WHEN YOU THINK OF SPORTING RIVALRIES you think of Liverpool against Manchester United, England against Australia in cricket and the Springboks versus the All Blacks or Wallabies in rugby. If you think about car rivalries they don’t have the same sort of bitterness or intensity about them. It’s down to all this parts-sharing and cross-pollination malarkey where it’s okay for a BMW to run a Peugeot engine or Citroën to run a Ford-developed engine. If there ever was a rivalry though, it would be between the Ford Focus and VW’s Golf. This then is Ford’s answer to the world-beating Golf VI. How does it stack up?
The original Focus replaced the Escort and Ford knew that it had to be something different, new and stylish. No wonder the first generation turned heads. It was a bold, well received design. The second generation toned things down a little but still had an edginess about it and certain distinctive styling facets. Now, the latest generation has adapted a grown-up stance, which is attractive but inoffensively so. The bodywork exhibits faint design strokes to incorporate the kinetic design philosophy that Ford has undertaken. As with previous Focuses this one is available in both hatch and sedan variants, but if you’re looking for style over practicality you definitely want the hatch. Our test model is the 2.0 GDI petrol in Trend spec with the option pack that, amongst other bits and pieces, includes the appealing 17-inch alloys you see here.
Even with the option pack added to the Trend model – which adds rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, an auto dimming rear view mirror and the leather steering wheel – this interior still feels a little under specced. From what we saw on the original Focus launched in the USA last year, it appears the local bosses at Ford have deemed us only worthy of basic comforts rather than the full toot. I was half expecting reverse cameras and park distance control to be standard across the range, along with the wonderful touchscreen and Sony audio set-up. Of those items, the only one offered in our market is the Sony audio system, a nine-speaker system that’s only available on the top Sport manual hatch derivative. However, we do receive that busy multi-function steering wheel which has a shortcut to anything you’d ever need to access on the dashboard. You’d think such a vast array of buttons on the wheel would get in the way but everything is neatly placed, so accidental button pressing doesn’t occur mid-turn. The material used across the dashboard is a very nice cushy rubber that rather neatly offsets the aluminium-esque radio and transmission console. However, the quality of the plastics tends to deteriorate the further your eye moves south.
On this model Ford has bolted its Powershift double-clutch gearbox to a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four putting out 125kW. An interesting characteristic of the gearbox is the manual shifting technique. A little rocker switch sits on the driver’s side of the gear lever with a plus and minus sign on it, denoting the direction you can choose to move through the gears as you prod the button. In standard auto mode the box seems a little out of sorts on the freeway. In-gear acceleration causes the control unit to suffer from an ‘economy-first’ hunting syndrome and it can’t decide when to shift down, and by the time it does it almost immediately wants to change back up. In town however the double clutch system seems much better attuned as acceleration is more linear than periodic. As for the engine, it’s a sweet little screamer and feels particularly strong at the top end of the rev range. Here natural aspiration is rewarding as the downsized turboed engines that dominate the segment are irritating on longer journeys. The larger capacity Focus engine provides a much more comfortable cruise at 120kph, puts out lots of power and still delivers on fuel economy. Ford claims it will do 6.7 litres/100km and we easily achieved 7.0 litres/100km on our 79km test route.
On the dynamics front the Ford really stands out; the ride is top of its class. The suspension set-up feels stiff but come to a bumpy section of road or approach a speed bump a little energetically and the Focus soaks it up without any crashing sounds or knocking about. It’s very compliant over rougher terrain. When pushed hard it does roll a little but that was only revealed during our on-track testing where you’re unlikely to find this Focus variant. The torque vectoring system Ford uses on the Focus keeps the car nicely balanced and provides great poise in the bends. As for steering feel, it’s simply excellent. The fast ratio wheel really does allow you to turn-in fast and accurately point the front end at the apexes.
For those neutral buyers out there who aren’t sure who they want to support yet, the Ford makes a good case for itself. It offers a good ride and drive backed by a decent engine. Personally I’d opt out of the auto and choose a manual instead, and for my money the hatch is the better looker. The interior is classy and refined but doesn’t push any of the boundaries we’ve come to expect value-wise. If anything, it feels like Ford has gone for the sales volume option with this Focus, carefully considering an economic climate where buyers want something they can rely on and count on. And that’s what the Focus offers: a safe bet.