Take a sharper look

The Fo­cus over­haul brought chis­elled styling, slick in­fo­tain­ment and en­hanced han­dling. All it needs now is buyer in­ter­est

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

IN AN in­dus­try where suc­cess is sup­pos­edly all about the prod­uct, Ford’s Fo­cus is the ex­cep­tion to the rule.

De­spite a com­pre­hen­sive mid-2015 over­haul, which made an al­ready good car even bet­ter, the Fo­cus fin­ished the year in deep trou­ble, record­ing a sales dive of 53 per cent. That was the worst per­for­mance of any model in the Mel­bourne Cup­sized small car field, where Toy­ota’s Corolla fin­ished with class hon­ours and the ti­tle of Aus­tralia’s top-sell­ing car.

Now pow­ered by a hi-tech, fuel-ef­fi­cient 1.5-litre turbo four, dubbed Eco­boost in Ford­speak, the Fo­cus also has top­tier safety, in­fo­tain­ment and han­dling cre­den­tials. So where, and why, has it gone so wrong?

DE­SIGN

If it looks Euro­pean, we usu­ally like it. Ex­cept when it’s de­signed by Ford of Europe, ap­par­ently.

So Ford has reached for the chisel to sharpen the Fo­cus for 2016, es­pe­cially the front end, which gets a much more ag­gres­sive pro­file. This is in line with the com­pany’s One Ford global look, al­ready ap­plied to the Fi­esta and Mon­deo.

The dated, com­pli­cated but­ton-fest of the pre­vi­ous cabin has been ti­died up. The dash still lacks the el­e­gant sim­plic­ity of VW’s Golf.

That said, there’s also ge­nius here, in­clud­ing MyKey, which al­lows you to pro­gram safety fea­tures such as a speed lim­iter and non-ne­go­tiable trac­tion con­trol into the key you give to teens when they drive the car.

Add to that Sync2, Ford’s su­perb in­fo­tain­ment setup with eight-inch screen, voice ac­ti­va­tion that ac­tu­ally un­der­stands what you’re say­ing and au­to­matic emer­gency as­sis­tance di­alling, via your paired smart­phone, in a crash.

Fit, fin­ish and ma­te­ri­als qual­ity on the Thai-built Fo­cus also have been im­proved for 2016 but it’s still not quite up to Golf or Mazda3 stan­dards.

ABOUT TOWN

The 1.5 is tuned to do its best work at low to mid-range revs, so in town it op­er­ates with the re­fine­ment and re­spon­sive­ness of a big­ger en­gine. Un­usu­ally for a Euro­pean turbo, it’s happy on reg­u­lar un­leaded.

The six-speed auto (stan­dard on Trend sedan, Titanium hatch and sedan; a $2000 op­tion on Trend and Sport hatch) is a vast im­prove­ment over the er­ratic dual clutch Powershift box on the pre­vi­ous model. It goes early for the higher gears, which is fine be­cause the en­gine can pull them with­out drama.

Our Titanium test car wore low-pro­file tyres on 18-inch al­loys, so the low-speed ride was firm. Trend spec, with 16-inch al­loys and taller, more ab­sorbent tyre side­walls, would be more com­fort­able.

Only the Titanium in­cludes city-smart safety tech such as au­to­matic brak­ing, rear cross traf­fic and blind spot alerts, au­to­matic re­verse and par­al­lel park­ing and 360-de­gree ob­sta­cle de­tec­tion.

ON THE ROAD

The Titanium has a sup­port­ive GT-style seat with gen­er­ous pad­ding and bol­ster­ing that will keep you in ex­cel­lent shape on a 1000km drive.

The 1.5 cruises qui­etly and Ford has put ex­tra noise in­su­la­tion in the doors, floor and front wheel arches, so the 2016 Fo­cus is as hushed as a big sedan at high­way speeds.

Ford of Europe al­ways en­gi­neers en­gag­ing dy­nam­ics into its cars and the Fo­cus, one of the bet­ter han­dlers in small car ter­ri­tory, now tussles with the Golf for best-in-class sta­tus. It’s cer­tainly the spor­ti­est, most en­joy­able small hatch to hus­tle through a set of cor­ners.

Elec­tric power steer­ing, though a touch syn­thetic, is pre­cise and in­tu­itive.

PER­FOR­MANCE

The 1.5-litre works ef­fi­ciently and strongly in ev­ery­day driv­ing but a per­for­mance en­gine it ain’t. Ford claims 132kW but our test car felt as if 32kW had gone miss­ing.

When the tacho swings past 5000rpm, the turbo can’t shove any more air into the cylin­ders and all you get is an in­creas­ingly strained, boomy note, with pre­cious lit­tle ex­tra for­ward progress.

Se­lect­ing Sport mode makes vir­tu­ally no dif­fer­ence, which prob­a­bly ex­plains the ab­sence of shift pad­dles on the wheel. There’s a silly shift rocker switch on the gear lever; just for dec­o­ra­tion, pre­sum­ably.

The of­fi­cial av­er­age is 6.5L/100km; ex­pect fives on the high­way and 8.0-10.0L in town.

VER­DICT

If the an­o­dyne Ja­panese and Kore­ans in this class don’t do it for you, and you’re a bit leery about the Golf, the Fo­cus has Euro­pean en­gi­neer­ing and de­sign and is en­joy­able to drive, rea­son­able value and loaded with use­ful, sharp-end tech.

Why it doesn’t sell bet­ter than it does is a ques­tion only Ford Aus­tralia can an­swer. Or maybe not …

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