The new Ford Focus hopes to revive the hatchback

Bad news for the VW Golf: Ford promises to retake its once dominant lead in terms of driving fun while adding a host of new IT and tech

 

The Focus has been a bestseller for Ford since its launch in 1998, with 16 million new car buyers opting for the blue oval hatchback, seven million of which were in Europe.

The Focus has dominated its class in the Republic for years with over 120,000 sales to date. Its biggest year was 2005 with 10,955 registered in Ireland and today it would be close or top of the new car sales charts in Ireland if it wasn’t for those pesky SUV crossovers.

Now, 20 years from that Irish heyday, the successor to the Ford Escort is trying to make itself relevant again with a brand new platform and a host of advanced driver assistance systems. The new C2 global platform facilitates greater cabin space while retaining similar proportions to the compact family car. The structure is stronger and offers improved crash protection. Ford says it used a clean sheet of paper to design the five seater and it is a step forward but not quite the leap forward many hoped for. Elements of the outgoing car are present but its fair to say we don’t have an Escort to Focus jump.

Joe Bakaj, vice president, Product Development, Ford of Europe said: “The chance to build a completely new car from a fresh piece of paper does not come around often. We grabbed it with both hands, to develop the best mid-size family car that money can buy.”

Sleeker design

The new car is sleeker thanks to an elongated bonnet and lower roof height. Its front pillars - known in the trade as the a-pillar - have being moved further back to generate a more rearward aspect to the cabin, a design trend with more premium cars. The wheelbase is 53mm longer and this allows the larger wheels to be set in a position that improves the car’s proportions. The very smart grille dominates up front while Volvo-style headlights add sophistication. The tailgate is more upright while the taillights are now two piece and set further out to imply a squat muscular look. Individual lettering proudly spells out Focus across the rear, it as if Ford is trying to bleach its blue collar a little. Ford has used a lot more sculpting in the bodywork and there is a lot for the eye to take in. Ford uses the phrase human centric to describe its latest design process, I’ve no idea either, but it seems to have worked as the bodyshell looks taught and athletic.

The choice is yours

Buyers will be able to choose a variety of styling looks. The sporty ST Line that sits 10mm lower than standard, looks the part with some aggressive bits of body kit and styling. In a nod to the dreaded crossover the Focus will get an Active model that looks, well, active and ride some 30mm higher than the standard car. The Focus Active features the usual chunky add ons like plastic trimmed wheel arches and faux skid plates etc. to give the illusion of ruggedness. The premium trimmed Focus Vignale features an imposing front end and enough chrome and posh surfaces to give an 80s nightclub a run for its money. The sensible and no doubt well specified Titanium will in fact be the most popular in Ireland. 13 exterior colours feature some new additions like orange glow, desert island blue and the Vignale-exclusive four-coat dark mulberry.

The cabin is less cluttered as Ford wanted to create a calmer atmosphere inside. There is a greater sense of quality to the fit and finish with the use of soft touch materials. The wrap around design is more fluid and a big improvement. A floating centre touch screen is a dash highlight. Depending on the grade either textured plastics, wood, leather, red stitching and even carbon fibre effect trim feature. There is more interior space for passengers with shoulder and knee room increased especially in the rear. The new rear door design makes access easier too. It is brighter in the back thanks to longer side windows and a large panoramic roof is optional.

The outgoing car had a few noble safety features available like auto emergency city braking but was lacking in other driver assistance tech found in many rivals such as its nemesis the Volkswagen Golf. The latest Focus gets a number of features common with level two autonomy. ACC adaptive cruise control with stop and go features for the first time. The ACC system can bring the Focus to a complete stop in stop-start traffic using up to 50 per cent of the available braking force.

It can then pull away automatically if duration of the stop is less than three seconds. Stopping durations greater than three seconds require the driver to push a steering wheel button or gently apply the accelerator move off. Speed sign recognition/limiter features as does a new option of a large HUD head up display that uses a retractable polycarbonate screen, a first for any Ford in Europe. Lane keeping assistance systems advance with lane centering assistance and there is also evasive steering assist. This segment-first technology helps drivers steer around stopped or slower vehicles to help avoid collisions.

“Think back to when you took your driving test, and how hard you had to concentrate to be safe on the road. Driving hasn’t become any less demanding - we just become more accustomed to pressure. Technologies like Stop & Go and Lane-Centring will reduce the demand on drivers, helping them focus their attention and be less stressed, and more confident, at the wheel,” said Helmut Reder, global vehicle line director C-car, Ford of Europe.

An embedded data sim card features as part of the ‘FordPass’ option. This allow the creation of a Wi-Fi Hotspot that is free for 3 months or when 3GB limit of data is used. If the optional Sync 3 with navigation is selected it also delivers live traffic updates, free for two years. Wireless phone charging, an impressive B&O sound system and the 8 inch centre touch screen are other highlights that drag the Focus up to where its best rivals are.

Lighting & Parking

Ford’s adaptive front lighting system uses a camera system to faciliate predictive curve lighting and road sign lighting, a class first, that should make night driving safer. Ford has improved its auto parking feature with active park assist 2. With the automatic gearbox in neutral the driver needs to simply press and hold a button that allows the car operate gear selection, acceleration and braking to make a fully-automated parking manoeuvre. A space just 110cm longer than the car is all that is needed to use the clever function. The car will also help you exit a space using the park out assist function. A conventional handbrake is standard but on automatics and higher performing manual versions an electronic park brake is used.

The re is also bad news Golf the Focus suspension has been improved. The driving experience has always been excellent in the Focus. Ford has always built cars that handle Euopean roads with aplomb. The new car’s body is stiffer by twenty per cent and the all round independent suspension set up has been reworked. At the rear an isolated rear subframe will aid passenger comfort. CCD continuously controlled damping features all round. Every 2 milliseconds CCD monitors suspension, body, steering and braking inputs, and adjusts damping responses for outstanding ride quality.

Ford hopes to enhance the car’s reputation as a driver’s car further with selectable drive modes of normal, eco and sport as standard. When equipped with continuously controlled damping CCD, there are additional modes of comfort and eco-comfort modes that adjust the suspension character accordingly. Ford is confident that the front wheel drive car will remain at the top of its class for driving dynamics and comfort. Potholes will pose less of a problem with Focus as its suspension can detect the edge of a pothole and stop the damper from extending and dropping the wheel fully into it. This means the wheel won’t strike the other side harshly either. The rear suspension then responds even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear before it reaches the pothole. The new Focus gets other aids to assist the driver such as torque steer compensation, a new stability control system tailored to support Ford driving dynamics and torque vectoring control to help the car corner better than ever.

Upgraded engines

Under the new bulging bonnet will be a range of engines that include advanced EcoBoost petrol and EcoBlue diesel units. Ford says a 10 per cent reduction in fuel consumption has been achieved across the range with a similar reduction in CO2 emissions. A new adaptive eight speed automatic that adjusts to the driver’s style will be available. Offering a 10 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency the new auto features a cool rotary gear shifter. A 1 litre 3 cylinder EcoBoost petrol unit will be the petrol powered entry point. Ford’s newest 1.5 EcoBoost is charged with delivering more performance. Both engines will feature cylinder deactivation, an industry first for a three cylinder. Ford says the technology can disengage or re-engage one cylinder in 14 milliseconds - 20 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost will come in a range of outputs: 85hp, 100hp and 125hp. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine will come with 150hp or 182hp. Diesel is not dead with the Focus as 1.5 and 2 litre EcoBlue units are capable of impressive fuel efficiency. The 1.5-litre EcoBlue is offered with 95hp or 120hp and both deliver 300nm of torque. CO2 is an anticipated 91g/km for the five-door model. The 2 litre EcoBlue engine delivers 150hp and 370nm of torque with a CO2 figure anticipated at 112 g/km for the five-door model.

Aerodynamics and crash safety

Ford claims class leading aerodynamics thanks to an active grille shutter, air curtain technology, underbody shielding and air separation at the rear designed to smooth out the departing air. Drag co-efficient figures start from 0.250 for the Focus saloon and 0.273 for the Focus five-door.

New Focus will stop quicker thanks to a new brake booster that knocks a full metre of the 100km/h to a full stop distance. Ford expects a five star Euro NCAP carsh rating. Post collision braking features to help reduce secondary collisions if the driver is unable to brake. The excellent MyKey continues that enables owners to program a key for less experienced drivers they want to lend the car to. They can set it to block incoming phone calls, limits the sound system’s volume, prevents the switching off of safety features and restrict top speed.

Steven Armstrong, group vice president and president, Europe Middle East and Africa said: “With mid-size family cars accounting for almost one-in-five sales across Europe last year, Focus remains as important as ever to our company and our customers, which is why we’ve put so much energy into developing an all-new model that is among the very best cars we’ve ever produced.”

The new Focus will arrive in showrooms this August in hatchback, saloon and wagon body styles.