KOMPAS.com - They’re not building it, but Ford Australia is hoping they’ll still come. Buyers, that is.
The latest version of the blue oval’s small car, the Focus, has arrived - but after rolling off a ship from Germany rather than out of the doors of Melbourne’s Broadmeadows plant as once planned.
Ford’s local executives may not want to peer at sales for the rival Holden Cruze, though. Its figures are already increasing since it sewed on a Made-in-Adelaide label earlier this year. And that’s before the hatchback version hits showrooms.
The Focus is immediately available in both hatch and sedan forms, though the irony – Ford would have built 40,000 Focuses locally from 2011 – is that supply will be constrained until the car’s production source switches from Europe to Thailand in mid 2012.
That brings a free-trade agreement into play, but don’t necessarily expect pricing to drop from today’s starting price of $21,990.
Ford is trying to pitch the new Focus as a more grown-up small car to rival Volkswagen’s Golf, and that seems to include pricing – which goes up to $36,090.
Unlike similarly priced Cruze and Golf models, though, there’s no clever downsized engine employing a turbocharger. Instead, the Ambiente (there’s even a more flamboyant range of trim names to replace the rather dull CL, LX, etc of the old model) comes with a relatively humble 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine.
There’s little wrong with its refinement, but the 92kW four-cylinder asks for plenty of effort from the ball of your right foot and the manual gearbox desperately needs a sixth ratio for more relaxed freeway progress.
From $24,490, buyers can step up to a petrol engine with two litres of capacity that brings more power and torque, though it’s a similar case of gaining momentum smoothly and gradually rather than rapidly.
A 1.6-litre turbo ‘Ecoboost’ engine available in Europe sounds promising – more torque, even better fuel economy, and quicker performance – though Ford Australia has decided not to raid that particularly cupboard.
That leaves a 2.0-litre diesel, available from $30,500, as the only turbocharged engine on offer, and the pick of the bunch.
Mated to Ford’s smooth-shifting ‘Powershift’ transmission as standard where the dual-clutch auto is optional on the five-speed-manual petrols, it’s pleasantly quiet at idle and the usual loud clatter associated with small-cylinder diesels never materials as speeds rise.
The diesel’s refinement is reflected in other myriad improvements for all models. Tyre and wind noise is noticeably reduced, and the Focus’s ride, while a supple affair previously, now absorbs bumps with even less fuss after engineers tweaked the carry-over suspension.
And the Focus’s class-leading dynamics? Well, still there, though we didn’t unearth them in full guise until we hit winding roads in the base model. The diesel versions have a front end that is less eager to turn into corners than its petrol counterparts, penalised by an engine that puts an extra 80kg over the nose, and the Titanium’s big, 18-inch tyres do a great job of sticking the Focus to the road without leaving room for much playfulness.
The base model doesn’t get the slightly firmer sports suspension of either the Sport or Titanium trims, though it does get the same torque vectoring system that helps to pull it around corners by constantly altering the amount of power being distributed to each front wheel.
Yet the lesser grip from its smaller, 16-inch tyres conversely shows the Focus’s beautifully balanced handling in its best light. The steering, a Focus highlight in previous models, is now electric, though while it doesn’t feel as fluid as before it is highly accurate.
The driving position is also excellent, complemented by supremely comfortable seats and good vision. The rear bench is also one that gives the impression the designers also cared about rear seat comfort, while a tall passenger can fit behind a tall driver even if it’s on the snug side.
Interior design hasn’t been the Focus’s strongest suit since it debuted in 1998, but the third generation makes great strides here to add to the model’s greater maturity. It doesn’t look as classy as the Golf’s cabin but it’s also less conservative, with Ford’s ‘kinetic’ design language making a welcome transition from (the improved) exterior to the interior.
Combine the cabin comfort and the loping ride, and the Focus is now a car you’d happily travel in for hundreds of kilometres without fear of fatigue.
If you can afford the range-topping Titanium model that starts at $32,590, you also get a system that will automatically steer you into a parallel parking spot. Regardless of where it’s produced, the Focus is better made than ever.