Those old boys in Michigan in the US got a big wake up call in 2008, and they’ve had to do some rethinking…not only because of pressures in their local market…but more recently on a global level. Ford is now spending huge amounts of time and money to firm up global alignment of products. Ford calls this their global – “one strategy”, as these vehicles like the Focus are centrally designed and engineered for multiple markets.
The previous generation Focus was a very successful model, especially so in the UK, and more so in performance variants ST and RS, which offer some of the most hardcore driving experiences at the price. Unfortunately where they excelled in driving dynamics and handling, they could never quite match the quality interior of the VW Golf, and overall value of everyday driving car. However. Ford wasn’t happy with that. So this time around the Focus takes another swing, not only the Germans, but also the host of new competitors from the East.
The new Focus has various model variants available. On offer are 4-door and 5-door variants, all with different Trend, Ambiente and Sport trim levels. A few engine variants, from the 1.6 & 2litre petrol with Ti-VCT to a 2litre diesel with Powershift automatic transmission (only available in the 4door).
The model I had on test was the 2litre hatchback GDI Sport manual. which is the top of the range for the hatchback (currently). This is the model every Benoni and Pretoria mullet boy yearns after, the ST, comes to market here in 2012. Until then we’ll have to live with the 2litre naturally aspirated, which pushes out 125kW at 6600RPM (quite high) and 202Nm of torque at just over 4450RPM. I’m very used to a turbo engine, but have to say that I was SO surprised with this naturally aspirated new 4pot baby from Ford I had to double check the variant I was driving. It’s not ridiculously fast, but it sounds like the air is flowing through the guts of it, and it’s good mid range punch. You have to get the engine on the boil a bit as there isn’t a lot of shove from low down in the rev range, but once on the move it’s a very pleasant engine (in sound, and performance).
Thankfully the engine isn’t the only good bit. The Focus has been dipped in Ford’s new Kinetic design language, and … well … it’s better looking than the old Focus. It’s bigger than the previous generation model, and from the sideline, I had a few people remark it looks like a station wagon. A station wagon?! Well, either way, at least it brings about opinion, which is something no Golf does.
Something else that definitely got opinions going was the interior. I find it rather refreshing getting into a car that looks like it’s been designed for the future. It’s not trying to copy anyone, or just be a plainly boring ergonomic design. It’s daring, different and at the same time fairly easy to get accustomed to. The Sport comes with cloth (come now Ford, you could have shed some cow blood here) black seats that are electrically adjustable for the driver, and the moment you get in, the dual screens (one on the dash, and one in the instrument binnacle) catch your eye. Ford has probably come closest of any of the competitors to the Golf 6 in terms of quality of material, fit and finish. The Focus interior is awash with simple black soft touch materials and quite a few pieces of brushed aluminium. The steering wheel sits quite far out, and is meaty and purposeful in your hands. What I didn’t like was that the steering-wheel controls were quite complicated and took some time to get used to. There are
1.Buttons on the left, which control the screen on the centre console
2.Buttons on the right which control the screen inside the instrument binnacle
3. A weird Borg type control below those on the left that controlled the cruise control
4. More weird Borg type controls on the right that control the sound system
Look, you get used to it, and nice work that it’s all there, but then surely there should be less than the 1584 buttons on the piano black Sony sound system on the centre console. They haven’t done the best job of making buttons you use often, big or legible (E.g. door lock and unlock).
These are small niggles, and overall it’s a great place to be, I really enjoyed the lighting and quality feel of the controls. (Ambiance lighting in red, puddle lighting and the bright LED entry lights). Standard features on the Sport bring in a SONY 9-speaker 450watt system with Bluetooth, iPod prep, voice recognition, auto wipers & lights, heated front seats and dual zone climate control. It’s an incredible amount of standard kit. Bravo Ford. Bravo. Something they could have added, is xenon headlamps and daytime running lights, which you can’t spec or get on our local models.
For those with families, there’s space for 4adults, and a significant amount of space in the boot. At least 4 hookers if you squeeze them in properly.
On the road the new Focus has lost a little bit of the spark of the old model. It’s not AS raw and engaging as the old model was, but I didn’t expect it to be, as the majority of the buyers just want a comfortable quiet car. That said, the chassis feels alive when it’s on the go, and in true Focus form, the car is incredibly planted. You need to try very hard to get the front to wash wide, and I’d say it’s now on par with the Golf’s chassis in terms how balanced it is. It’s even more impressive considering the 17inch 10spoke rubber that comes standard on the Sport. If things should get out of hand there is traction and stability control as standard, as well as Ford’s Torque Vectoring control to keep the front wheels from causing too much torque steer. Not likely on this model, but thanks anyways. I suspect that will come in handy on the ST though. The manual gearbox is angled close to the driver and has short direct throws, but strangely only 5 gears? It works well, but on long distance cruising the fuel economy suffers because of the lack of final 6th gear driving ratio, which might get some buyers opting for the diesel with Powershift.
I thoroughly enjoyed the meaty steering, giving enough feedback from the wheels and there was never a point it felt over assisted. The brakes too, are excellent, and the Focus comes with ABS, EBD and EBA standard across the range.
Overall, It’s clear this car can handle a lovely turbocharged engine and there were times I yearned for some more power. That said the 2litre has a nice growl to it and the handling is superb, thanks to the dynamic chassis. The interior is comfortable and the whole car is superbly specced. The only drawback being the lack of 6th gear which will have a detrimental effect on fuel economy.
So far, in this model guise, the Ford has got everything going for it, and then comes the big surprise… the price.
R270 000 for the top of the range model I reviewed, which is excellent value considering the size, specification and quality of vehicle.