Monday, April 30, 2012
Nearly a decade ago TV advertising in this country promoting the first generation Ford Focus hatch described it as a global phenomena and while it was very successful, it never really scaled those heights of greatness.
Spool forward to 2012 and that is the goal Ford has set for its latest third generation Focus that will be sold in over 130 countries, making it a truly global car. Whether it achieves phenomena status is another matter, although the glowing reputation of its two popular predecessors has given it the perfect launching pad.
Going global as Ford have done with this Focus will continue in the next 18 months with the larger Mondeo, which will be known as the Fusion for the world stage, does carry a substantial risk. Suddenly it has to appeal to a much wider audience with equally wide ranging expectations and to produce a car that does this demand compromises.
These compromises often dilute some of the special character that under pinned the success of the cars they replace that were sold to more clearly defined audience. In the case of the Focus, this was Europe and the UK where the two previous models had been honed and fine tuned to provide the exceptional ride, handling demanded from buyers in these markets. After test driving the latest Focus in Sport form, I felt it had lot some of the dazzle that made one of the brightest stars in the small car galaxy for over a decade. Some of this can be put down to the new cars extra size, weight and striving to appeal to the global motoring masses.
With 8 variants, the third generation Focus line-up is one of the most extensive sold here and start with the 1.6 litre Ambiente Hatch at $35995 and pulls up just shy of 50 grand for the flagship Titanium models. The Sport I drove sells for $44490. For the first time a Focus sedan and diesel hatch are offered. Two wagons will be added to the range shortly. The second half of the year sees some serious horsepower arrives in the Focus stable with the high performance ST hatch. For our market, Ford’s power-shift six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.
The Focus Sport uses a new 125kw 2.0 litre gasoline direct injection motor that is considerable more powerful and fuel efficient, while meeting stringent Euro 5 emission standards. This mean it should show its rivals a clean pair of heels for performance and the amount of engine pollutants it produces. While the motor has lifted its game on these fronts it did not produced the lively energetic performance to match its Sport name plate. Most of the extra power is needed to move a car that larger and heavier than ever. For a small car class it almost belongs in the medium car category. It weights nearly 1400kg that is less than 200kg than a six-cylinder Ford Falcon. Confronted with such a weighty issue, it was no surprise that the four-cylinder motor in the test car felt at bit flat at times, as the share weight of this car put the bite on it.
Mixing and matching the gears to optimise the engine performance with a great deal of skill and precision is Ford’s new six-speed powershift automatic. This automatic is in a whole new league compared to the dated four-speeder that muddled along in the old model. Although unlike this new Mr Slick on the Ford transmission block it did have a sequential shift mode that allows the driver to manually push and pull their way through the gears manual style. Not having a sequential shift especially in a Sport model does not really help it live up to the image that nameplate carries.
Cabin and load space is ok, but is not as generous as the expansive exterior dimensions of this five-door hatch might suggest. Rear seat leg and head room was at best snug and is bettered by a number of other models in this class. This was an area where the Ford could have got ahead of the game but they have not fully exploited this opportunity.
The Sport which sits at the upper end of the Focus food chain and come with most of the standard features accorded a model of this status. These include 17 inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate air conditioning, leather steering wheel and heated power adjustable exterior mirrors
Both the first and second generation Focus models raised by several notches the ride handling bar in the small car class and many of its rivals were unable to rise to this challenge. This meant the new model had two incredibly hard acts to follow and bettering their show stopping efforts was always going to be a huge challenge. Ford has done a good rather than an outstanding job of reworking the blade control suspension that he Focus built its glowing ride and handling reputation on. The result is an incremental step forward on the ride and road holding front not the quantum leap that some might have been anticipating.
What is the verdict? This is the biggest and most sophisticated Focus yet and will be sold on more markets that any of its predecessors, but it lacks the excellent handling and all round fun factor of the model it replaces