It’s notable that two recent product launches hosted by Ford CEO Alan Mulally have been at consumer electronics shows – one in Las Vegas ahead of the Detroit auto show and a second in Europe from which he was transferred by video to the Geneva show stand for the more traditional presentation. No wonder the emphasis for the redesigned, third generation Focus is on technology.
By now, you may have seen the TV ad with the tagline ‘start more than a car’ where you’ve been treated to such detail as the self-regulating grille shutters and the ability of the car to (optionally) park itself. Engine, transmissions, cabin, loadspace; you can pick that up for yourself from the images as the car does its tricks.
Here in Europe, this new global ‘OneFord’ is pitched into the C segment, bristling with excellent opposition like General Motors’ newish Opel/Vauxhall Astra and quality benchmark Volkswagen Golf and, in an era of top notch dynamics, fuel-efficient, low-CO2 engines, ingenious transmission, top-notch paint, build and cabin material quality, it’s hard to make a new car stand out so Ford is going with the technology to make its point.
Not all of it is that new. Some Volkswagens have parked themselves for a while but the Ford application is no less impressive – trust the technology (specially the different beep messages from the parking sensors), follow the instructions exactly, and it will slot you into that gap I would not have risked unassisted even if it takes several back-and-forths and much unseen electronic/electric whirling of the tiller.
Then it abandons you to extract yourself with only the beeping sensors for company…
The from-GBP16,995 Zetec trim level expected to account for 55% of UK volume (base is the GBP15,995 Edge, 20%) already has ESP with torque vectoring and class first, digital (DAB) radio but doesn’t offer much else as an option.
To get the electrickery, migrate to the private buyer’s trim of choice, Titanium (17%, from GBP18,745), which adds cruise control/speed limiter, start/stop button, tyre deflation detector, rain-sensitive wipers, automatic headlights, auto-dim rear mirror, LED ambient interior lights, hill start assist and dual-zone climate control plus other trim/equipment enhancements.
If that hasn’t already provided enough electronic toys, ‘open sesame’ on the options list for adaptive cruise control (GBP750), sundry nav systems including a Sony brand unit with DAB and rear view camera (GBP550-GBP1,000) and the real doozy, the GBP750 ‘driver assistance pack’ with (deep breath): active city stop, lane departure aid, lane keeping aid, traffic sign recognition, driver alert, blind spot monitoring system and auto high beam. Add another GBP525 for the convenience pack which combines power folding mirrors with the active park assist self-parking.
Top of the tree is the Titanium X (8%, from GBP21,245) which includes self-parking, part-leather trim, heated seats and a power driver’s chair, LED driving lamps and headlamp wash.
Most of the new-to-Focus technology I got to try, one way or the other, on a pleasant coastal route west of Glasgow in appalling rain/sleet/snow conditions. The lane departure/keeping aid manifests itself in the form of a ‘stick shaker’ effect that feels through the steering wheel rim like driving over centre line ‘cats eyes’ rather than the seat vibrator apparently used on some Citroens I’ve never tried and the blind spot warning shows up as amber lights in the door mirrors as seen on the odd Volvo.
The way the car finds speed limit signs and displays them clearly, fading them out slowly after a while, is also clever – this appeared on Opel’s Insignia a while back – but the price for all this technology is a huge sensor cluster under a panel below the rear view mirror which has the effect of dividing the windscreen in half. And the lack of clear view out the back, courtesy of the steeply sloped rear glass and complex C-pillar design, makes a rear-view camera more of a necessity than an option.
The other price is learning to operate all this stuff – there are about 20 buttons on the steering wheel and column, by the time you include phone, cruise and audio controls, so it’s little wonder Ford produced a special booklet for the mee-jah to introduce the technology, which also includes an excellent, crystal-clear trip computer whose display covers the other gadgets as well.
Time spent with the new Focus cycling through the menus and mulling the options – intuitive enough – is a good start and I’d suggest any owner spend a period of quiet reflection with the car and The Book so he or she knows exactly what they’ve got and how it will work.
Things like forward alert with brake support – setting up the brakes for emergency action and in some cases braking the car or active city stop, which will either halt the car safely or minimise the effect of a rear-end impact in sub-30km/h (20mph) city traffic – could be a life – or at least wallet-saver and, like most good technology, these systems generally function quietly in the background and only get the driver involved with audible or light warnings when needed.
This ‘global’ Ford will indeed be sold worldwide. UK cars get a standard 1.6 and a new 1.6 EcoBoost (turbocharged) petrol engines and 1.6- and two-litre turbodiesels, with standard five- and six-speed manual gearboxes.
The only automatic is the relatively new Ford/Getrag six-speed, twin dry clutch, ‘Powershift’ available only with a two-litre diesel from Zetec trim up; I’d like to see it with the petrol Ecoboost as well. It wasn’t on the drive programme but a small but perfectly formed hissy fit resulted in the keys to a Cologne-registered Titanium left hooker, all but identical, km/h speedo apart, to UK specification, which impressed mightily for its perfectly timed, lightning-fast shifts up or down though it did suffer slightly from the usual twin-clutch ‘box problem of a little lumpiness in the driveline when ‘creeping’ forward at junctions. Little wonder this gearbox is getting such praise – bolted to a 1.6 petrol – in the 95%-automatic US market from media testing the new Mexican-built Fiesta there.
Right now, the new Focus is being built for North America in Warren, Michigan and, for the rest of the world, in Saarlouis, Germany. It will eventually also be built in Thailand (from where Asia-Pacific’s Fiestas now emerge), China and Russia. No word on South Africa, also current source of most generation two Focuses for Australia (they can be picked by a simpler door pressing than versions built elsewhere).
Ford says Focus G3 will be 80% common wherever sold (with 50% of the bits currently going into the US-built models coming in from Europe) but we have been here before.
G1 Focus, as built in Mexico and Michigan for North America, initially didn’t differ that much from the European cars sold most elsewhere but Ford soon blotted the NA copybook with numerous recalls (it was once the most-called-back car in the US) and then the variant drifted away from Europe’s with regular North America-only facelifts and a second generation built on the G1 platform while the European G2 model received an acclaimed new platform (shared with the C-Max, Mazda 3 and Volvo S40/V50) under completely revamped sheetmetal and cabin. And European-like bodystyles morphed into sedan and coupe. That won’t be repeated, we are assured.
Here in the UK, the Focus has been either the top seller or runner up most years since 1999 with 1.4m sold so far. The three-door hatchback has been axed, for now; it could reappear as a sports model to challenge a planned Astra, so Ford is targeting 90,000 units a year with the redesigned five-door hatchback, out now, and a nice looking wagon, also five-door, to give Vauxhall/Opel’s Astra Sport Tourer a run for its money in the shops from May. We won’t be getting the four-door sedan buyers like in America, eastern and southern Europe, Latin America and China.
The Essex boys and girls want to avoid the deep discounts of the past and boost residual values to keep lease prices competitive.
Ford UK chief Nigel Sharp admitted over dinner there was “some work to do on that” but would not elaborate.
He summarises his new model thus: “Imagine what it does for buyer interest – new technology at affordable prices.”