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September 18, 2012

Postcards from San Francisco: Driving the Ford Focus

Photos by Ulysses Ang
When you think of driving in the US, you often think about big displacement V8s. It seems anything less will make you puny. Well, times are changing. Upon landing at the San Francisco International Airport, it’s immediately clear that Americans are downsizing; driving cars which have two or even four cylinders less than the mythical engines that power their muscle cars. Credit high gas prices, credit Greenpeace, I don’t really care. Whatever’s causing Americans to consider more fuel-efficient vehicles in this day and age should be named a saint. Finally, they’re on the same page as the rest of the world.

So when I was given the opportunity to sample this new American reality, I went straight to the all-new Ford Focus—a so-called “global car” designed to meet and exceed the expectations of just about every market, anywhere in the world. Of course, there was an initial hesitation in picking it due to its small engine size and luggage space. I could have easily gone for bigger cars in the Ford fleet, but something tells me that a million user-choosers can’t be wrong. After all, the Focus is the world’s best-selling vehicle.

And so, after locating our Ford Focus Titanium 5-door (our equivalent of the Sport+) in a sleek Kona Blue Metallic color, it was time to get down to business. After driving the Focus in Thailand a few months back, it was very easy to get reacquainted with the car. Flip the driving position from right to left, and you’re pretty much set. When Ford says the Focus is a global car, they mean it. I’d say around 90 percent of the car is the same to what I drove in Thailand (and what we in the Philippines)—perhaps the only notable exceptions having to do with changes due to local road regulations and the availability of MyFord Touch. Other than that, it’s practically the same. Like our Sport+, it’s loaded to the brim with technology from Ford SYNC to Active Park Assist to Ford Power Start. In fact, breaking down the price of the North American version, it costs you US$ 27,470.00 or P 1.153 million. Putting that into perspective, our Focus, at P 1.199 million, is actually very competitive indeed.

After admiring the Focus’s sleek exterior and being a great bang-for-the-buck car, it was time to load the luggage. And despite traveling with three pieces of luggage (two 26-inch rollers and one 28-inch roller), they all fit inside. It turned the Focus into a two-seater car, but that didn’t really matter. What’s more surprising is it was able to swallow the 28-inch bag in the cargo hold without having to fold the seats or having to take the tonneau cover off. That’s something I can’t do with my current five-door compact!

Settling into the body-hugging seats, I got a move on and joined up the freeway. Those uninitiated with driving in the US will likely find driving (especially merging) on the freeway to be daunting. Not only do you have to monitor your speed as not to get too high or too low, you have to accelerate to the minimum speed as quickly as possible or else you risk the irritation and honks from other drivers. I thought the Focus would have some difficulty from this point on. But guess what? It performs impeccably well. It may only have two liters of displacement and four cylinders, but the 170 horses and 202 Nm of torque pushed this car quite well. Having the trick six-speed dual clutch automatic helped a lot in keeping the Focus at speeds needed of it. Not once did I try or need to engage the SelectShift feature. It’s that responsive. It’s that good.

From San Francisco, I took the Focus through the landmark Golden Gate Bridge and to the seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea some 187 kilometers south. Being such a quaint and upscale neighborhood, the Focus drove side-by-side with BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz automobiles. No worries though, as the Focus looked European enough to really blend in. Plus, it can do something those European cars can’t: parking in a tight squeeze thanks to the automated parking feature.

Carmel-by-the-Sea served only as a stopover for our ultimate destination: San Simeon and the famed Hearst Castle. Located a further 237 kilometers south, San Simeon is the midway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s a sleepy town with more cows (it’s known for ranching) than people. The main and only attraction here is the Hearst Castle. Built as the summer home of media mogul and politician William Randolph Hearst, it’s now considered as an architectural gem and a famed Californian attraction. While this place lacked in touristy stuff, it more than made up for it with a stunning drive through the picturesque seaside California 1 Highway, great local Hearst Ranch Beef, and the best coffee I’ve ever sipped (in the neighboring town of Cambria). After having our caffeine fix, it was time to embark on the longest drive yet: 400 kilometers north to Napa.

Our trips to the US aren’t complete without a stopover in Napa, and the neighboring towns of Yountville and Sonoma. Known collectively as California’s “wine valley”, they’re ultimately your best bet for fine wine and great food. Want the best pork chop in the world? It’s at Mustard’s Grill. And don’t take my word for it, even celebrity chef Bobby Flay voted it as his favorite. If you’re craving for something other than meat, say Californian? There’s Redd. Great pizza? Redd Wood. Best French bistro? Bistro Jeanty. Best Restaurant in America? French Laundry, and only if you’re lucky enough to get a seat. They all sound pricey, and some of them are, so it was perfect the Focus’s fuel sipping nature saved us some gas money for food. During the long drive, the Focus required only one stop and managed a best of 15.65 km/L on the highway and a mixed city/highway figure of 13.60 km/L, not very far from the quoted 11.47 km/L city, 15.73 km/L highway figures from the US-based Environmental Protection Agency.

At the end of this amazing eight-day journey, I can only be amazed at the abilities of the all-new Ford Focus. If there’s something the Focus has taught me, you should never underestimate its abilities. Despite a simplified engine line-up worldwide, the Focus isn’t just limited to puttering around in the city. Indeed, it’s a truly capable everyday car that can carve through city roads as much as it can eat highway miles for breakfast. When Ford says this is a global car for a global audience, I have to hand it to them. I’ve listened to their audience and created a masterpiece that’s taking the entire world by storm.

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