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New Ford Focus - we drive it

2004-09-28 11:03

John Oxley

Take the new generation Ford Focus. Add in a mixture of around 450 tight corners. Blend in a bunch of motoring journalists. Stir the steering wheel until the tyres are good and hot. Pour into one roadside cafe and wait until cool. Listen and enjoy!

That's what Ford of Europe did when it unleashed the new Focus to selected members of the world's motoring media.

It was a brave step, for there really WERE more than 400 corners as we explored the hillsides around Siena in Italy's Tuscany region, switchback after switchback, accelerate and brake, turn, accelerate and brake, turn, until your forearms were sore and your shoulders tingling.

But the reward came for the Ford engineers and marketers at the coffee stop, with accolade after accolade as each journo raved about the handling, the improved ride, the chassis stiffness, the improved engine power delivery, the taut and responsive steering, and the super quality.


Before the launch we had a meeting in Paris with Chris Bird, director of design for Ford of Europe, and Derek Cusack, head of product development.

And they told us the design brief for the new Focus was simple. It had to be more spacious, with more interior shoulder and legroom, plus more luggage capacity.

It had to provide handling at least as good as the outgoing model - which is the benchmark in Europe - while upshifting the ride quality significantly.

But most importantly, it had to do all this while improving quality to the point where Ford could be justifiably proud to use the word "craftsmanship".

At the same time styling was changed to help attract a more mature audience, while still retaining those who had been lured by the previous Focus's sporty image.

Has Ford succeeded? I believe it has.


Ford has moved away from its "New Edge" styling with the latest Focus, choosing instead to go for a more muscular and macho appearance.

Thus at the front we see a larger grille, with a much bigger Ford oval in its centre, a heavily scalloped bonnet, and large teardrop-shaped headlamps with clear glass and projector-style headlamps.

Moving to the side, there's a strong crease that runs the length of the car, starting at the front of the wheelarch and rising along the roof to end at the tail.

This is complemented by BIG wheelarch bubbles to add to the sporty look.

And the tail shows a heavy fastback design that finishes in a rounded tail, devoid of lights. Instead these are placed high on the sides of the tailgate, as in the previous Focus, with a heavy tailgate spoiler that does much to aid aerodynamics and also incorporates a high level stoplight.

The tailgate is wider and deeper, making loading easier.

And the whole looks stronger and sturdier, thanks to its 40 mm wider track.

While the car is totally different from the previous model, one can still feel the Ford "DNA" coming through. It's not as radical as the old Focus, but it's a lot more classy.

When it comes to styling, more Golf than Megane.


However, it is inside the car where potential owners will notice most changes. As Ford SA marketing director Nigel Harris so aptly points out "all we have to do is get bums in seats" to attract new buyers.

For there's a new feeling of class in the latest Focus. Gone are the "cheap" plastic fittings, and the lacklustre fit and finish.

At the same time, current owners won't feel lost in the new car, for the basic ergonomics are similar, with the aluminium-rimmed oval vents, climate control and attractive built-in sound system high up on the centre console, and controls logical and easy to get at.

The top of the dashboard is now a one-piece moulding in soft textured rubber-like material similar to that on the Alfa 147 and Peugeot 307, and the same material is used on the tops of the doors and the armrests.


Underneath that is a centre console area that is made of good quality plastic in contrasting tones that gives a good ambience - although we felt it was a bit hard on the knees when bracing yourself in hard cornering.

The centre console looks good, with an aluminium-look insert.

There are some useful storage places including one under a lid on the dash top, and there are cupholders between the seats, with a folding armrest, too.

The seats at first seem a little tight around the back, but this doesn't show through when you're driving the car, instead translating to superb sideways support. The steering wheel is soft-rim, with three or four spokes (depending on model) that are trimmed with aluminium, and it adjusts for both height and reach.

On the Ghia models the wheel is leather trimmed, and contains satellite controls for the sound system and cruise control, while the centre console has a wood-trim look.

Visibility is excellent, and the sense of space has been increased because the base of the windscreen pillars have been moved forward.

Space inside is super, with more legroom and headroom, especially in the back.

Instrumentation is contained in a deep binnacle directly in front of the driver, with two large chrome-rimmed dials for the revcounter and speedo flanking fuel and water temperature gauges.

A new optional feature for Ford is that the pedals can also be power-adjusted. Other features include remote central locking as well as aircon, power steering, and electric windows and mirrors.

Under the skin

The new Focus comes with a variety of engines, but initially only two will be offered in South Africa - the 107 kW 2-litre 16-valve Ford Duratec engine, and a new common rail turbo-diesel producing a healthy 100 kW - with a whacking 320 Nm of torque!

The petrol unit gets a 5-speed manual gearbox; the diesel a 6-speed.

A 1.6-litre petrol will be made available later, but Ford SA has not yet decided which to offer.

The possibility is that the company may use the locally-made RoCam unit made in Port Elizabeth, but this will depend on its suitability for the new car, as well as availability, since the production lines are currently working flat-out to produce exports for overseas markets, particularly Russia.

The suspension remains very much as before, with independent MacPherson struts with gas-filled shock absorbers and lower L-arms, while at the back is an independent short-long arm (SLA) control blade multi-link setup with an anti-roll bar and gas-filled shocks.

However the Ford engineers told us that because of the extra rigidity of the new body and stiffer mounting points it had been possible to almost eliminate sideways movement from the suspension.

Brakes have been given a big boost with 300 mm ventilated discs up front and 280 mm solid discs at the back, with ABS.

Both 15 inch and 16 inch wheels are available, depending on the model.

The full lineup for South Africa has not yet been decided, but it will certainly include a 4-door sedan as well as the 5-door hatchback, and there will probably later be ST - and even RS - sports versions.

On the road

We drove the petrol 2-litre first, and were immediately impressed by the build quality. It can certainly stand up to the best in South Africa, and there's also a bright and cheerful feeling about the interior.

Getting comfortable was easy, and we were also impressed by the smoothness of the 2-litre motor - it seems to have got even better.

On the road, with lots of bumps in the country, it quickly became apparent that this is a VERY well put together car, with superb compliance in the suspension.

The Ford engineers told us this was in no small way due to the body changes, which meant they could concentrate on building-in more comfort without losing any handling advantages.

I shared a car with colleague Egmont Sippel, from our sister newspaper Rapport, a man renowned for wringing the ultimate out of a car and exposing its weaknesses quickly.

The fact that he was unable to find any reflects on the soundness of the design.

No fade

He pushed the car until the brakes were stinking hot, but we got no fade, and no lockup.

He pushed it until the tyres were starting to lose their shoulders, but we never deviated from the chosen path.

And he pushed it until there were no more journalists, foreign or local, left to overtake.

My turn came next, and I noticed that despite the hard driving the car still retained its composure. The car braked hard and true into corners, and even when close to the limit never felt uncomfortable or ready to wander off-line.

Steering was crisp and fast-acting (Ford decided against using electric steering to retain better steering feel) and there was little understeer - in fact, sometimes in really tight stuff there was some assistance as the back started to come out a little.

I remember only one occasion when engine power was cut by the traction control systems, although the orange warning light on the dashboard flickered incessantly, proof that we were near the limits.

Could we complain? Sometimes the gear change between second and third seemed awkward - but it was a left-hand-drive car.

Power delivery

The diesel was a totally different car, but no less rewarding.

Obviously the power delivery is in a totally different rev band, and we had to use higher gears to get the best out of that massive torque.

Sometimes this compromised on those tight and twisty roads - but we were still able to keep easily ahead of (and eventually lose) colleagues from New Zealand who had been really trying in a 2-litre 3-door petrol version.

The best top speed we could manage was 195 km/h, but there were only a couple of useable straights on the whole 300 plus km route, and none of them long..

Ford claims a top speed of 206 km/h for the petrol; 203 km/h for the diesel. The 0-100 km/h sprint comes up in 9.2 seconds in the petrol car, 9.3 seconds in the diesel.

On the economy front the diesel averages 5.6 litres/100 km, and the petrol 7.1 litres/100 km.


These cars will be on show at Auto Africa at the end of October, and it won't be long before they'll be on sale here.

And I forecast that we'll see a whole different type of customer going to Ford to try out, and possibly buy, these new cars.

Ford still concentrates on its core business of providing good value-for-money, but it has now built-in much better quality, more space, and great ride quality.

Styling is modern without treading on anyone's toes, and the timing is right to take advantage of South Africa's bouyant buying trends.

Now it's over to the accountants to ensure prices are right, and to the dealers to sell it!


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