Ford Renews Focus with EcoBoost Power

By Lee Pang Seng

THE Ford Focus enters its fourth generation cycle, carrying the best-seller torch for the brand with a new look and efficient turbo power. Yes, the latest Focus now looks fully a part of the new Ford family with the characteristic trapezoidal grille and EcoBoost power.

The Focus may not command strong recognition here in sales numbers but it is Ford’s top seller in many markets like the UK and China. Since the model was launched in 1998, more than 12 million Focus were sold in 140 markets globally. Of that number, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 2.3 million cars.
Today, the Focus is manufactured in eight automotive plants across the globe and more than one million cars are produced a year. That works out to one Focus every 90 seconds. Ford must be doing something right with the Focus to gain that kind of wide acceptance and going EcoBoost may just be the magical tonic for the latest edition in markets that are still warming up to this Ford model.

The EcoBoost engine that will power the Focus in Malaysia is the 1.5-litre unit, which was first introduced in the US in 2014 in the Fusion. This particular displacement was chosen for the Chinese market where cars with engines of 1.5-litre and below enjoy favourable tax rates to make them competitively priced.

It is actually a downsized version of the original 1.6-litre unit, which is undersquare in configuration with a 79.0mm bore and 81.4mm stroke to displace 1596cc. Changes to the stroke have reduced that displacement to an exact 1499cc with slightly better output to boot, and better than the output of the 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine powering the third generation Focus in our market.
The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine delivers 132kW (180hp) at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque that is developed relatively early from 2700rpm. It is said to deliver six per cent better fuel economy than the 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine (125kW/170hp and 202Nm) as well as lower emissions.

The EcoBoost engine is a turbocharged unit with high-pressure direct injection and twin-independent variable cam timing. It comes with a new aluminium engine block to accommodate the shorter stroke to reduce weight and improve efficiency.

It also comes with a new cylinder head with improved cooling and an integrated exhaust manifold that improves efficiency by delivering a more efficient feed of air into the engine combustion chamber. This manifold also reduces the distance exhaust gases travel from the cylinders to the turbocharger, thus reducing turbo lag. The engine control system is also reprogrammed to ensure efficient operation and deliver strong output.

Ford has paired the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine to a newly developed modern, lightweight and efficient six-speed automatic transmission that is said to deliver refinement, performance and fuel economy. Paddle shifts come part andparcel to provide gear selection without taking the hands of the steering wheel.

This new 1.5-litre EcoBoost was already introduced in Malaysia around mid-2015 in the Ford Kuga that was initially made available with the 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine. While that might have taken the shine of the new Focus when it arrives here in due course, it does come with many new dynamic systems to enhance its appeal.

There is, of course, the new ‘face’ that gives it the fresh novelty, if not for itself then to proclaim its status as a member of the current family semblance. This is borne by the fairly large trapezoidal grille (with active grille shutters for controlled cooling efficiency) along with a lower and wider stance, and the new bonnet. This new Ford look should be a familiar one by now as it is carried by the new Fiesta and EcoSport. Joining this new family look are also the latest Mondeo and the recently launched Ranger.

Complementing the new ‘face’ are the slimmer but sharply tapered headlamps and rectangular, elongated foglamps in the lower apron. Changes to the rear are the new fascia and tailgate arrangement, slimmer tail lamps and a ‘sculpted’ rear spoiler; however, the makeover is rather subtle and not immediately discerned.

The interior also sees significant changes with a less cluttered look as Ford says it is pandering to feedback from current generation Focus owners. The instrument panel is redesigned (with more information to relate to the driver) and the respective switches are reorganised to provide a ‘simpler, more intuitive’ interior with fewer controls and switches.

Adding to this new simplified interior is the provision of more space with a variety of new convenient storage options; this included an adjustable centre console that can accommodate a variety of bottles and cups, and can simultaneously hold a one-litre water bottle and a 400ml cup.

We had a drive impression of the new Ford Focus in Adelaide, taking to a fair selection of roads in the vineyard areas about 30km from the city. Most of the Focus models made available for the Asia-Pacific media drive were the Titanium versions, with one or two S variants. The Focus made available for this region comes from Ford Thailand’s Rayong plant.

For a start, we like the quiet way in which the car drove along and this was the direct result of the higher use of sound deadening materials. These included sound insulating windscreen glass, thicker side window glass, thicker carpets, increased insulation in the door trims and improved engine insulation. The more refined ride was certainly welcomed and enjoyed.

The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) was useful too if you knew where to look; the system uses radar technology to detect vehicles that come on either side of the vehicle from the rear (a typical driver’s blind spot) and alerts the driver by illuminating LED (light emitting diode) lights on the respective door mirror.

There were many drive sessions with a vineyard as the central base to highlight the respective areas of the new Focus. This included a winding road section where we could experience its dynamic qualities. Although the drive was conducted under convoy arrangement and the need to heed Australian traffic rules (with unmarked police cars as a dampener), we had a reasonable good feel of the latest Focus, despite the fact that it was also drizzling heavily most of the time.

We liked the way the front wheels tramped less on the wet tarmac when we accelerated from a side road to the main thoroughfare; this usually occurs on front-wheel drive cars as a lot of power is delivered to the front wheels to take off. We also liked driving the new Focus through the respective corners; the Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) that is said to be more refined gave a more precise feel through the turns.

Ford says its engineers have tuned the Focus suspension to be more responsive while being firmly connected to the road; the car is independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and controlled blade multi-link system at the rear. The Focus Titanium was running on 18-inch aluminium wheels with Goodyear tyres and we could explore the car’s limits a fair bit through the tight bends.

It tracked well, despite the wet road surfaces, and the anti-roll bars front and rear did a good job of checking the car’s body lean either way. Our co-driver even caught some shuteye as the new Focus just took to the winding stretches without much drama. Another contributory factor could be that the front passenger seat held him well to even out the mild g-forces.

The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine was ready to unwind if given the chance and we found ourselves cruising along at almost 150km/h in the 110km/h highways effortlessly once or twice. Engine speed was low, so was the wind noise to make for the ‘silent’ ride.

Not everything turned up roses though; we found the front passenger seat a little short on thigh support and for the drive sessions (usually of 20km or so), we felt the weariness in our thighs and had to adjust our sitting position to ease the discomfort. The other thing was the jolting ride over bumps and road ripples due to the 18-inch low profile tyres. We recalled a more comfortable ride experience with the previous Focus Titanium that ran on 17-inch rims and tyres. Perhaps Ford Malaysia should stick with the 17-inch combination for the new Focus too, given the less desirable condition of our roads.

New features that are ideal to normal driving are the wider driver assist technology; the Enhanced Active Park Assist builds on the Parallel Park Assist (that was standard to the previous model) with Perpendicular Park Assist and Park-Out Assist, as well as the Cross Traffic Alert by using more ultrasonic sensors. One of the drive sessions was to experience these new items.

Once the system is activated, merely tap the indicator either way to inform the system which direction the car should turn and it takes over the steering after R(everse) is selected. We just had to work the accelerator and brake pedal. On one instance, the turning angle was too tight and the system applied the brakes as possible collision was detected. We then selected D(rive) for the car to move forward a little to gain a better angle of entry. With Reverse re-engaged, the system steered the car into the parking spot.

Park-Out Assist is a second new system that is also practical when you come back to your Focus and find the space more congested due to different cars having parked in the front and rear of your vehicle. Again, tap the indicator to inform the system which direction the car should be steered out of and it would do the job nicely in getting you out of the parking lot.

Cross Traffic Alert comes in useful when you are reversing from a perpendicular parking spot. Sensors can detect approaching traffic from either side up to a range of 40 metres and the system uses three distinct warnings to alert the driver.

Yet another appreciable item is the Active City Stop that helps to mitigate low-speed collisions at up to 50km/h (it used to be 20km/h). It uses a windscreen mounted sensor to detect braking, slower moving or stationary vehicle in front during traffic crawls. The system pre-charges the brakes if the car is approaching a vehicle in front too quickly. If the driver fails to take action (upon being distracted or otherwise), the system reduces engine torque and automatically applies the brakes to reduce the impact of the collision.

From here, it’s easy to recognise that the new Focus certainly has a lot more to offer in performance and equipment, and it’s only a B-segment car. Perhaps this might help to gain it wider acceptance in the Malaysian market when it arrives in due course.

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