LET’S get one thing clear from the start. Don’t be fooled by the “active” tag on the latest variant of the Ford Focus into thinking that this is a go-anywhere, rugged, all-wheel drive do-anything-you-wanna-do kind of car.

In fact it’s a bit of a softie, providing the usual Focus high levels of driver enjoyment and equipment with a few ingredients thrown in to warrant the attention of those looking to buy an SUV or crossover.

The principal features of the Focus Active, which is available as a five-door hatch or estate, are a ride height raised 30mm front and 34mm rear over the standard Focus, bigger tyres, rugged-looking black plastic body adornments and a chassis that maintains the drive characteristics that have made the Focus such as excellent car to drive.

It joins the Fiesta Active and KA+ Active family and to this end gets rough-road capability enhanced with slippery and trail selectable drive modes on top of the usual Focus drive modes of eco, normal and sport.

Slippery mode adjusts ESC and traction control settings for increased confidence on surfaces with reduced grip such as mud, snow and ice. Trail mode helps maintain momentum on soft surfaces such as sand.

But the Focus Active remains a front-wheel drive only car and is perhaps best avoided by those looking to tackle more challenging environs.

Available with six-speed manual of eight-speed automatic transmission, there’s a choice of Ford EcoBoost petrol and EcoBlue diesel engines including Ford’s powerful and fuel efficient 1.0-litre EcoBoost and 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engines delivering up to 182PS, and Ford’s 1.5-litre EcoBlue and 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engines delivering up to 150PS.

I have driven many Ford cars utilising the EcoBoost petrol engines and have never been anything but delighted with the mix of zest and very good fuel economy.

For this test, I was in the 2.0-litre diesel version of the estate, and once again I found myself singing the praises of a refined and powerful engine.

The smaller units will almost certainly provide sufficient performance, but this quiet diesel certainly turned my head. Even so, the diesels will account for only a fifth of sales.

Equipped as standard with Ford’s short long arm (SLA) independent rear suspension configuration, the Focus Active chassis features unique springs, dampers and stabiliser bars to ensure you still get that special Focus driving experience. The SLA system certainly does a great job in ironing out bumps in the road.

You sit a little higher behind the wheel, but there is little difference in the dynamics over a regular Focus.

On the outside, the Active version gets a dark grille with mesh pattern and body style mouldings that flow from the front bumper lip through the wheel arches and side profile to the rear.

Front and rear bumper designs are also unique to the Focus Active variant, as are silver-finish front and rear skid plates, and alloy wheel designs. Customers can also opt for a contrast colour roof depending on body colour.

Inside the cabin, there are some nice touches such as the leather steering wheel and gearknob with a leather grip, Active scuff plates and high-bolstered seats trimmed with distinctive Active cloth featuring blue stitching.

Interior space is generous all round, in line with improvements to the standard Focus. Rear passenger knee clearance is improved by more than 50mm compared with the outgoing Focus, for a best-in-class 81mm, while rear shoulder-room is increased by almost 60mm.

Accessing the load area with arms full of shopping or camping gear is made easier using Ford’s hands-free tailgate technology that allows access to the estate boot space with a simple kicking motion under the rear bumper.

The estate’s boot space has been designed to accommodate a large dog crate with 1653-litre maximum capacity.

Ford’s SYNC 3 communications and entertainment technology allows drivers to control audio, navigation and climate functions plus connected smartphones using simple voice commands, and is supported by an eight-inch colour touchscreen that can be operated using pinch and swipe gestures. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and is available alongside a premium audio system.

The suite of driver assistance technologies includes adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, lane-centring, adaptive front lighting, active park assist that enables fully-automated manoeuvres at the push of a button, head-up display and evasive steering assist that helps drivers steer around stopped or slower vehicles to avoid collisions.

The Active is still very much a Focus but fills the gap between the standard version and a full-blown SUV. It may well be all you need.