The parents of a friend of mine recently had the good fortune of aquiring a brand-spanking new Ford Focus, a mkII. Much of what my friend has to say about it concurs with the popular opinions of the mkII in the specialist press (which bodes well for journalistic integrity). Technically it is a better car, but, look at it.
Nice, yes? It's alright. This is the ST version with a few extra body mods on it to make it look better (and a few unseen mods to make it quicker, but that's beside the point). However, compare it to its mkI equivalent, the Focus RS.
I would contest that this is a much nicer looking car; the detailing is better, the design is fresher and the face is much more, uhh, purposeful. When the mkI Focus was launched, it was a direct replacement for the Escort, which was one of the most tedious-looking cars Ford, if not the industry, has ever produced. As a consequence, with its radical, edgy styling (representing a new design direction for Ford, which they used in other models), the mkI Focus was revolutionary.
Happily this change of direction was a massive success for Ford, and now you can barely go outside without seeing a mkI Focus. The public loves them, and not without reason. The styling (both inside and out…the interior was almost as radical as the exterior), combined with the class-leading dynamics and reasonable pricing, makes it a clear leader in the mid-size hatchback segment. Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of this is the amount of people in the Motorsport club with a Focus ;-), the 1.8 is a great engine and the handling characteristics are nice and predictable…and it's comfortable too. If any Ford advertising executives are reading then you can happily use our recommendation in future advertising campaigns, in exchange for a small fee/fleet of STs :-p. Ahem…
(On a less tongue-in-cheek side note, the dynamics of the mkI Focus are so impressive that I believe Aston Martin used the Focus as one of many benchmark cars in the development of the recent V8 Vantage.)
Apparantly the mkII Focus also improves on the dynamics of the mkI, which is nice. Why though, has Ford decided to tone down the styling? Was that a conscious decision, or did the Ford top brass geniunely think that the mkII is, visually, an improvement? It's hard to tell; for example consider the recent Chris Bangle-designed BMWs, the styling of which has provoked miles of column inches themselves. Did BMW deliberately seek to attract attention to their model range with such controversial styling, or did they misguidedly think that they'd designed some impressive-looking cars? However, there are sound reasons why Ford would decide to tone down the styling, with the success of the mkI the mkII does not need to make such an impact on the marketplace; the Focus brand is already well-established.
So, perhaps toning down of the styling is an attempt to widen the demographic appeal of the mkII. Perhaps they decided to take the mkII along a different design direction in order to reinvigorate sales, theory being that the mere 'newness' of the mkII will attract more sales (and encourage old Focus customers to trade-in their mkIs for a mkII, which coincidently is excatly what my friend's parents have done). Incidently Jaguar has come under critisism for doing the opposite with the new XJ. Despite being technically a vast improvement over the previous-generation XJ, it looks the same as the old one, and so the majority of people aren't even aware that a new model XJ has even been released.
However, the old XJ was facing severe competition from the likes of BMW's 7-series and Mercedes' S- and E-Class cars. The Focus, on the other hand, has remained at the top of the sales charts pretty much since the day it was launched in the late nineties until it was withdrawn from sale with the introduction of the mkII. Hence, there is little need for Ford to go with a significant design change, for the better or the worse. However, once again, I could be wrong. Perhaps Ford felt that the market for the Focus was about to reach saturation point, and by releasing a new version of the car, they would be able to keep Focus sales strong without seeing any drop-off. In which case, good move, but it's a shame that Ford elected to make this move with a car that is considerably less-striking than the mkI.