Updated Ford Focus tested in Australia

By LEE PANG SENG | 8 October 2015

The Ford Focus is a bread-and-butter model that has come to be the best-selling passenger car on a global scale since 2012 in its third-generation status.

Since the Focus was introduced in 1998, 12 million cars had been sold globally, 2.3 million of them in the Asia-Pacific region.

With eight factories around the world producing the Focus, more than a million are produced each year or as Ford noted, one Focus being built every 90 seconds.

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That’s a pretty strong foundation to drive on and when the time came to move on to a new generation model this year, Ford had to proceed carefully to retain the Focus popularity in major markets while adding a new level of features to attract more customers.

This best explains why the latest Focus retains a similar body profile to the preceding model although a fresh face provides the novelty that would boost its contemporary standing.

Ford is clearly subscribing to an immediately recognisable family identity as the front styling of the new Focus bears out this directional trend.

This is carried mainly by the trapezoidal grille flanked by sleek, sweeping headlamps and underlined by a lower air apron with foglamps on the side; we first saw this on the EcoSport, subsequently the Fiesta and recently on the new Mondeo that was launched in July.

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Ford sees this new trapezoidal grille as endowing the latest Focus with a bold face to complement its lower, wider and muscular stance.

By contrast, the rear sees minimal differences, if any, toeing the general logic that if there’s nothing wrong with it, don’t make changes.

The new Focus is powered by the 1.5-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, similar to the unit powering the Kuga that is sold in Malaysia; it has a new intercooler and engine control system to enhance fuel economy, refinement and performance.

This 1.5-litre EcoBoost delivers 180hp and 240Nm, and is complemented by the new six-speed automatic transmission.

The other significant note is the higher level of features to raise its status above most rivals in the Asia-Pacific market.

These features are practical ones too as their functions assist the drivers in more ways than as provided previously in the Focus, enhancing its appeal to a further degree.

Many previous Focus owners would probably have used the standard Parallel Park Assist to save on the hassle of doing so, but with the latest model, they have more park assist options.

The Enhanced Park Assist now includes Perpendicular Park Assist or reverse parking.

During the regional media drive in Adelaide, Australia, we had the opportunity to check out this new park assist system in a Focus Titanium five-door hatchback.

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Once a spot is chosen for perpendicular parking, tap on the indicator to inform the car’s system which side the lot is and it goes about turning the steering wheel accordingly while the driver works the accelerator and brake pedal.

Should the entry be impossible on the first try because of the tightness of the turn angle, the system will apply the brakes to stop the car before it hits an obstacle (we experienced this during our attempt).

We then stepped on the brake, moved the gearshift to D(rive) and the car proceeded to a better angle as we eased forward, and then reversed into the lot perfectly on the second attempt.

For the parallel parking manoeuvre, the new system can now be used to get out of the spot with Park Out Assist; this is useful when the angles become tighter because there is a change of cars being parked front and rear.

Again the Enhance Park Assist would turn the steering wheel accordingly after the indicator is tapped as to the direction the car should take.

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As the lines of entry into the parking spot are indicated on the large multi-info display located centrally on the dashboard, along with the suggested action to be taken, it is a user-friendly system.

A third item is the Cross Traffic Alert that comes into play when reversing out from a perpendicular spot; it applies three distinct warnings when it detects an approaching vehicle from either left or right up to a range of 40m.

We also got to try the Active City Stop with which the system applied the brakes hard when it detected an obstacle ahead as the Focus was moving along at 20kph.

This is to prevent an accident at low speeds during traffic crawls when the driver is distracted; what’s new is that the system can now work up to 50kph from the previous 20kph.

While the Active City Stop might not stop the Focus from rear-ending the vehicle in front at higher speeds, Ford says it would reduce the impact considerably and lessen the damage.

During the drive in Adelaide that was conducted mostly in the rain around the vineyard areas some 30km from the city, we found the new Focus reasonably inspiring with its new technical updates; Enhanced Transitional Stability and a more refined Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS).

The former monitors vehicle speed and driver’s steering input to predict a loss of grip before it actually happens so that the car’s standard Electronic Stability Programme is primed to act.

Although we were driving in a convoy and had to abide by the strict traffic laws (and be mindful of the unmarked police cars prowling around), we did push the car a few times when opportunity allowed.

Despite the wet roads, the new Focus had yet to give us moments for concern, even when taken to sweeping corners at close to 140kph along 110kph sections.

The good poise with which the Focus ‘attacked’ tighter corners also displayed its sporty orientation and body roll was well controlled and allowed our front passenger to catch 40 winks during one of the drives.

Front wheel tramping on the wet road surface also did not occur when we accelerated hard while driving out from a side road, suggesting that the wheel geometry and suspension system are well sorted out for this front-wheel drive Focus.

Likewise, we found the lower effort required to turn the EPAS for the respective corners appreciable as we didn’t feel the loss of direction; on the contrary, the steering wheel was well weighted across the speed range without being overly light at parking speeds.

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We did find the slightly short seat for the front passenger a little tiring on the thighs, especially so when the distances covered were relatively short.

The model we drove ran on 18-inch wheels and Goodyear tyres, which made for a jolting ride over road ripples and ridges, leading to another discomfort we didn’t appreciate.

As most of the new Focus models made available for the regional drive were the Titanium model, with one or two S versions with 17-inch wheels and higher profile tyres, our impressions were limited.

We did recall, however, a more comfortable drive experience with the previous Focus Titanium in Malaysia that ran on 17-inch wheels and higher profile tyres.

Would the new Focus continue with the same wheel -tyre arrangement? We believe it should, especially with the less satisfactory Malaysian road surfaces.