For Ford, this generation of products is the first to take on the challenge of being appealing on a global scale, in a large variety of markets. This can be an incredibly difficult exercise in both engineering and marketing, but the advantages of production on a global scale more than make up for the effort involved.
This facelift of the third generation Focus brings more than just a few styling changes. As we explained in the launch story, first drive, and review, this new Focus is equipped with a 1.5-litre EcoBoost motor, paired with a conventional automatic transmission. The decision to reduce capacity from 1.6-litres to 1.5-litres (despite barely any change in output) was influenced largely by the Chinese market, which has much higher taxation for engine capacities over 1.5 litres.
But on to the drive. The trip began at Ara Damansara, early on a sleepy Thursday morning, following a short briefing and some much needed coffee. We were paired off into our respective cars, with which we proceeded to pair our phones with the SYNC2 system effortlessly. By luck of the draw, my partner and I were assigned a Focus Titanium for the first two legs of the journey.
This worked out nicely as the sedan is better suited for the long stretches of highway. With a longer overall body and equipped with the standard suspension (instead of the stiffer set on the Sport variants), the Titanium soaked up the undulations as we cruised along at a leisurely pace. This wasn’t the usual media drive with balls-out antics and fighting our way down the highway, but rather a more relaxed event.
There are some things that become more apparent when stretching the Focus out over a long distance trip. The lightened steering weight puts less strain on the driver, while the turbocharged motor allows for quick, effortless overtaking. The 1.5-litre mill may not have much to speak of at the top end of its rpm range, but it doesn’t require you to get up there during brief overtaking manoeuvres.
One driver change and a few hundred kilometres later, we pulled off into Taiping for a quick lunch at Spritzer EcoPark. The back roads were a welcome change of pace from the highway, but with Penang in sight we knew that the best roads were just an hour or so away. Thankfully, we were due for a car change and had the benefit of swapping to the Sport+ hatchback variant, in the striking Sport+ specific Winning Blue paint finish.
The kilometres ticked away in air-conditioned comfort, and soon enough the second bridge (or the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge as it is formally known) loomed before us. This was the threshold, and crossing it would mean entering a city with some of the most crowded and confined streets in the nation. It would be a true test for the Focus- to see if it could function in such a tight environment.
First up was the infamous Balik Pulau trunk road, winding along the western edge of the island. Beginning at Bayan Lepas and terminating in Batu Feringghi, this 11 kilometre stretch of road plays host to tourists during the day and local car enthusiasts by night. Many points throughout the route require absolute precision with car placement as the road narrows in the most frustrating fashion- especially when confronted with oncoming traffic.
Nonetheless, our Sport+ variant proved to be very capable and agile through the bends, though the automatic transmission was not nearly as quick to react as we hoped. It was a reasonable enough compromise as the EcoBoost motor provided enough low end grunt to haul out of corners with ease.
Shortly after pulling into the hotel, we were treated with a demonstration of the various different assisted parking functions that the Focus now comes packaged with. We did a video on this earlier, which you can see in the clip above.
The second day of our experience involved traversing the island itself- and there are few better items on an itinerary than the kind that gives you free reign. Backtracking along the Balik Pulau road for another shot of driving pleasure, my partner and I chose to cut across the island’s central mountain range and dive straight into the town itself. Friday afternoon traffic was beginning to mount, and we quickly sighted in on one of Penang’s more popular cendol stalls for some refreshing desserts.
Navigating back alleys filled with throngs of tourists and the odd rampant motorcyclist can be a daunting task for any driver. The Focus manages to make it a little easier with its proximity sensors and good all-round visibility- but the cross traffic alert at the rear is incredibly useful when trying to back out of dead ends. Penang motorists may have a bad reputation (although perhaps a result of being misunderstood), but having an extra pair of eyes at the back is an invaluable accident-preventing tool.
While the new powertrain is a hit and miss at times, the new Focus is still an arguable improvement over the pre-facelift variant. The new interior on the higher spec models is a far sight better than the relatively simple setup of before, with the SYNC2 system bringing the Focus in line with its rivals. This model presents all the inherent characteristics associated with the Focus namesake, with great handling dynamics and precision on the road making it that little bit more fun than the competition. The new 1.5-litre powertrain is an excellent replacement for the 2.0-litre GDI lump, and the automatic transmission is a far more pragmatic option than the dual clutch unit of before. If anything, this facelift has proven that there is life yet in the third generation Focus- torque converter and all.