MK1.5 Ford Focus Zetec: Chipping Ongar and back, an odyssey.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…… This could go on for hours, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve etc. Every journey in a Mk 1 or 1.5 Ford Focus, (check out Mk1.5 Ford Focus Zetec: An introduction. For part 1.) reinforces the fact that between 1998 and 2004 Ford sold rather a lot of MK1 Focus’ worldwide. In the UK alone, it was consistently at or near the top of the bestseller lists throughout its production lifetime. This is not a car that you would chose if you wanted to stand out from the crowd.

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As stated in part 1 the purpose of today’s journey is to see whether or not a used Ford Focus can still feel like and compete with a far newer car than it has any right to. The model that I have chosen is a 1.6 Zetec, surely one of the greatest sellers in the range, and therefore the perfect tool for the job. This particular Focus bears the trails and tribulations of its 85000 miles well, of course there are scars and bruises but overall the car is in great condition. The paintwork has stayed true and can still be persuaded to shine with minimum effort whilst leaving you with the overall impression that this could be described as a good, honest car (tipping hat) Guv’nor. Looking through the service history shows the usual consumables consumed, services completed and MOT hoops jumped through and over yet there is a worrying trend appearing once 80000 miles were on the clock. It’s around this time that an extra £8-900 was needed as within the space of just three short months it has been necessary to replace the power steering pump, the coil pack, brake pipes, discs, pads as well as refurbishing the callipers and a few other bits and pieces. The point I’m trying to make though is this, yes, spending money on an older car can seem to some people a waste of money and is certainly worth thinking about if you are expecting a higher mileage used car to be trouble and expense free but if you are realistic with your expectations and understand that an aging motor will need care and attention then short bursts of regular maintenance will save more money than that which is spent.

Inspection over with, sandwiches packed, tank brimmed and CDs packed into the decent sized door pockets and we’re ready to go.

Heading out from Bradford on the A650 and on towards the M62, my thoughts immediately turn to the familiarity of the interior, dashboard and the remarkably comfortable driving position. It seems inconceivable now that this was once a seriously cutting edge cabin, a complete contrast to the far more subdued offerings that both Vauxhall and Volkswagen offered in their similarly priced Astra and Golf at that time and one that has aged remarkably well. First impressions of this particular 1.6 Zetec with 85000 miles on the clock are favourable. I like the curves and swoops that are delivered by the dashboard’s avant garde styling as they do a great job of showcasing the different features available to the driver without distracting from the job in hand, that of driving.

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Keeping to a steady 65-70mph once onto the M62 and making my way towards the A1 I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that if this were your first car you could do an awful lot worse whilst spending a great deal more money. The engine is willing at motorway speeds whilst never feeling stressed and it allows for easy and fairly swift overtaking if you are willing to drop down a gear or two and stir the impressively taut gear change, the downside of driving at motorway speeds though is that more noise than expected invades the cabin from both the road and wind and can become trying over distance.

The destination for my initial 200 miles today is the pretty and historic town of Chipping Ongar, perhaps a town most famous for having been one end of the Central line tube before the line closed in 1994 as well as the discovery around the same time of a secret nuclear bunker at nearby Kelvedon Hatch. No matter though, Chipping Ongar is a small market town in the civil parish of Ongar, in the Epping Forest district of the county of Essex, England. It is located 6 miles (10 km) east of Epping, 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Harlow and 7 miles (11 km) northwest of Brentwood and boasts a High Street that comprises of a widened main street of the type found in many older English towns whose status as market towns is believed to have originated during the (little chronicled) Saxon period. This historic thoroughfare is lined with over 70 listed buildings and protected by the Chipping Ongar Conservation Area, one of the first to be designated by Essex County Council nearly 50 years ago. The high street does however retain a very narrow stretch, with shops and houses either side very close to the road due to pavement that is barely adequate for two people to pass each other.

The further into my journey I get the more enamoured I am of the Ford Focus and I am beginning to see what all those people saw when they opted for their next family hatchback back in 1998 after all, it’s reasonably quick, it’s comfortable, there’s plenty of room inside, it’s fairly well specced (for the time) and is returning a decent mpg so far as well. After pulling in at the services just past Grantham I allow myself a chance to reflect on the day so far. Two hours in and I have no aches and pains due to the excellent seat and range of adjustment afforded by it, the air conditioning has been reasonably cold although it’s more than likely that a refresh would make a significant difference whilst the controls and steering offer a level of feedback and driver satisfaction that they have no real right to, especially on a Focus sporting 85000 miles on the clock. The journey so far has been a most enjoyable experience and one which, after a pizza and some pop, should only get better. Part three to follow. Where would you go?

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