Ford Focus 1,5 Ecoboost St-line
New chassis, new engine, new spec line … Ford’s new midsize hatch brings its A-game
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.