Corolla Killer? All-new Ford Focus Titanium and ST-Line get tested
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The moment you start driving the new Ford Focus Titanium it feels like a lively “get up and go” hatchback.
It is an engaging car to drive with nicely balanced steering and handling characteristics that are not always as apparent in mainstream cars like this.
While it has its quirks (the rotary gear shift dial the most obvious) the new Focus lifts the spirits as soon as you start driving.
Although the dashboard is unusually upright in such an all-new model, the Focus cabin feels surprisingly roomy and pleasant, and there is good all-round visibility from the driver’s seat.
Driven has tested both the top-of-the-range Focus Titanium and the sportier and the slightly cheaper Focus ST-Line models. Both impressed us.
The Focus range starts with the Trend petrol hatch, which sells for $31,990 plus on-road costs, while the ST-Line hatch is $36,990, and the Titanium hatch is $41,990. The Titanium is powered by a new three-cylinder 1.5-litre Ford EcoBoost petrol engine.
Despite it having only three cylinders, it has cylinder deactivation, meaning the vehicle uses only the number of cylinders it needs rather than running them all, all of the time.
You would have thought this would lead to good fuel economy. However in both cars we failed to get anywhere near Ford’s claimed economy level for both models, of 6.4-litres per 100km. Instead we managed 9.3-litres in the Titanium and 8-litres in the ST-Line. While both cars were new, and their engines may loosen up, it was a disappointing result for such new technology.
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That reservation aside though, the Focus impresses inside and outside of the cabin.
Inside it feels roomy for a smallish hatch, and the upside of the rotary gear change dial sitting on the central console, along with the electronic handbrake, all helps create an uncluttered feel in the cabin.
You can personalise the driving experience by altering the drive mode, which adjusts the throttle response, steering and gear changes, to match your driving style. There are normal, eco and sport driving modes.
Finding the most comfortable seating position behind the wheel is easy with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, and the seats were comfortable over our return two-hour-plus journey.
The Focus also impresses because of technology such as the excellent adaptive cruise control system, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, and pre-collision assist systems.
Another unusual feature in this sector is the heads up display, and an enormous panoramic sun-roof which sits above all five seats in the car.
Despite the sunroof, there is plenty of headroom in both the front and rear seats.
Some taller drivers may find the rear seats a big tight on leg-room, but no more so than in comparable models from other manufacturers.
Overall, the Focus is an impressive entrant to what may be a diminishing hatchback sector of the new car market.
Those looking for a practical model without the desire to step up to an SUV, should reconsider the new Focus range of hatchbacks.
The only disappointment in the Titanium happened to be the key-fob, which was so fragile it almost fell apart while the car was travelling.
When it became detached, it sent a signal to the car suggesting there was no key in the cabin, with a warning flashing on the dashboard. Once we identified this fragility, it was quickly fixed by squeezing the two parts of the keyfob back together.
While initially this tended to undermine confidence in the Titanium, we’re pleased to report the car is a joy to drive.
And, what about the ST-Line?
At the core of cars like the “sporty” Ford Focus ST-Line is the natural concern that what you're driving is more a marketing tool than a hot hatch.
Everyone's doing it these days; making entry-level variants of their performance models. BMW has its M Performance range, Lexus has F-Sport, and now Ford is doing the same with ST-Line.
We drove the Focus ST-Line back-to-back with the aforementioned Titanium, and — on paper — it looked cynic’s dream.
Both models share the same inline 134kW/240Nm turbocharged three-cylinder engine linked to the same eight-speed automatic, with garnishes of red inside, dark 17in wheels, and an ST body-kit as the main points of cosmetic difference.
The thing is, despite differences being thin on the ground, the ST-Line feels every bit like a proper “warm-hatch” contender.
That 3-popper is possibly the most characterful, endearing engine in the compact class.
When prodded, it sings in traditional lovably rough, uneven fashion — enhanced in the ST-Line by a seemingly boosted level of interior noise (though it sounds nice from outside, too).
The ST-Line also gains sport suspension — an alternate tune to the MacPherson Strut front and torsion-based twist-beam rear available in other models. It can be a bit firm in town, but on a twisty road it’s an adequate partner to the Focus’ brilliant underpinnings.
No independent rear suspension will be a downer to the purist, but its absence helps keep the ST-Line’s reasoned $36,990 price-tag.
While it might on paper be a base Focus wearing active wear, the ST-Line feels greater than the sum of its parts and offers a true entry-level alternative to those wanting a hot hatch for under $40,000.
2019 Ford Focus
Price: $36,990 (ST-Line), $41,990 (Titanium)
Pros: SUV-shaming cabin, lively handling, charming engine
Cons: Plain-Jane looks, key-fob fragility, fuel economy