Got your attention
Facelifted and fettled to regain its spot among small-car rivals, the Focus retains agility and good road manners
FRESH-FEATURED after a facelift, the Ford Focus is in the market for cashed-up small-car suitors.
Those on a tight budget need not apply. Ford has dropped the entry Ambiente model so the range starts at $23,390, or about $3000 more than a base Mazda3 or Hyundai i30.
The new Focus adds improved interior styling and driving aids to its substantial on-road talents but the pricing means it won’t be unseating the reigning heavyweights of the small car class. And Ford needs the Focus to be a star — sales are down more than 50 per cent to date this year and it is being outsold five to one by the newer Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.
Carsguide has long praised the Focus for its ride and handling and this version improves on that experience with stiffer suspension and sharper steering. The bits we didn’t like — such as the cluttered infotainment switchgear dominating the centre stack — give way to an eight-inch touchscreen and the cabin look is more consistent. Carry-over bugbears such as the lack of legroom and ventilation for rear passengers and the large turning circle aren’t as easily fixed.
The Trend is the entree to the Focus range and starts at $23,390 for the five-door hatch with a six-speed manual transmission. The six-speed auto is priced to please at just $1000 more but all paint colours other than white are considered “prestige” hues and attract a $450 whack.
The money buys a car that is externally unchanged beyond the front-end tweaks needed to incorporate Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille and some
more subtle work on the tailgate. Trainspotters’ note: all models now have active grille shutters that close to improve aerodynamics and/or cut the time needed for the engine to reach optimal temperatures.
The touchscreen with satnav uses Sync2 infotainment software with much more intuitive voice recognition. The reversing camera is aided by rear parking sensors and there’s cruise control to help avoid inadvertent contributions to the government’s coffers.
The Trend rolls on 16-inch alloys and there’s a full-size steel spare in the boot, though the larger-rimmed Sport and Titanium models make do with a space-saver.
A Sports hatch manual starts at $26,490 and adds a firmer suspension tune with 17-inch alloys, folding side mirrors, side skirts and rear spoiler, dualzone aircon, push-button start, auto headlamps and wipers and digital audio.
Active safety is the preserve of the top-spec Titanium at $32,690 in auto-only guise. It takes a step up in driver aids with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic parking, improved autonomous emergency braking that now operates at s up to 50km/h (it was 30km/h). More mundane additions run to 18-inch alloy wheels, front parking sensors and sports seats with leather highlights.
Two sedans will be sold in Trend and Titanium spec and auto-only, at the same price as their hatch siblings.
Dynamics have never been a problem for the Focus, with the small car more than capable of mixing runabout duties with a quick trip down a back road. This model has improved that agility, though with a corresponding small dip in comfort.
Powering over some serious road undulations shows the latest Focus is a well-planted vehicle. Traffic-pace obstacles, be they road joins or potholes, now have slightly more impact in the cabin. It’s a trade-off I’d happily make — and isn’t as evident in the Sport as it is in the lower-profiled Titanium.
The steering likewise has been revised to be more responsive just off-centre, making it quicker to turn in once the wheel has been tugged, but then more progressive to load up as the wheel is turned. The light weight will appeal to city dwellers (the 11.0m turning circle not as much) without sacrificing feedback on more curvaceous tarmac.
The 1.5-litre engine is a rorty, willing accomplice in either case. Maximum torque lobs at just 1600rpm and sixth gear has been calibrated to be at just that point when pulling 100km/h.
Build quality on the Thaimade cars was reasonable rather than exceptional, with the dash speaker on one car sitting proud of its surrounds and the chrome trim line at the top of the doors failing to align front-to-back on another example.
The driving position is about spot on and Ford says extra insulation has dealt with external sound. Even so, there is a bit of tyre noise from the Trend and Titanium when travelling at 80km/h.
There’s now more cause to give the Focus some attention. The interior updates bring it back on par with rivals in this class and the already good driving behaviour is better again.