GIVE FO­CUS A FRESH LOOK

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Driveway - Craig Duff

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.

We have 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 sixspeed 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 space­saver.

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, dual-zone 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 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 small dip in com­fort.

Pow­er­ing over some se­ri­ous road un­du­la­tions shows the lat­est Fo­cus is a well-planted ve­hi­cle.

The steer­ing has been re­vised to be more re­spon­sive just of­f­cen­tre, 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 Thai-made 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.

Ford's Fo­cus has had some sub­tle im­prove­ments.

Ver­dict:

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