Hatchback or crossover? Our first drive of the new Ford Focus Active
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There are at least a few positives when a car launch is packed with Instagram 'influencer' guests. You know that you'll be eating reasonably well throughout, the subsequent drive is going to include a bunch of picturesque 'gram-friendly' photo ops, and the word 'slay' is practically guaranteed to get thrown around with little to no care.
The lazy metaphor to make here is that the typical modern day Instagramer and the new 2019 Ford Focus Active share a lot in common. They're both inquisitive, savvy, and spend extensive periods of time pretending to be something that they're not.
OK, OK ... that was a bit harsh.
Truth be told, the all-new Focus is one of Driven's most unanimously liked cars of 2019 thus far. But, it's hard to ignore all of the new Active's SUV cosplay — the black cladding, the chunkier rubber, the roof rails — and not liken it to a kid wearing pretending to be an adult by wearing Mum and Dad's clothes.
It's worth noting that Ford doesn't call the Focus Active an SUV or a crossover. It's not marketed as an off-roader or rock crawler, but rather as a hatchback with above-average abilities and skills that make it the perfect companion for that intricate pre-planned beach-side selfie. This should hold the Active in good stead, in a market where SUVs are outselling conventional hatchbacks every day.
For the launch of the Focus Active, we crossed the ditch to the Gold Coast before zig-zagging inland to the picturesque (and exceptionally Instagramable) Byron Bay. The drive-route covered suburbia, scenic coastal roads, and some of the bumpiest b-roads on the planet.
But before we get into that stuff, what makes a Focus Active active, exactly?
Well, as mentioned earlier, the Active gets a lot of new black cladding on its exterior. This includes bumpers that are specific to the car and a pair of roof rails. It also gets a unique wheel package (both sides of the ditch gets 17s as standard, while Australia get alternative 18s as an option) wrapped in alternative Hankook rubber.
I say alternative because said rubber is of a higher profile than that of a standard Focus. The 215/55s that all Kiwi Actives will be shod with is marginally taller in the sidewall than the tyres on the Focus ST-Line, and much taller than the range-topping Titanium's rubber bands.
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Taller tyres are mated with an alternative suspension set-up that raises the ride-height of the Active by 30mm in the front and 34mm in the rear — giving it more ground clearance, better approach and departure angle, and more extensive suspension travel than its standard counterparts.
Completing the adventure-orientated enhancements are a pair of new drive modes; Slippery and Trail. Both (but the latter especially) involve a re-calibration of the Ford's stability control and traction control.
Branded scuff plates and an interior upholstery formed out of a hardier cloth material woven together with blue contrast stitching seal the Focus Active's differences.
Despite being swamped in unique tech and parts, the Active's price is surprisingly modest. Rather than it sitting alongside the Titanium in the $40,000ish ballpark, the Active shares exactly the same price as the ST-Line; $36,990 plus on-roads. Unlike the Aussies, Kiwis get the 'Driver Assistance Pack' as standard, which includes adaptive cruise control, both front and reverse autonomous emergency braking, cross-traffic alert, and Lane Sensoring (Ford's active lane-keep assist tech).
At that price, the Active undercuts most of the Mazda CX-3 range while equaling the entry point for the Hyundai Kona. The Toyota CH-R, even in all-wheel drive trim, is a cheaper prospect.
But, even though the Focus is more easily identifiable as a hatchback than the CX-3, Kona, and CH-R (all of which are hatchbacks under the skin), it's arguably just as practical as any of them. As we found out while road testing the ST-Line and Titanium earlier this year, boot space is respectable (375L with the seats up, 1354L with them down) and second-row passenger room is among the very best in the segment.
You're guaranteed to be more comfortable sitting in the back of the Active than most, especially the dungeon-like CH-R.
The engine is the same as that in the rest of the Focus line-up (apart from the diesel-powered Trend). It's a characterful turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine that makes 134kW of power and 240Nm of torque. We've enjoyed it in every application thus far, as a fun counterpoint to the slew of samey four-cylinder engines that power the small Ford's rivals.
One of the few gripes we had with the engine when we tested it earlier this year was that we struggled to extract decent fuel economy figures from it. What makes that particularly curious is that it's one of the few engines in class to come with cylinder de-activation technology. This cancels out the use of one of the cylinders in certain driving situations to save on fuel.
Thankfully with the Active we were able to almost equal Ford's claimed 6.4L/100km economy figure during a brief portion of our drive. Hopefully we'll be able to repeat that later in the year on more comprehensive roads when the Active gets put under the microscope for a full road test.
On top of driving the Active on tarmac, our jaunt from the Goldie to the Byron and back also included a very brief drive on soft sand. This gave us an opportunity to sample Trail mode in its intended environment.
The main difference behind the wheel is felt through the amount of wheel-spin the mode allows for. While in Normal mode traction control would be nannying the driver from the get go, Trail allows for much more slippage — which in turn allows for the driver to be more aggressive with maintaining their momentum on such a surface.
That said, Trail mode the bigger tyres and taller ride-height didn't exactly make the Focus an off-road beast. At least two participants got stuck in the admittedly very soft and deep sand. But, to be fair, we're not talking about a hardcore off-roader here. We're talking about a hatchback with a widened set of skills.
The question that's perhaps more relevant for the day-to-day is whether those mechanical differences to the Active make it considerably different on standard roads.
Well, in our brief drive of the Active, the answer was seemingly no. There were some surprises, but for the most part the Active drives similarly well to the Titanium (with the ST-Line still being the best steer of the bunch).
That aforementioned raised suspension also sees the Active become the only model in the current Kiwi Focus line-up to come with independent rear suspension. It also gets knuckle geometry, spring, and damper tuning that's unique to the model on both the front and rear.
While these elements make it a better tool on unsealed roads than its standard counterparts, on first impression the raised Active felt surprisingly firm on typical roads. It's still comfortable and very quiet, but on broken pavement it was oddly brittle. Not to the point of being uncomfortable, but I'd expected that the taller Focus would also be more forgiving by default.
But, it's still a brilliant drive. There's a touch more body-roll and towards the limit you can feel the taller tyre sidewalls flexing around. But even so, it's still more of a laugh than most of the hatchbacks it faces — a Focus tradition.
While the bulk of New Zealand's first Active shipment will land between September and October, the first Active will be shown off at Fieldays in Mystery Creek. If you're there, check it out and take some pictures.
Just make sure to use the right Insta filter #blessed #focusonfleek
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