Ford’s Focus is fun to drive and practical too

001-off-my-wheelsBrian Joss –

It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day here in the Mother City, just the right weather for a ride into the country. Well , not exactly the country, but a gentle meander to Franschhoek and that’s where I pointed the Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost which had been delivered to my doorstep the previous day.  It’s always a pleasant drive but it was made even better, thanks to the performance of the hatch.

When I got into the newly launched Focus I felt right at home. It fitted like a glove and all I had to do to get comfortable was to move the driver’s seat forward a little (although it is adjustable four ways), turn on the ignition and head for  that little French corner of South Africa.

The first Focus which replaced the old Escort  in 1998 was already way ahead of its competition and was sign of things to come from Ford.

The Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost:  it was way ahead of the competition when it replaced the Escort in 1998. Picture: Quickpic
The Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost: it was way ahead of the competition when it replaced the Escort in 1998. Picture: Quickpic

In the intervening 17 years, however,  the Ford Focus has changed considerably. Not least the technology; it delivers a vastly better driving experience; and of course improved fuel economy.  That could apply to many marques but the Focus is special.

There are six models, two body styles: sedan and hatchback, and two equipment levels: Ambiente and Trend with a choice of two power trains: the 1.0 litre EcoBoost or the 1.5 EcoBoost motor. The test car was the entry level Ambiente 1.5 EcoBoost hatch mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The first thing that struck me was how elegant it looked.  The new Focus reflects the One Ford global design language.

And Ford’s designers have certainly tidied up the Focus, inside and out. and turned it into an even more appealing looking car.  Some design changes include altering the grille which is now reminiscent of the Aston Martin’s;  revised tail lights that make the rear end neater,  and a redesign of the multifunction steering wheel , to name some.

Inside too, the Focus has a new look: it is uncluttered, with fewer switches and the fascia now includes a  4.2 inch infotainment centre and it features  Ford Sync with Bluetooth, voice control and a 12-Volt power point with all controls on the steering wheel.  The six-speaker audio system is excellent.

I remember driving the third generation Ford Focus when it made its debut in South Africa about four years ago,  and it was practical and fun to drive.  And my opinion is the same  even though the new Focus has changed so much.

The Ambiente does not have all the mod cons that the higher specced Trend does. If you want the nice-to-haves you will have to buy the Driver Assistance Pack for R11 900 which includes the Active Park Assistance feature for perpendicular and parallel parking; rear view camera; parking sensors, front and back; Active City Stop; Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keeping Aid.  If you’re wondering what perpendicular parking is, the feature helps drivers reverse into spaces side-to-side with other cars. There is also a Styling Pack, about R14 000, for the hatch and you get colour screens for the radio and central instrument cluster which has a trip computer that shows fuel used and the outside temperature, and on the drive to Franschhoek the outside temperature was 13 degrees.

The Ambiente , however, does include MyKey,  which allows you to programme settings including maximum speeds to help reduce fuel consumption.  The redesigned centre storage console offers more space as well as a new sliding, integrated armrest. The adjustable console accommodates a variety of bottles and cups. The cabin is also virtually noise free, thanks to thicker carpets, thicker side window glass, and improved engine bay insulation. There’s space in the 430 litre boot to accommodate holiday luggage or enough shopping to see you through the month. The Ford Focus attracted quite a lot of interest on the road and when I parked at a large shopping centre.

So how does the Focus perform on the road? The 1.56 turbocharged petrol engine delivers 132 kW and 240 N.m of torque. It has more than enough power and cruising at the legal limit was a breeze. Even the Franschhoek Pass didn’t pose any difficulty: the Focus just sailed up and down and I didn’t have to stir the pot a lot. The six-speed manual transmission was smooth and slick to use. Ford’s handling DNA is evident in the Focus.  It feels solid and hoovers up bumps and lumps with ease. The power steering , too, is light and responsive with lots of feedback. If you’re interested,  the Focus 1.5 can  go from 0-100km/h in 8.6 sec, according to Ford, and it has a top speed of 220km/ h.

Inside, there is enough leg and headroom for rear passengers while the seats are comfortable and offer excellent support.  It is miserly with petrol. but Ford’s figures of  5.5 litres/100 km are a little exaggerated. In any event, they were achieved under ideal conditions, not in real life as we know it: tackling gridlocked traffic, bad driving and stop start motoring, always factors to be taken into account. I estimated fuel use at nearer 7 litres/100km, which is not too bad.

Ford’s products keep getting better and better and the Focus 1.5 EcoBoost, even in Ambiente guise, is no exception. It has carried the brand’s good DNA with it: excellent road handling and driving dynamics, comfort and fuel efficiency.  The new Focus can wear the iconic Blue Oval with pride.

The Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost Ambiente hatch carries a price tag of R277 900 and comes with a four-year/120 000km  warranty, four-year/80 000km service plan, three-year/unlimited km roadside assistance and five-year/unlimited km corrosion warranty. Service intervals are every 20 000km on the EcoBoost petrol engines.

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