The Ford Focus feels increasingly like the Heinz variety of cars.
Moments after I test one variant, another pops along, adding to the seemingly endless versions of this stalwart family hatchback.
A quick glance at the brochure for the 2019 car reveals four “standard” trim levels – Style, Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X – before you get to the more specialised models. Above Titanium X there’s the luxury-leaning Vignale and the sportily-styled ST-Line (and the higher-specced ST-Line X), and then off on their own little sub-sub-branch the lifestyle-focused Active and Active X. And that’s before you consider the ST hot hatch that’s just been launched.
It’s the Active that we’re concerned with here – a slightly more rugged variation of the Focus aimed at the sort of people who own a paddle board and a springer spaniel but don’t fancy something as bulky as the Kuga SUV.
In the Focus’ case that brief means a hatchback or estate body with a 3cm suspension raise, thicker tyres, protective cladding around arches, sills and bumpers, roof rails, and only the more powerful versions of the available engines.
Ford Focus Active
Price: £24,995 (£25,505 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 134g/km
It’s not going to conquer the Dakar Rally but it’s the sort of extra clearance and protection that might come in handy if you’re bouncing down a beach access road or crawling along forestry tracks to mountain bike trails. To help in such pursuits, the Active also gets an extra “slippery & trail” driving mode to adjust the traction control and throttle but there’s no four-wheel-drive option.
Inside, the Active gets unique and curiously appealing hard-wearing upholstery with Active details, privacy glass as standard and some shiny scuff plates.
Apart from those details, it’s the same layout as every other Focus, with clear, easy-to-use controls and decent ergonomics and space. Even after all these years the VW Golf might have it licked on quality but the Focus can hold its head up high among other rivals.
If you’re serious about practicality, the tested estate offers 575 litres of luggage space with seats up, 1,620 with them down, with a wide-opening tailgate for easy access and a clever adjustable boot board for keeping different sizes and shapes of load secure.
As standard, the Active gets the latest Sync 3 eight-inch touchscreen with sat nav, keyless start, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep aid but, astonishingly for a £25,000 car in 2019 does without parking sensors or keyless entry and gets manual one-zone climate control.
You can, of course, upgrade to Active X which offers much of the Titanium X’s kit. This is also the only way to get the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel engine.
Our test car came instead with the 148bhp petrol, which is a willing but occasionally gruff-sounding unit. Having sampled the Focus with the 124bhp version of this 1.5-litre engine, I’d be tempted by the extra oomph offered by this one.
Being an estate meant our test car also benefited from the more advanced multi-link suspension that’s helped the Focus maintain its enviable reputation as a fine-handling car. The taller ride and thicker tyres of the Active definitely give it a slacker feel on the road than other Focuses but it’s still better than any SUV. Sadly that softer ride still manages to transmit quite a bit of judder on bad road surfaces.
While many cars branded crossovers are now just small SUVs, the Focus Active is far closer to the original idea of the crossover – a standard car adapted to be a little more suited for rough conditions and offer the kind of practicality that people with active outdoorsy lifestyles need.
If that’s you, it’s definitely worth considering for what it adds over the standard car, just watch out for the weird equipment levels and bear in mind that there are alternatives out there in the shape of the VW Golf Alltrack and the soon-to-be-launched Kia XCeed.