First Drive: 2015 Ford Focus

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D2---Focus20151110The Ford Focus has always been considered as one of the most driver-oriented cars in its class for combining superb driving dynamics with family-car practicality.

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Ford Philippines was eager to prove this at the November 3 launch of the revised Focus at the Megatent in Libis, Quezon City. We held on for dear life as race car drivers George Ramirez, Stefan Ramirez, Louie Ramirez and Jojo Silverio each expertly maneuvered a Focus (fully loaded with members of the motoring media) through a makeshift, high-speed course built on the open space in front of the venue. The demo truly proved the Focus is also capable of high performance.

Single engine option
The biggest change to the new model is the powertrain. All four variants – the Titanium and Titanium+ sedans and the Sport and Sport+ hatchbacks – now come with a 1.5-liter turbocharged, direct-injection EcoBoost inline-4 producing 180 horsepower and 240 Newton-meters of torque, running through a 6-speed automatic transmission. This replaces the old model’s two, direct-injection Duratec engines: the 1.6-liter 123-horsepower unit; and the 160-horsepower 2.0-liter engine.

With Ramirez in the lead Focus and the course under professional supervision, we got the chance to test the car’s uprated performance over eight laps. Despite the strong numbers, the new engine doesn’t pin you to your seat when the turbo hits full boost, instead delivering its power and torque smoothly. Meanwhile, the new gearbox happily holds gear to capitalize on the engine’s power range for spirited driving. It is certainly a welcome improvement over the jerky Powershift dual-clutch transmission found in the older model.

However, even with the gearbox in sport mode, there was noticeable turbo lag, especially when coming out of the course’s low-speed sections for the full-throttle ones. But in regular driving conditions, performance should be more than sufficient.

Peppy handling
More impressive is the Focus’s cornering abilities. The well-tuned chassis allows for positive turn-in and controlled body roll. Not even entering the course’s tight slalom under hard braking the going out of it at 80 kilometers per hour unsettled the car’s balance. I only managed to induce mild but controllable understeer when I entered a tight hairpin a bit too fast.

All Focuses also come standard with Torque Vectoring Control, which works like a limited-slip differential by using electronics to distribute the power between the front wheels for better handling. However, the system had trouble coping with the course’s pockmarked and undulating concrete surface, leading to some power-on understeer. Tests on grippier surfaces should produce better results.

But unless your daily commute involves racing through twisty mountain roads, what matter more are the composed ride even on the course’s rough surface, notable considering the 18-inch wheels with low-profile, Goodyear Eagle F1 tires on the Titanium+ and Sport+ (the Titanium and Sport have 17-inch wheels as standard), the strong stopping power and solid pedal feel of the anti-lock-assisted disc brakes all around and the light and responsive but slightly numb electric power-assisted steering.

‘Segment-first’ driving aids
Moving to an indoor venue, Ford also gave us the chance to test the Focus’s two new electronic driver aids, available exclusively for the Titanium+ and Sport+.

The first is Enhanced Active Park Assist, which works for both perpendicular and parallel parking. At the push of a button, the system uses ultrasonic sensors all around the car to scan for open parking slots and, upon finding one, automatically turns the steering wheel to maneuver the car into the slot. All the driver has to do is change gear and modulate the brake pedal. The system also includes Park-Out Assist, which maneuvers the car to help the driver get out of tight, parallel-parking spaces.

The system isn’t foolproof, though, as I ended up touching a neighboring Fiesta’s side mirror in the perpendicular-parking test. Driver control is still paramount and the system can be overruled by moving the steering wheel.

The second is Active City Stop, which operates using a windshield-mounted sensor and works at up to 50 kph. Below 20 kph, the system can bring the car to a full stop when it encounters an obstacle. Again, driver awareness is vital since a collision can still occur, as another journalist demonstrated when he hit the tarpaulin car barrier while driving nearly 20 kph on the polished concrete floor of the Megatent. Running at higher speeds in moving traffic, the system can also mitigate impact forces, although not prevent the crash outright.

Sharper looks
Outside, Ford gave the Focus sedan and hatchback a facelift by adding its signature trapezoidal grille, slimmer headlights and rectangular fog lights. At the back, a revised tailgate (for the hatchback), new taillights and a rear spoiler complete the look.

Inside, Ford focused (no pun intended) on simplifying the interior by reducing the number of buttons. This is largely helped by the new SYNC 2 infotainment and connectivity system with an 8-inch touchscreen and voice command in the Titanium+ and Sport+ (4.2 inches in the Titanium’s and Sport’s SYNC system).

All Focuses come standard with front, front-side and curtain airbags, an immobilizer, LATCH mounts for child restraints, Ford’s driver-configurable MyKey system and Hill Launch Assist. The range starts at P1.088 million for the Titanium and Sport.

The Titanium+ and Sport+, both at P1.278 million, also include paddle shifters, automatic-folding door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a 6-way electric driver’s seat, automatic headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a perimeter alarm.

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