Ford Fo­cus 1,5 Eco­boost St-line

New chas­sis, new en­gine, new spec line … Ford’s new mid­size hatch brings its A-game

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

YOU can prac­ti­cally hear the eyes rolling at Ford HQ when some­one poses the ques­tion whether the new Fo­cus has what it takes to de­throne the long-time seg­ment supremo, Volk­swa­gen’s Golf. Pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions have come close but walked away with­out the cel­e­bra­tory cigar and now Ford has ush­ered in an all-new, rak­ishly hand­some chal­lenger to slap the gaunt­let across that con­fi­dent Ger­man jaw.

And all-new this fourth-gen­er­a­tion Fo­cus cer­tainly is. Along with a new three-cylin­der 1,5-litre tur­bopetrol (the fa­mil­iar 1,0-litre tur­bopetrol is the other op­tion), there’s a box-fresh chas­sis that makes its de­but on the Fo­cus and will be used on forth­com­ing mod­els such as the nextgen­er­a­tion Kuga. Dubbed the C2 plat­form, it was clean-sheet-of-- pa­per stuff, says Ford’s plat­form di­rec­tor, Michael Blis­chke. The en­gi­neers’ aim with the new Fo­cus was five­fold: to be lighter, stiffer, safer, roomier and more fun. The lat­ter, we were told, was the num­ber-one pri­or­ity.

To this end, plenty of work has gone into the suspension and, whereas the front re­tains an in­de­pen­dent Macpherson-strut setup, the rear suspension comes in two it­er­a­tions: a tor­sion beam for the 1,0-litre Eco­boost and Ford’s so-called Short Long Arm (SLA) mul­ti­link for this new 1,5-litre. Both set­ups can have an ad­di­tional layer of tech in Ford’s op­tional ac­tive suspension sys­tem called Con­tin­u­ously Con­trolled Damp­ing (CCD) which mon­i­tors suspension, body, steer­ing and brak­ing in­puts ev­ery two mil­lisec­onds and ad­justs the car’s damp­ing re­sponses ac­cord­ingly. The CCD sys­tem also sup­ports drive-mode tech­nol­ogy that, for the first time on a Fo­cus, al­lows you to tog­gle be­tween nor­mal, sport and eco set­tings. Like most sys­tems, the modes af­fect throt­tle re­sponse, steer­ing feel, trac­tion-con­trol char­ac­ter­is­tics and the map­ping

on the eight-speed auto (if that’s your cho­sen trans­mis­sion).

The new chas­sis also means this Fo­cus is a big­ger car than its pre­de­ces­sor. With im­proved in­te­rior space one of those key goals, at 4 378 mm, it’s 120 mm length­ier than the Golf. When you con­sider the no­tice­ably short front and rear over­hangs, equates to ex­cel­lent in­te­rior pack­ag­ing. Ford claims a 50 mm in­crease in rear legroom and I’ve no rea­son to doubt this fig­ure. Sit­ting in the back be­hind a driver’s seat set to my re­quire­ments, I had plenty of legroom; sub­jec­tively, it feels class-lead­ing. The wider plat­form means more shoul­der­room, too, and here Ford claims a 60 mm hike over the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

In terms of load ca­pac­ity, look­ing at man­u­fac­turer claim ver­sus man­u­fac­turer claim, the Fo­cus’s 375-litre boot is five litres shy of the Golf’s but, with the rear seats stowed, the Ford’s 1 354 litres beats the VW’S 1 270.

In our mar­ket, the new Fo­cus will be avail­able in hatch and sedan body types across four spec lev­els: Am­bi­ente, Trend, Ti­ta­nium and a new St-line. While Ford has yet to con­firm ex­actly what the for­mer three will in­clude, hav­ing driven the St-line, I can cer­tainly tell you more about that. This spec de­riv­a­tive will make its de­but in SA with the Fo­cus and of­fers 17-inch al­loys, sportier front and rear bumpers with a more ag­gres­sively styled faux dif­fuser, a larger roof spoiler and, on the in­side, car­bon fi­bre-ef­fect trim and red stitch­ing on the seats and flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel, and al­loy ped­als.

In terms of fit and fin­ish, the Fo­cus is com­fort­ably as good

as the Golf, with plenty of soft­touch plas­tics on all key con­tact points, along with some nice ad­di­tions like car­pet-lined door bins and pad­ding on the cen­tre con­sole for the driver’s knee. There are some hard plas­tics but they are be­low your sight lines.

And what of that top pri­or­ity Michael Blis­chke men­tioned? Well, Ford has got­ten that right, too; this Fo­cus is a lot of fun to drive. The flex­i­ble 1,5-litre pow­er­plant has plenty of punch be­tween 3 500 and 5 500 r/min (and will rev an­other 1 000 r/min on top of that) and does enough to il­lus­trate just how ca­pa­ble this lighter (by up to 88 kg) and stiffer chas­sis is.

There are two trans­mis­sion op­tions and I sam­pled both. Nei­ther dis­ap­pointed and, es­pe­cially with the op­tional driver mode op­tion which quick­ens the shifts in the auto, you’re able to hook into the meat of the rev range pretty smartly.

While the tor­sion-beamed 1,0-litre feels im­pres­sively com­fort­able and sup­ple, the SLA mul­ti­link at the rear of the 1,5 adds a dy­namic qual­ity to the mix, es­pe­cially in the St-line with its lower (by 10 mm) and stiffer suspension setup.

Dy­nam­i­cally, the new Fo­cus is re­fined and sup­ple, with a lit­tle com­posed body roll through cor­ners but never feel­ing un­set­tled as you lean on it and feed in throt­tle on exit. The steer­ing isn’t ra­zor sharp but it’s ac­cu­rate and the rear sim­ply fol­lows where you’re point­ing the nose. It was gen­uinely dif­fi­cult to il­licit much in the way of tyre squeal through the twist­ing moun­tain pass of La Colle-sur-loup north of Nice. You can’t help but drive smoothly in this Fo­cus and we can­not wait to see how this ex­cel­lent chas­sis han­dles more power when the ST and RS mod­els ar­rive (they’re cur­rently un­der de­vel­op­ment).

Of course, a car like this is not just about moun­tain-pass agility. Day-to-day trans­port is its key func­tion and the Fo­cus – even with the St-line-tweaked suspension – is im­pres­sively com­fort­able. Four rub­ber iso­la­tion mounts be­tween the sub-frame and body both numb in­her­ent three-cylin­der vi­bra­tions and fil­ter out road feed­back. The suspension’s pri­mary (the way it con­trols its body) and sec­ondary (how it fil­ters shocks) rides are im­pres­sively damped to soften most of the sharp edges a sketchy road sur­face may have in store. On the high­way, mean­while, the steer­ing’s strong self-cen­ter­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics keep it track­ing true. I wouldn’t re­ally bother with the op­tional ac­tive suspension; the stan­dard setup is that ac­com­plished.

So, is it bet­ter than the Golf? Ford has pro­duced an ex­cep­tional hatch and, hav­ing im­mersed my­self in it for a cou­ple of days, I’m tempted to say it’s the best mid­size con­tender I’ve driven. How­ever, we’ve yet to see pric­ing and spec for Sa-bound Fo­cuses, al­ways such key fac­tors in our mar­ket. As first im­pres­sions go, though, this Ford could not have made a bet­ter one. A forth­com­ing Fo­cus-ver­sus-golf com­par­i­son should be a cracker.

Ford claims a best-in-class drag co-ef­fi­cient of 0,27 courtesy of aero tricks like Ac­tive Grille Shut­ter that au­to­mat­i­cally closes to re­duce drag when cool­ing air­flow to the ra­di­a­tor is not needed.

Dash fea­tures 50% fewer phys­i­cal but­tons but there are still some tac­tile switches and di­als for the likes of cli­mate con­trol and in­fo­tain­ment mode and vol­ume.

clock­wise from top Fo­cus St-line gets sportier bumpers with a more ag­gres­sive rear dif­fuser; front bumpers get bolder lower wing el­e­ments; new six-speed trans­mis­sion is slick shift­ing with very lit­tle gear whine and rat­tle; Ford claims greater load ca­pac­ity than the Golf.

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