Several times during a 500-mile round-trip to Cornwall in the new Ford Focus Active, I noticed cars would often become ‘stuck’ in its blind-spot.

At first, this phenomena had me puzzled.  But after it happened for perhaps the sixth time, I began to develop something of a theory – they’re slowing down to get a better look.

Now, in something like a Lamborghini that’s perhaps understandable.  But despite the Focus Active being a rather handsome thing, it is still… well, just a Focus.

However, those of a certain age might remember with a misty eye the golden era of 1980s hot-hatchbackery – the Fiesta XR2, Golf GTi, Strada Abarth, and so on.  All three have something in common with the new Focus Active, a particular styling cue that I think may have been drawing the eye of my fellow road users: black side skirts and wheel-arch cladding.

Today, car companies use it to imbue a certain rufty-tufty character, but back in the day it was often the sign of something a little bit tasty.

With the current Focus ST looking rather understated by comparison, it’s perhaps easy to see why the Active might at first glance look like ‘the hot one.’  The big alloy wheels, diffuser-esque faux-skid plates, and de-chromed trim only reinforce that.

And I’m going to suggest that’s no bad thing.

The reality, of course, is that the Focus Active is an SUV for people who don’t want an SUV.  Ride height is increased by 30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear, much of the suspension is unique, and in addition to the usual Normal, Sport and Eco drive modes there’s now Slippery and Trail to maximise traction.

Active models also gain rear privacy glass, LED fog lights, Sync 3 with navigation, keyless start, heated windscreen, and a few niceties such as scuff plates and roof rails.

Overall it makes for a very practical package.  The increased ride height deals nicely with gravel tracks and flooded roads as well as more modern obstacles like speed bumps.  It might give up a little of the crispness of the regular Focus chassis, but it more than makes up for it with a calm, long-distance cruising ability that I quickly grew to appreciate on my 500-mile jaunt.

If you need more luggage capacity than the hatchback’s 1,354 litres, the Active is also available as a wagon with a fridge-swallowing 1,653 litre boot.

There’s a choice of engines, too, with 1.0 and 1.5-litre petrols of 125 and 150ps, plus 1.5 and 2.0-litre diesels of 120 and 150ps, all of which are available with an 8-speed automatic gearbox as an option.

We tried the auto behind the 2.0-litre diesel and while it performed well enough for most people’s needs, I felt it lacked manual control.  There’s a Low button for use on hill descents but the rotary controller has no way of manually downshifting leaving you at the mercy of the electronics.

Pick one of the Ecoboost petrol units and stick with the six-speed manual and you’ll find yourself behind the wheel of something with 95% of the capability and practicality of a modern SUV, but with vastly superior handling, lower emissions and better economy.

The fact its looks seem admired by so many is just a bonus.

Entry-level Price£22,895Price as tested£30,845
Engine2.0-litre 4-cyl turbodieselTransmission8-speed auto
0-609.3 secsTop speed129 mph
Economy46.3-51.4 mpgCO2117 g/km
Dimensions4397 x 1848 x 1502 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight1518 kg