22nd July, 2012
There are a great many things that I love about my first-generation Ford Focus. But if I had to bring it down to one aspect that I particularly enjoy, it would be the handling. The car has incredible body control but doesn’t crash over bumps as one would expect with such a supposedly stiff suspension.
The second generation was based on the same platform but with tightening safety regulations, it got heavier, making for less nimbleness. To be fair, it handled quite decently though it wasn’t a real improvement over the Mark 1 in that area. But the Focus Mark 2 was undeniably more liveable than the first generation, and slightly more comfortable.
Now comes the third generation (to be launched in early September)and I was particularly interested in it because it could very well be my next car, having had a good experience with the original model.
I’ve noticed that Ford doesn’t really want to shout about how well the Focus handles, though the explanation is simple enough. For most buyers, how a car handles is a very minor factor in deciding to buy a car. I believe that less than 10% of all owners would exploit the car’s good handling nature on the road, which is a rather small number for the manufacturer to address.
But rest assured, the new Focus does retain its road manners and cornering ability for the most part. I can say this after driving the car in Thailand on a media preview event and over all kinds of roads, the car gave a good account of itself.
The new Focus, which is made in Thailand and comes in sedan and hatchback styles as before, comes with a new 2- litre, direct-injection petrol engine with the same variable cam timing mechanism (Ti-VCT) as seen in the Fiesta. The unit, which produces 170 bhp and 202 Nm of torque, is the only engine available for Malaysia as far as I know.
In the previous generation, there was also the turbodiesel TDCi version which was impressive and won a lot of fans. Unfortunately, Ford says that it can’t offer the latest turbodiesel for the Focus as the fuel in Malaysia is not good enough.
With this new generation comes a redesigned 6-speed Powershift transmission. The gearbox itself remains mostly the same, but the gearlever and gates have been changed. Gone is the sequential shift slot which allowed you to move up and down to engage gears.
The option to shift manually is still there, but is done using a small rocker switch located on the right side of the shift knob. To shift, the shifter must be placed in “S” (Sports) and then the button has to be pressed. I found that it’s not intuitive enough; under extreme driving conditions, it can be very difficult to press the button. The positioning of the gear knob is also such that to press the switch, your arm must be cocked back in an awkward position.
To me, it’s an ergonomic design flaw but I think that Ford does not expect the majority of Focus buyers to find this an issue (only journalists who drive in an ‘extreme’ manner). Most customers might not won’t even realise the button is there, let alone the option of shifting manually!
Moving inside, the big thing in their new Focus is the SYNC feature, which Ford co-developed with Microsoft. SYNC is used to manage both the entertainment system as well as telephony, and you can use it with voice commands. So it allows the driver to keep his hands on the wheel more, making driving safer.
The telephony features are impressive and apart from ‘asking‘ the system to make a call (using your own phone connected by Bluetooth), you can also have it read SMS messages to you!
Keyless entry and pushbutton starting are also nice features, something which you found only in more expensive models until recently. Those who are used to driving the last two generations of the Focus and other European Fords will instinctively push the left stalk to activate the signals… only to see the wipers come on as the signal stalk is now moved to the right side!
The car also has an automatic parking system which literally steers in a parking spot by itself (but you have to work the brakes and accelerator), a feature which may make the parking test unnecessary for your licence!
Active City Stop is also available and will bring the car to a stop if a collision is imminent when travelling at low speeds, or apply the brakes to slow it down in certain conditions.
Apart from that gearshift issue, I have to say the new Focus is a great package. Priced attractively at between RM120,000 and RM135,000, it won’t be surprising if the car sells in greater volume than before.