Ford listens to Focus drivers and delivers
SPIRITED FOCUS GETS EXTREME MAKEOVER INSIDE AND OUT
When car brands give their vehicles facelifts it can go two ways: the vehicle equivalent of a Botox session or an automotive version of The Six Million Dollar Man.
While all manufacturers wish a Steve Austin-esque makeover will only cost $6 million, there is a trend for the vehicle’s mid-life makeover to be more of a new production than a quick nip/tuck.
Ford is a great example of a manufacturer piling not only new grilles but new engines and up-to-date safety features in its products at the middle of their life cycle.
Just after the release in New Zealand of the new-look Ford Ranger ute, with its extreme makeover, comes the American brand’s Focus hatchback with its facelift. And, again, Ford has gone so far in the mid-life cycle change-up that the Focus can seriously be classed as an all-new version.
The Asia-Pacific launch of the new mid-sized hatchback was in Adelaide this week with motoring media from Vietnam to Japan plus us Kiwis and the local journalists testing the three models of the Focus.
Entry level Trend is priced from $35,340 with a price reduction of $1000, the Sport gets a $4000 cut to the price and is now at $38,340 while the top-spec Titanium has $500 knocked out the retail price and is $46,840.
The Focus is an important product for Ford worldwide, with 12 million sold since its launch in 1998, 2.3 million in the Asia-Pacific region alone. A Focus is sold every 90 seconds across 140 markets and is built in eight factories worldwide including Thailand, from where New Zealand will get its Focus models.
When it came to the facelift, the company listened to not only customer feedback but JD Power evaluations and comments from the media.
At the Adelaide launch, Ford Asia Pacific’s chief project engineer for the Focus, Mark Rampling, said the company wanted to “inspire customers” with this hatchback.
“We wanted to improve driver assistance and driving dynamics,” he said.
The extreme makeover of the Focus starts at the front with a lower, wider stance plus a new hood and trapezoidal grille, and slimmer front headlights. The rear of the car has a new tailgate, thinner tail lamps, and a sculpted rear spoiler to enhance aerodynamics.
Under the bonnet, the 2-litre 125kW/202Nm engine has been replaced by a 132kW/240Nm EcoBoost 1.5-litre engine that increases power output but increases fuel efficiency with 6.2l/100km.
All three models get the six-speed automatic transmission, with steering wheel paddles in the Sport and Titanium models, while a manual transmission is an option.
The 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine is responsive in a variety of driving conditions at the Adelaide launch: from stop-start city driving to windy mountain roads with speeds up to 80km/h, and open roads where the car easily sits at 110km/h.
The Focus Titanium is chock-full of safety features: advanced city stop that is activated at up to 50km/h instead of 30km/h in the previous model; adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, front collision warning and enhanced parking assist.
The Titanium has the addition of perpendicular park assist on top of parallel park assist and park-out assist.
This system manoeuvres you out of parallel and perpendicular parking spaces, steering the car out and monitoring for vehicles approaching either side for up to 40m.
The carpark spaces it can fit into are 40cm either side for perpendicular parks and 40cm front and back for parallel.
The best improvement is that the system is permanently on, scanning for carpark spaces when you drive below 30km/h.
Like the Mondeo launched in New Zealand earlier in the year, the Focus gets the user-friendly and highly efficient Sync2 that not only helps you set a destination in the satnav but changes the air con for you and, if you’re feeling hungry, will find a nearby food outlet with a verbal request.
The interior now has a cockpit-style design.
For Ford New Zealand managing director, Corey Holter, who was at the Adelaide launch, the Focus is an intricate part of his passenger line-up.
“Focus is really important for us, in part because it’s the second largest segment in New Zealand, but also Focus, in terms of its brand awareness for Ford, is inextricably linked,” he told Driven.
“The Focus is probably the first or second most recognised passenger car, so we really need that to be a success.
“I think the Focus looks great, I think it always has, and beyond that, getting behind the wheel, I thought it drove better than the previous model and the level of technology inside was exceptional.”
Holter has high expectations for the vehicle in New Zealand — wanting it to take on the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 in the dominant hatchback segment.
“With the Focus we’d like to be in the top three (for the segment). There are a couple of competitors that engage in business such as rental where we’re not so heavy so I don’t think being number one is an option but we’d like to be top three,” he told Driven.
Thinner tail lamps, and a sculpted rear spoiler enhance aerodynamics.
Holter expected the $4000 price reduction would make Focus Sport a popular pick with Kiwi buyers.
“I think all three models will do well because of the level of kit in them but the Sport is where we’ve made a major price reduction so ... that could be a good opportunity for us.”
To improve driving dynamics, Ford reduces steering effort through the steering wheel but increases torque through Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS).
The combination of the torque energy plus EPAS is impressive, with the vehicle giving a sportier, firmer reaction with just a small movement of the steering wheel.
The steering wheel enhancement improves handling along with the addition of an industry-first Enhanced Transitional Stability (ETS), proactive safety technology that works alongside the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP).
ETS monitors the vehicle’s speed and driver’s steering input to pick up changes in conditions before the car becomes unstable.
All three models also get MyKey — a safety feature that is ideal for the restricted drivers in your family.
Owners can programme a spare key to reduce the maximum speed of the vehicle, give an earlier low-fuel warning, limit the volume of the in-car entertainment or even disable it completely if the seatbelt is not fastened.
Ford has listened to customer feedback when it comes to the cabin, with owners wanting less clutter, fewer dials and an easy-to-use instrument panel and dash.
The Focus now has a cockpit layout with the 8in touchscreen panel inserted into the dash and the instrument panel angled towards the driver.
The Focus easily outclasses the Corolla when it comes to exterior and interior appearance, and its level of technology is equivalent to premium European brands.