The Ford Focus is an integral part of the Blue Oval’s lineup. Sold in over 140 markets with the Asia Pacific region recording a total of 2.3 million units sold, the Focus is currently in its third generation with the next one due for an introduction sometime in 2017.
Before that however, Ford has decided to refresh its best-seller for the 2016 model year and you’ve already seen it make its ASEAN debut during the very recent International Indonesian Motor Show 2015 (IIMS 2015).
Boasting a bold new look, new powertrain, and updated technologies, the updated Focus certainly goes beyond its modest “facelift” designation. During our test drive of the Ford Focus in Adelaide, we were introduced to three variants: an entry-level Trend, middle-level Sport, and top-of-the-line Titanium.
However, will all these changes continue to make the Focus one of the top contenders in the C-segment battlefield? Let’s find out.
The highlight change in this new Focus is what lies beneath the hood. Now featuring a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine developing 177hp and 240Nm of torque, the powerplant will be available across the Asia Pacific region, so it is very likely that Malaysia units will be fitted with it when it launches here expectedly in early 2016.
Another major change is the adoption of a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission over the Powershift dual-clutch unit currently used in the Focus sold in Malaysia. According to Mark Rampling, Chief Program Engineer of the Ford Focus for Asia Pacific, the engine downsizing efforts with the EcoBoost engines were found to operate better with a conventional torque converter automatic.
However, the Powershift transmission would still be afford for the 1.6-litre Ti-VCT four-cylinder engine for markets that still demand it. We were also briefed that a six-speed manual transmission is offered for the Australian market, though we never got chance to try it out.
The new powertrain is paired to improved vehicle dynamics beginning with the car’s steering which is now aimed to offer a fun, easy, and effortless driving experience. The electronic power-assisted steering (EPAS) has been retuned for comfort and reduces steering effort needed. This adjustment is said to lower steering disturbances as less torque is required to steer the wheel and thus, increases the car’s agility.
The vehicle’s suspension sees a change in the rubber compound of the bushings to increase stiffness by 25% and reduce sideways movement, contributing to a more stable ride. Quieter and stronger dampers are also fitted to offer improved ride comfort as and refinement as well.
On the safety side of things, the new Focus gains an industry first Enhanced Transitional Stability (ETS) function that works with the standard Electronic Stability Program (ESP). The system is more proactive than reactive, continuously analysing the car’s steering input and if it anticipates something beyond the ordinary about to happen, the ESP system is readied to react and intervene to bring the car back into control.
According to Todd Willing, Design Director for Ford Asia Pacific, the new design of the car lends a more mature and sophisticated look.
The most noticeable change starts with a new trapezoidal grille with a honeycomb mesh at the front along with the muscular sculpted hood. There are also slimmer headlights that feature LED daytime running lights as well. However, the main headlights are not of the LED variety nor are they xenons. Instead, halogens serve as the lighting elements. Beneath them are the fog lamps that now follow a more rectangular shape. On the Sport and Titanium variants, a body colour matching lower lip can be found.
Moving to the rear, the facelift sees a thinner looking taillights that are complemented by a redesigned tailgate. Aerodynamic performance is improved courtesy of a sculpted rear spoiler as well.
Differentiating between the Sport and Titanium, the alloy wheels are the biggest indicator with 18-inch ones fitted for the highest spec variant while the Sport receives smaller 17-inchers. Other indicators include the radar sensors located on the rear view mirror housing which are not found on the Sport.
Touching lightly on the entry-level Trend, its front grille gets a “dragon scale-like” mesh instead while the coloured lower lip of the front bumper is replaced with a black-painted one of a different design instead. Smaller alloy wheels at 16 inches and a less conspicuous rear spoiler also distinguish it further.
Similarly, the interior gets some welcomed changes as well utilising far fewer buttons than before, thanks to the new 8-inch Ford SYNC2 multimedia unit, resulting in a “less busy” dashboard than the current model. Other minor changes are the restyled air-conditioning controls and a repositioned handbrake handle, as well as a three-spoke steering wheel, replacing the previous four-spoke.
Stowage space is increased courtesy of a redesigned glove box and expanded capacity in the centre console storage, capable of holding a one litre and 400ml water bottle at the same time. Boot space is commendable as you can tell from the photo and expandable when the rear 60:40 split folding seats are placed down.
Upholstery materials are differing from variant to variant with the Titanium receiving leather seats, the Sport with fabric ones featuring a sporty pattern, while the Trend gets standard fabric seats.
Aside from the visual and mechanical changes, the new Focus gets smarter with Active Park Assist 2 that now does perpendicular (or reverse) parking along with parallel ones as before. Speaking of parallel parking, there is now a Park Out Assist that helps you get out of a parallel park spot without the worry of scuffing the edges of your bumper.
Should you need to reverse out of a lot, the Focus now comes with a rear Cross Traffic Alert that senses a car which is about the pass behind you from 40 meters away.
On the move, the Focus comes with an adaptive cruise control function, lane keep assist, and adjustable speed limiter, of which the first two functions are only available on the Titanium variant, as is the parking assistance system.
Active City Stop also gains a bump with it now capable of working at speeds up to 50 km/h compared to 30 km/h before.
What’s It Like To Drive?
Our drive took us away from the city centre and onto the B-roads leading up to the foothills and vineyards on the outskirts. With a mix of bumpy and smooth roads, drizzled generously by the very wet weather whilst we were there, we took the new Ford Focus in Sport trim out for a run.
First up, the new powertrain is a delight to use. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine is a significant step-up over the current 2.0-litre GDI engine and doesn’t feel at all lazy when paired to the new six-speed auto. It may need a short instance to get going but when it does, it’s smooth and responsive. For fuel economy purposes, the powertrain also gains a start stop system which feels seamless in its integration and will temporarily switch off the engine when you come to a stop, regardless of how hard you press on the brakes to get there, unlike a two-press system where the engine is only switched off momentarily when the brakes are pressed a little harder when the vehicle comes to a stop.
There wasn’t a need for me to intervene much with the gear shifting partly because I wasn’t a big fan of the manual override buttons on the gear shifter, but also because the automatic box does a good job of delivering power as and when needed. On the flip side, the Focus can be specified with paddle shifters (yay) depending on the market it is sold in, and we’re hoping very much that SDAC brings it in.
The changes to the suspension resulted in a ride that is firmer than before. On roads that we drove on, the Focus delivered a sporty drive which was also pretty comfortable save for the odd bump on the road. Then again, the Australian roads were a tad bit better in terms of quality (less potholes) than what we have here.
Tackling the twisty sections of road, the retuned steering is not only precise but easier to handle as well, requiring less turns to navigate the hatch.
Overall, the Ford Focus is still a very good handling machine and with its new powertrain and revised handling details, the car is even nicer to drive than before. The firmer ride might not be agreed on by all but it does lend a sportier feel to the car which I welcome.
What About It Being Smarter?
During the drive, Ford also took the effort to schedule a demonstration session to highlight the upgraded Active Park Assist 2 found on the Focus. Swapping our Sport variant for the Titanium, we were introduced to the new semi-automatic reverse parking capabilities of the car. With a Ford test driver at the wheel, it was a matter of approaching a spot, hitting the Park Assist button beside the gear shifter, and when the car senses an appropriate spot, it will signal to the driver to begin the procedure by following the onscreen instructions.
With only the driver controlling the steering and brakes, the car will control the steering of the vehicle as it guides itself into the parking spot. This semi-autonomous technology is also demonstrated with the familiar parallel parking function as well but now features a Park Out Assist function as well that guides the vehicle out of a parallel parking spot, useful if the driver has difficulty in judging the front of the car.
Getting out of a spot by reversing out, the rear Cross Traffic Alert system worked as advertised, signalling the driver via audio cues when a car was approaching from behind even before we could see the car. Finally, we also got to experience Active City Stop which stopped the car on its own as we hurdled towards a barrier at 30 km/h. In the interest of safety due to the rainy conditions, we opted not to test the system out at 50 km/h although it is capable of that.
Ford touts the new Focus as a facelift but it is anything but. The new looks are merely a precursor to a whole slew of changes that revitalises the Focus for the upcoming model year. The new powertrain is at least to me, a major step up from the one found in the current model while the handling changes give it a sportier feel than before, at a price.
The updated interior is also well received thanks to a cleaner dashboard layout, which includes the intuitive SYNC2 multimedia unit.
When the new Ford Focus does eventually make its way to Malaysia sometime in early 2016, we expect a sedan bodystyle to join the lineup as well though we never got the chance to drive one in Australia (we did see one though). However, whether the cars will be specified in the manner described remains to be seen.
Competition for the Focus will be in the form of the Mazda 3 Hatchback, Volkswagen Golf, and Honda Civic.