price. The base price of the Focus ST Line X 1.5 EcoBlue with 8-speed automatic is a whopping £26,800. Yikes! What’s more, the test car sent to me included a further £5,000 of optional extras.

Good job then that this new Focus has the substance to back up its style. It has the refinement and quality to go head to head with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series.

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