|Photos by Ulysses Ang and Ford Press|
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.