Ford Focus 2litre GDI Sport

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.

Agressive front end

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.

Very futuristic looking

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

The Borg controls

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.

Sony sound system

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.

The Rear

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.

Lexus CT200h

Mustard anyone?

I recently returned from the launch of the Lexus CT200h in Cape Town (no puns around CT and Cape Town please). The CT200h not only opens up the Lexus brand into a new market segment, but opens up the market segment to the first small luxury hybrid hatchback.

Lexus has South Africa’s widest hybrid model line up on offer, with hybrid derivatives of the GS, Rx, luxury LS, and now the CT200h. Toyota (motherbrand) was recently voted the Greenest brand by the Interbrand Survey 2011 and Lexus boasts over 150 hybrid units sold in SA per year, which is the highest of any brand in SA. This all said, Lexus owners are also the most satisfied, as voted by the owners themselves (JD Power 2011) and scored a Goldmedal from Synovate (SA) for after sales service. Premium owner experience and customer satisfaction is key, and this translates from the owners of the cars themselves. A good start for a new model indeed.

The CT200h is a small luxury hybrid hatchback that seats 5 passengers, with a modest amount of boot space and an extremely high quality premium interior. Immediate competitors that come to mind are the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. None of which have a hybrid model on offer. It’s a first in the South African landscape, and a first I came to thoroughly enjoy on the 160km route in and around the Cape peninsula on launch. Two model variants are on offer, the CT200h S and CT200h F-Sport with the option of a Convenience package for either. (see here for more detail – http://www.lexus.co.za/model/CT200h/product-information)

Let’s start with the Lexus Hybrid drive system. “Combining a 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine and a powerful electric motor, the CT 200h delivers 100kW of total system output. The sophisticated petrol engine delivers 73kW at 5 200 rpm and 142Nm between 2 800 and 4 400 rpm. But the real performance benefits are arrived at courtesy of the 60kW of electric power on board and additional 207Nm that allow 2,0-litre petrol performance and competitive turbodiesel torque.” On this point, why not a turbodiesel engine? Well, the noxious gasses that get released by a diesel motor are often overlooked, and as stated at the launch, the petrol engine still has a way to go before full economical and efficiency benefits from it are completely realised.

From behind

On the road, the engine is no slouch, but it’s no pocket rocket either. It takes some serious getting used to when accelerating off the mark. As stated at the launch, it’s best to put pedal down, get it up to the speed you’d like, and then let the electric engine take over and “maintain” the speed you need to, maximizing efficiency. Now there’s a couple things to segment here, the fact that there are different driving modes available, as well as different models that significantly alters driving experience.

Starting with the moods, there is a choice of two distinct driving moods – Dynamic, or Relaxing – in conjunction with the full hybrid’s EV, ECO, NORMAL and SPORT, ‘on-demand’ drive modes. Basically this goes from EV (only electric motor, in certain driving conditions) all the way up to full electric and engine thrust for sportier driving. We drove most the way in ECO mode and found that it did just fine in most conditions except when wanting to overtake or pushing through the twisties.

Interior - Superior

The Eco mode does take some getting used to as the CVT gearbox (hate hate hate) does make for an interesting sound that gets emitted. The problem here is that the sound of the revs VS speed at which you are increasing in speed is not natural. We are used the common relationship that lots of noise from the engine means lots of speed, which is not the case. Unfortunately the CVT gearbox makes it sound like the gearbox is slipping (natural) yet you don’t gather speed that rapidly. This is probably the only deterrent from this vehicle for me, as it’s something you’d have to get used to, as it’s fairly unnatural and unnerving at first.

That said the various modes work beautifully, with a turn dial centre on the dash to switch between the different modes for different driving moods. EV (only electric motor – thus very silent) mode is particularly effective when sneaking up behind cyclists on Chapman’s Peak and then scaring them with the horn. Sport mode does give some extra shove as well as stiffen up pedal response and steering feel. A very nice touch is the way the dials light up red when sport is engaged, and also switches the drive train indicator to a revcounter. On that, there is no shortage of places to watch how and what is happening under the skin with regards to the drive train.

Different dials for different modes. Nifty

Dynamically the car is superb. I drove the F-Sport model and it handled exceptionally considering the big lump of battery in the back. There’s near no body lean or roll and the car handled impeccably over the various different driving situations we demanded of it. I read some horror reviews overseas about the handling but can honestly say that they must be comparing it to something like a Ferrari FF.

In true Lexus style, the interior is… to be frank, amazing. The model we drove came with the convenience pack, which added every bell and whistle. In F-Sport guise, it’s differentiated by 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and a larger boot spoiler. The luxury specification also gets enhanced by sports seats, the driver’s eight-way electrically adjustable with lumbar support, and cruise control. It also benefits from the addition of front and rear performance dampers.

As an option, the CT 200h F-Sport can be ordered with a Convenience Package that includes an upgraded sound system with four additional speakers and an amplifier, Smart Entry, rain sensing wipers, a full colour monitor with HDD navigation and voice command with Remote Touch, and a reverse camera with back-guide monitor. The interior is a place of class and elegantly hand stitched leather. Novel touches on a hatchback included the padded armrest in the doors, something many manufacturers only offer in their very premium sedans. I have no complaints about the interior as everything including the Remote touch system (which you drive exactly like a stationary computer mouse…something we can do very well) was incredibly easy to use at first glance. Another great touch is how the sound system integrated the music from the iPhone and allowed full discovery of the iPhone music listing on the Remote touch system. Not so cool, the fact that you can’t do anything on there once the car is moving. Bleh. Rear seat passengers can definitely find more room than in the 1Series, and seating for both front and rear passengers are supremely comfortable.

Doors. Wide Open

On the looks front, I’d say that it’s not bad looking at all. The darker colours seemed to do the car more justice in my view. It’s nothing massively out of the box, but it doesn’t happen to insult or stand out as “I’m DRIVING A HYBRID” which is so 2005.

Overall, I was genuinely surprised at how easy to drive the vehicle was, and most importantly, we returned a 5.5litre/100km on our 160km trip. This is seriously and I mean SERIOUSLY impressive considering the inclines, speeding and mountain passes we traversed in our drive. We at no point were puttering around keeping traffic backlogged for hours. There seems to be a huge case for a car that can actual return these real world figures and return below 94grams of emissions (no emissions tax). Emissions is something that I don’t think South African’s truly care about yet, and that’s why it’s be interesting to see how this vehicle fairs.

Fuel Economy - Belieb it

The great bit about the car is that it is the first Lexus into the premium hatch category, and it just happens to be a hybrid. It doesn’t shout about it, it just goes about it, hoping to make the transition as unnoticeable to the way you drive as possible.

The CT200h S model retails for R343,300, with the F-Sport model coming in at R398,500. Add the Convenience package to the F-Sport and you’re up at R434,200.The Lexus CT 200h is backed by a four years/100 000km manufacturer warranty and full four years/100 000km service plan. There is unfortunately nothing one can compare it to, as it’s a first in market segment category. This car will hopefully attract a younger audience, and mark on the success of the 1series and A3 to BMW and Audi respectively, by securing buyers into the nameplate to upsell to them at a later stage.

Black is the new black

Opel Astra 1.6 Turbo boet

Opel Astra 1.6Turbo

Good – Looks, engine & loads of kit (Value for dolla)

Bad – Notchy, vague gearshift, vague pedal feel and low quality interior finish

Red is the new black

I learnt to drive in a 1996 Opel Astra 1.6 sedan. It had a rear suspension that made a Cadillac feel sporty, notchy gearshifts and some very lazy pedal feel. That said, it was my first car, and I loved the freedom! Strangely enough there’s a lot of DNA that seems to have made it over from that 1996 model into this 2010 incarnate.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a vast improvement, starting with the great engine. The SPORT badge means it’s got a… surprise… sporty engine! A 1.6litre turbo engine developing 132kW @5,500RPM and 230NM of torque from around 2,200RPM. The engine has got heaps of pull, more than enough for city driving and easily cruises along or overtakes with the overboost function that raises the torque to 250NM. Sounds riveting don’t it? Well you’ll pay for that performance at the pumps, as I got nowhere near the claimed 6.8l/100km.

No less

Probably the largest surprise is how many people I watched have a good look at this car. It’s no Lamborghini Aventador, but I guess because there are so few of them on the road, this Red Astra turned some heads. New curvaceous lines and unique styling makes this a very good looking car in my opinion. The rear dips down to give it sleek look from the side, and from the front and back, it’s definitely not the ginger kid at school. The 1.6T Sport comes with some kiff 18inch rims and definitely looks the “sport” part.

So far Opel has impressed on two fronts they haven’t before. One, a lovely turbo engine, and two, a unique sporty look that stands out of the crowd of hatchbacks out there. Unfortunately you don’t get to drive this car from the outside, so you’ll be left staring at the interior. This is a radical improvement from Opel interiors of old, with a fresh trendy look. The interior is quite easy to get accustomed to, with a fairly logical layout to most features, and features it has. This Sport model features leather trim, heated seats, auto lights and rain sensor, dual zone climate control, steering-wheel mounted controls and a host of safety equipment. There’s also Bluetooth, and voice activation for the phone. Say what Kit?! That’s pretty impressive for a car of this price. Sadly it’s let down with what looks like, but does not feel like quality trim.

Smell the low quality plastics

Low quality plastics are the order of the day, and at night this shiny plastic is beautifully bathed in red mood lighting from all over, just like a MOTEL sign. Lovely. Thankfully, seating is more comfortable than anything a MOTEL has to offer, with a good balance of comfort and support in the front seats.

What brings back memories to the ‘ol chariot of ’96, is the notchy gearshifts and vague pedal feel. It’s probably due to this press car being through its fair share of journos but the pedals and the gearshift just felt loose like an Oxford street hooker. It’s something you’d never feel on a Golf, and something that didn’t feel German at all. What did feel very German is the great ride and handling. A great mix between a firm, yet comfortable suspension, however when you really push her into the corners the front does scramble for traction.

Round. Looking good.

Overall, I’m genuinely impressed with the amount of kit they’ve managed to squeeze into the car at the price, but they seemed to have sacrificed interior quality materials for some nifty tech bits. I’m sad to say that this is the only “German” car that doesn’t feel German in most of what it does. It competes very well against its eastern counterparts but definitely misses the mark against the Golf in terms of quality German feel.

 

Pricing for this model – R284,680

http://www.opel.co.za/vehicles/opel-range/cars/astra-ng/index.html