Fo­cus gets a three-cylin­der turbo, Ger­man qual­ity and bench­mark driv­ing en­joy­ment

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

F ord’s an­swer to de­clin­ing small-car sales: move up­mar­ket. The Blue Oval brand has put all its know-how into the new gen­er­a­tion Fo­cus hatch to stem the tide of buy­ers switch­ing to SUVs. How­ever, when it ar­rives in Aus­tralian show­rooms in Novem­ber, the ex­tra tech­nol­ogy will come at a cost. Aus­tralia will get three mod­els ini­tially, start­ing with the Trend from about $25,000.

The sporty ST-Line and lux­ury Ti­ta­nium edi­tions will be priced ei­ther side of $30,000 but with op­tions added the lat­ter will eclipse $40,000 on the road, dearer than most ri­vals.

Ford also will in­tro­duce a Fo­cus wagon in one model grade: ST-Line. It’s de­signed to ap­peal to buy­ers who want the prac­ti­cal­ity of an SUV with­out the bag­gage of own­ing one.

In Eu­rope, sales of small wag­ons have re­mained steady while hatches have tanked. Ford is bank­ing on a sim­i­lar trend in Aus­tralia.

To hedge its bets, early next year Ford will add the high-rid­ing “Ac­tive” based on the hatch. It might look like Ford’s an­swer to the Subaru XV but it’ll be front-drive, as with the rest of the Fo­cus range.

The Fo­cus for now lan­guishes at the wrong end of the Top 10 small-car sales list. The first com­pletely new model in six years is de­signed to boost its chances by aim­ing for pre­mium ri­vals.

The rear end has hints of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatch, the side glass is shaped like a BMW 1 Se­ries and the front and haunches have sim­i­lar bulges to a Mazda3. In the metal the re­sult is a re­fresh­ing take on the small-car theme — what’s more, its beauty is more than skin deep.

Ford started with a clean-sheet de­sign that made the Ger­man-built Fo­cus wider, lower and roomier, while still able to fit in the same size park­ing space as be­fore.

The cabin has half as many but­tons as the cur­rent Fo­cus and the de­sign is sim­pler and more prac­ti­cal.

The door pock­ets are car­peted, as in the VW Golf. The au­to­matic gear lever has been re­placed by a ro­tary dial, sim­i­lar to that used by Jaguar-Land Rover.

There’s a tablet-style touch­screen in the mid­dle of the dash, as in Audi, BMW and Mercedes cars.

Un­der the bon­net, there’s an­other big change. The new Fo­cus is pow­ered by a three­cylin­der turbo that’s paired with an eight-speed auto or six-speed man­ual.

There’s no need to fret about power. It’s no sling­shot but its per­for­mance is on par with other small cars with four cylin­ders.

How­ever, there is a no­tice­able vi­bra­tion at idle and once on the move. It’s a trait of three­cylin­der en­gines that Ford’s en­gi­neers have muted well but you can still feel it from the seat of your pants and through your foot when press­ing the brake pedal.

This is just one of the com­pro­mises for fru­gal en­gine tech­nol­ogy. The other is the need for ex­pen­sive 95 RON pre­mium un­leaded.

The eight-speed auto is a smooth op­er­a­tor when ac­cel­er­at­ing from rest. It doesn’t drone like the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sions in the Toy­ota Corolla, Honda Civic and Subaru Im­preza and doesn’t hes­i­tate from rest, as with the twin-clutch au­tos used by Volk­swa­gen, Skoda and Re­nault.

How­ever, some shifts can be a lit­tle abrupt, such as when the auto skips a cou­ple of gears as you floor the throt­tle to over­take — or oc­ca­sion­ally when the car is com­ing to a halt. It’s a mi­nor crit­i­cism and one we sus­pect will be ad­dressed with a sub­tle soft­ware up­date.

Most im­pres­sive is the way the new Fo­cus hugs the road. With the as­sis­tance of the broader foot­print and well-sorted sus­pen­sion, it glides over coun­try roads.

That said, the pre­view drive was held on spec­tac­u­larly smooth sur­faces that favoured the car, so we’ll re­serve judg­ment on how well it might han­dle a de­cent bump.

The grip from the 17-inch Con­ti­nen­tal tyres was su­perb. Grip usu­ally comes at the ex­pense of longevity, so re­plac­ing tyres early could be­come costly.

Over­all, it’s an im­pres­sive ef­fort and one likely to put the Fo­cus back near the top of its class — if not in sales then at least as one of the bench­marks for driv­ing en­joy­ment.

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