Ford has gained a reputation for making outstandingly capable family cars. What it doesn't seem so good at is coming up with names for them. The specification level of the Ford Focus tested here is called Trend.
Trend. Isn't that just asking for trouble? Even if you really love your Fords, you'd hardly describe this everyman Blue Oval brand as trendy. Nor does it help that the Focus Trend is a humble mid-range model.
Hopefully potential buyers can look past that, because in turbo-diesel form as tested, the $41,990 Focus Trend is simply an outstanding family car.
The Focus petrol model has an impressive direct-injection powerplant, but it doesn't compare with the effortless torque and surreal thrift of the 2.0-litre diesel. The oil burner makes 120kW/340Nm and achieves 5.3 litres per 100km in the official Combined fuel economy test.
The diesel is $3000 more expensive than the petrol and you also have Road User Charges (RUC) to deal with. It's hard to make rational/financial argument for this engine when the petrol only sips a litre more fuel per 100km, but in terms of driver appeal there's no contest.
Crucially, the turbo diesel mill works really well with the PowerShift six-speed transmission that comes as standard. PowerShift? That trendy name signifies Ford's own automated dual-clutch gearbox, which is also used in some Volvo product. The extra low-down pulling power of the diesel really suits this transmission, which can feel a bit hesitant at low speed with the petrol engine. In this application, it's satisfying smooth and well-mannered.
Which kind of sums up the chassis too. Ford's real strength is chassis dynamics: it seems to be able to make a fine-handling machine regardless of whether we're talking about a small hatch or a big-six sedan. The Focus has excellent steering, a compliant ride and superbly sophisticated cornering capability.
In this case you can't help but wonder whether opting for the lower-specification version might not be a good idea: the Trend's 17-inch wheels look a bit weedy, but are possibly the perfect size to achieve that elusive balance of comfort and responsiveness.
Going mid-range also means you get the benefit of the Focus's outstandingly good quality cabin materials and build quality at a budget price – which remains essentially the same regardless of whether you go for the flagship model or the cheapest on the books. The plastics are soft, the switchgear precise.
True, the Focus is more expensive than some rivals, especially Holden's Cruze hatchback, but the cabin experience really illustrates how this car is half a class up of the competition. I'd argue it's superior to a Volkswagen Golf in this respect. And most other respects, even if a Golf is a lot more… trendy.