Friday, September 4, 2015

First Drive: 2016 Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBoost

Photos by Ulysses Ang and Ford Press
Settling down in my hotel room in Adelaide ahead of driving the 2016 Focus, there was a bottle of water placed on the side table. Contemplating whether or not the 7.50-dollar price tag was worth quenching my thirst, I noticed something peculiar stamped at the bottom: 1.5-liters. Literally, the displacement of the Focus’s new engine was in my hands. Obviously, this was a coincidence, but it also drives home the point of just how small this engine is going to be.

This isn’t my first run-in with Ford’s small displacement engines. I’ve sampled enough of them from the award-winning 1.0-liter 3-cylinder all the way to the 3.5-liter V6 version. And all this time, it was obvious: the compact car segment didn’t get turbo love. That is, until now. Given the Focus’s reputation as the segment’s athlete, will the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder unit actually fit in with this character or will it be a letdown? There’s nothing left but to drive from the streets of Adelaide to the surrounding countryside through a 250-kilometer course to find out for myself.



Now, I can’t go further without first noting the new appearance. It’s clearly a comprehensive re-think of Ford’s entire design language. Gone is the catfish mouth-breather look in favor of the new son-of-Aston Martin grille and slimmer headlights with LED daytime running lights. At the back, the entire hatch is replaced by a single-piece stamped unit with smoothened panels and slimmer tail lights. Overall, the new look is much more refined and svelte, but once or twice, I did a double-take thinking the Focus is a Fiesta especially in this shade of Winning Blue.

Regardless of what you think of the exterior changes, the interior re-work is definitely welcome. The outgoing cabin gives an unmistakably high-tech vibe, but it’s also cluttered and button-heavy. The new one corrects that with a slimmer and more rational center stack. Front and center to the 2016 experience is SYNC 2 that rationalizes all the minute controls into a large 8-inch touchscreen. It takes a while to adjust to the press-and-wait nature of the system, but at least there are traditional buttons present for the most used commands for both the climate and infotainment system. SYNC 2 also allows the use of intuitive voice commands, which frankly, works well even with a thick Aussie accent. A new three-spoke tiller also offers better clustering of controls although some of them are still too close together to be used tactilely.



The Focus is still quite tight when it comes to space, but there are subtle improves that does it more cubby holes. The revised center console frees up a small bin for a smart phone located in front of the shifter. Another, the front cup holders have been redesigned and now double as a storage bin with adjustable partitions. Material choices and fit-and-finish on these Australian spec cars, the Sport and Titanium+, are excellent. Soft-touch dash plastics and nice, crisp controls all dot the cabin. The differences between these two models are fairly minor with the Titanium+ receiving the added convenience of a powered driver’s seat and leather upholstery. Regardless, the comfort and ergonomics is spot on.

In contrast to previous Ford drives, there isn’t a lengthy technical presentation at the start of the drive; instead, that’s dedicated on the “finer points” of driving in Australia, especially for Filipinos. Soon, I’m off to Australian vineyard country. All this, I believe, is calculated. If not for my insistent poking around, I wouldn’t have known there’s a 1.5-liter turbo under the hood. Thanks to forced induction, the engine delivers 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and more importantly, 240 Nm of torque from as low as 1,600 rpm. This peak torque continues on all the way to 5,000 rpm making it feel like it’s powered by a much larger motor. More than just sheer power, this engine is incredibly refined with no dead spots, untoward vibrations, or high volume levels to accompany its efforts. I find it smoother and much more engaging than the current 2.0-liter motor. Furthermore, all this refinement comes with a welcome bonus: engineers have found a way to channel some of that throaty engine sound in the cabin using the speakers. How cool is that?



Accompanying this engine change is, pardon the pun, a shift to a new kind of transmission. The Achilles’s Heel of the Focus—the dual clutch Power Shift—has been shelved in favor of a traditional 6-speed automatic. It’s a great match to the engine with nice, smooth shifts. With all that torque available down low, there’s no need to hurry the gearbox to shift up. And even if I did, it’ll respond beautifully. Not once did the Focus feel out of breath. In its default Drive mode, it’s designed to shift as early as possible promoting fuel efficiency while shifting to S keeps the revs high enough to keep things interesting. Surprisingly, there are still no paddle shifters. The only way to go through gears is via a rocker switch on the shifter. Personally, I didn’t feel the need to override the gears, but sportier drivers will likely sense this missed opportunity.

The engaging drivetrain is complimented by a new tune to the electric power steering. There’s actually reduced steering effort now, especially around the center. Sporty drivers such as myself would certainly want more heft, but this move benefits a wider scope of driers who want a car that’s easier to pilot in traffic or during tight maneuvers. At higher speeds though, everyone agrees with the newfound accuracy and stability brought about by the recalibrated steering. The EPAS system not only improves fuel efficiency and stability, but it also means the adoption of smart features like self-parking. The Active Park Assist now works in both parallel and perpendicular spaces and even helps you slot out of a spot when needed. This Generation II system also actively scans for a spot constantly at speeds below 30 km/h. The button located by the shifter merely starts the automated parking process.



Adelaide is specifically chosen for its roads that suite the Focus’s character and in that regard, it performs flawlessly. Though the final verdict will have to wait for a proper drive on Manila roads, in this setting at least, it’s a well-tuned machine. In the city, the excellent low-speed ride on either 17- or 18-inch rubber is evident. On the highways, it produces a well-damped ride that keeps it stable. And even on the cracked asphalt and loose gravel setting on the remote mountain roads reveal a firm but controlled ride. Overall, it’s an interesting but mature ride that doesn’t feel tiring at all. It’s a well-balanced machine that loses some spunk and youthful indiscretion for added refinement and sophistication. And that’s all for the better.

Back at the hotel, I stared at the unopened bottle of water once more. Compared to the 1.5-liters of goodness I just sampled in the new 2016 Ford Focus, this 7.50-dollar purchase feels like a robbery. In the end, I smiled and shrugged off the thirst. I simply went down and looked at the fleet of Focus parked at the hotel driveway thinking: this is great value.




27 comments:

  1. OMFG! The engine output is almost the same as of those from a 2.5L engine inside a midsize sedan. I wish it would be well priced here in the Philippines. I also hope that the fuel efficiency isn't as fucked up as that of the Ford Escape with the ecoboost.

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  2. I think this is the same powerplant being used on the Fusion midsize car in the US. In terms of power, it is clearly in the league of the 2.4L-2.5L NA engines being used in midsize cars but max torque is readily available at below 2k rpm. Will you say no to a Mazda3 or Civic with a powerplant similar in output to a Mazda6 or Accord but has similar fuel consumption as 1.6L-1.8L engines? I guess not.

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    1. Yes, same 1.5 EcoBoost engine used in the Fusion. It's also expected to replace the 1.6 EcoBoost in the facelifted 2017 Escape.

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  3. Did you happen to know the after sales quality Ford gives to their customers down under?

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  4. uly, how does it feel driving on the right hand side of the car, moving on the left side of the road?.. would this make any difference when driving the car left hand drive?

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    1. Personally, it doesn't matter much to me. My experience driving a RHD car in a LHD drive country (MX-5 in Spain) was much harder. Just remember to always keep left in a RHD country!

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  5. Does anybody have any idea on how Ford will price this badass muthafucka in this country?

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  6. Any estimates on pricing once this hits the PH?

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    1. Well, the current Sport is priced at P 1.2M...so likely, it's stay within that range.

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  7. Is it certain that the transmission now is a traditional automatic not the powershift DCT? The specs given by other countries still state that the transmission being offered is the powershift tranny no traditional automatic

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    1. The gasoline engines's Dry Clutch Powershift was not designed for high-torque duty. Last time I checked, the only automatic for the 1.5 liter EcoBoost engine (which has 240Nm of torque) is the torque converter automatic.
      -AM

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  8. Here in Germany it is the conventional Ford 6F35 six Speed automatictransmission.

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    1. Same with other markets that have the 1.5 EcoBoost engine (including the Asia-Pacific region). The Powershift was not designed for high-torque engines.

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    2. PS: The Powershift for gasoline engines (dry-clutch) is different from the Powershift for diesel engines (wet-clutch).

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  9. @Uly, the unit you tested had no paddle shifters, but the Focus Sport model displayed at the Indonesian International Motor Show (ASEAN debut) had paddle shifters. Any clue why?
    -AM

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    Replies
    1. Likely spec differentiation. Ford says paddle shifters can be equipped based on market preference.

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    2. I see. Hopefully they put paddle shifters on the Sport and Titanium models.
      -AM

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  10. Still any issue with the tranny? And sudden jerking?

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  12. Hi sir Uly will they have a sedan version of this? Im considering mazda 3 as well.

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  13. Compare to Toyota Altis 2.0 which is better in your opinion? Thank you po !

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  14. FordPH site was just updated with the pricing for the Focus 1.5L Ecoboost.

    New Focus
    1.5L Sport+ with EcoBoost 1,278,000
    1.5L Titanium+ with EcoBoost 1,278,000
    1.5L Sport with EcoBoost 1,088,000
    1.5L Titanium with EcoBoost 1,088,000

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  15. Hello sir, does the focus have REAR A/C vents?

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    Replies
    1. And is the new 2016 focus 1.5L diesel? or Gas?

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  16. Hi sir Uly can we have a comparison ( price to specs comparison) of the ford focus sport and sport plus version, so we can see if the price hop from 1.088 to 1. 28 is really worth it. Thanks.

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