2011 Ford Focus
Review With Ford’s consumer research showing that drivers regard its cars as fun to drive and reliable to own but not particularly hi-tech, it’s playing the technology card heavily with the third-generation Focus. The new car comes loaded with sort of driver assistance kit that just a few years ago would only have been found on a high-end Mercedes.
Ford's third-gen Focus: packed with technology
What we're talking about here is a long list of driver aids with names like Low Speed Safety, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Traffic Sign Recognition, Adaptive Cruise Control and Parking Assist all of which take data feeds from a camera that sits in front of the rear-view mirror; side-, rear- and forward-looking radars; and side-mounted ultrasonic detectors.
In fact, with its 360° sensor array, the new Focus probably has a clearer understanding about what’s going on around it at any given moment than many drivers have.
Ford boasts that Parking Assist can get the Focus into a gap only 20 per cent longer than the car itself. I’d be inclined to agree with that, it certainly got it into spaces I would have been reluctant to try and requires nothing more from the driver than control of the clutch, brakes and throttle.
The steering is handled entirely automatically once the ultrasonic detectors have found a space on the left-hand side of the road. Not grabbing the wheel mid-manoeuvre takes some self-discipline - once you touch the wheel the system goes off in a huff and leaves you to sort things out.
The Low Speed Safety System has it’s uses too. At speeds below 20mph, if the system detects an obstruction ahead - a small brick wall, in my case - it will automatically charge and then if necessary deploy the brakes just before a collision becomes unavoidable. The system keys off the same forward firing radar that lets the cruise control system peg your distance to the car in front. The car-car separation is then keyed to the distance between the two when you hit the switch.
You can see the tiny sensor points on front quarter...
Traffic Sign Recognition shows an image of the last road sign you passed in the instrument binnacle which slowly fades the further away from the sign you get. Useful when approaching a speed camera and you can’t recall the speed limit shown on the last sign you passed.
The lane-keeping systems warn you if you are drifting across a white line by vibrating the steering wheel and flashing an alert on the dash. If you keep drifting the system gently guides you back onto the straight and narrow - quite emphatically if, as I did, you set it to Severe. Even on Normal, you can clearly feel the intervention. To prevent the system mistaking deliberate lane changes for accidental meandering the indicators cancel the system.
... and in the rear bumper zone
You can also set the degree of drift required to trigger intervention, or switch it off altogether from the one of the column stalks. To avoid confusion in car parks, Lane Departure only comes into play at speeds over 35mph.
Co-pilot not auto-pilot
All my attempts at simulating the kind of wander induced by a brain slipping into auto-pilot were ably noticed by the Focus. If the camera detects a lesser degree of wander on the open road, it assumes you're dozing off and a chime sounds. If no steering response in forthcoming the chime and dash warning become more persistent and require the driver to actively cancel them.
Deviate and you will be warned
Lane guidance is handled by the Torque Vectoring System, which uses the brakes to gently change direction and can also imitate a limited slip differential when driving in slick conditions. The electric power steering system is all new, and Ford has dialed out the vagueness found in the previous generation of Focus.
Before anyone gets ideas about the smart cruise control and lane guidance amounting to the world’s first self-driving car, the car checks the wheel for the presence of an active driver. Sensors in the steering system can detect if your hands stop exerting some degree of force on the steering column. I took my hands off, and the car, sensing a lack of resistance to its wheel-turning efforts, popped up the message “Put Hands Back On Steering Wheel” on the dash, and cut the cruise control.
The exterior styling has finally found the sweet spot
In day-to-day use, I found the 360° parking proximity alert and blind-spot warning system - if the side radars detect anything in your blind-spot an orange LED lights up in the respective side mirror - to be the most useful of the driver aids even though they are not the systems Ford is making a song and dance about.
My overall opinion of these driver aids is more mixed. Yes, they all work and only stick their oar in when they need to, but I can’t overcome the fear that excessive dependence on technology is removing the responsibility for driving safely from the driver to a black box under the bonnet.
It's a bit tight in the back...
Before I leave the driver aids, I should also mention that the camera housing is big and I was always conscious that there was something taking up a lot of windscreen real estate. Maybe owners will get use to it, but even after I week I still found my eye drawn to it.
Inside the cabin, technology is a little less obvious because Ford’s all singing, all dancing voice-activated Sync communication system doesn’t arrive in the Focus until early 2012. Even without that, you still get built-in Bluetooth phone control, and USB/3.5mm audio connections and an adapter cable to control your iPod from the steering wheel through the LCD screen mounted in the centre console.
Gadgetry aside, the Focus' cabin is a pleasant place to spend time. You sit low in very comfortable and supportive seats surrounded by high quality materials. There’s a large drivers footrest too, vital in any three-pedal foot well.
...but up front it's a pleasant place to be
My only criticism is the over-styled hand brake which has an unnecessarily long action and sticks up out of the centre console like the top of a Bronze Age hand axe.
The exterior styling has finally found the sweet spot after the over-styled Mk.1 and under-styled Mk. II, though it suffers somewhat from now being bracketed by the smaller, more dynamic Fiesta and the larger, more structured Mondeo.
Access all areas
Though 21mm longer than the previous model, the new Focus is 16mm lower and 16mm narrower while the kerb weight is near enough the same. Much of the weight saving, such as it is, comes from the use of high strength metals like the Boron steel used to fabricate the B-pillar.
Rather more interesting are the multi-position powered louvers - fitted as standard across the range - that can seal the engine bay air-intakes to regulate temperature and reduce drag.
The exposed radiator grille (top) can be covered (bottom) to reduce drag
Ford won’t say how much the Active Grille Shutter system reduces the Focus’ CoD of 0.295 - down from the previous model’s 0.318 - by but it reckons the system cuts CO2 emissions by a couple of percentage points. So, more a talking point than a revolution in aerodynamics.
An A-class C-Class?
The new 1.6L turbocharged direct injection EcoBoost engine is a very fine power plant. Available in two versions producing, respectively, 150PS (148HP) and 182PS (180HP). Generating, 240Nm of torque at just 1600rpm, the latter will get you from standstill to 62mph in 7.9 seconds and then to 138mph.
A very fine power plant
More relevant in everyday driving is the over-boost feature which increases the torque to 270Nm for 15 seconds under hard acceleration resulting in a fourth gear 31-62mph time of 7.7 seconds. For comparison, the 2.0L version of the old Focus took 11.9 seconds.
Despite those numbers, the 182PS motor still averages 47mpg and puffs out a only 139g/km of CO2, an 18 per cent reduction on the old 2.0L engine. It’s also a very refined motor that produces just the right amount of the right sort of noise. The slick and precise six-speed manual gearbox my test car came with complemented the engine perfectly.
The Focus has always handled well and the new model is no different. The multi-link independent rear suspension is neither cheap nor simple but it’s very competent and puts the Focus in a different league to the likes of the Honda Civic and Vauxhall Astra.
In many ways, the new Focus is all the car many people will ever want or need. It’s spacious, refined, loaded to the gunwales with technology, enjoyable to drive and, with the 1.6 EcoBoost engine, not what you’d could call slow. With prices starting from £16,000 and climbing up to over £18,750 for the Titanium X model, it may not be the cheapest in its class, but it’s one of the best. ®
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