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Car reviews - Ford - Focus - Ambiente hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Ride and handling compromise, excellent connectivity with voice control, spacious cabin with lots of storage, sharp price
Room for improvement
Underpowered, five-speed gearbox needs an extra ratio, no cruise control, light steering, fussy dashboard design

Gallery

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Ford logo13 Feb 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

Price and equipment

THE Ambiente is available as both a sedan and hatch for $20,290 plus on-road costs when fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox.

This compares to top-selling rivals such as the Toyota Corolla Ascent (from $19,990), Holden Cruze CD ($21,490), Hyundai i30 Active ($20,990) and Volkswagen Golf 77TSI ($21,990).

Standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels with a space-saver spare, Sync voice recognition, a 3.5-inch display with USB and Bluetooth streaming, a trip computer and manual air conditioning.

Cruise control is the most obvious omission, with most rivals now featuring the convenience feature as standard.

The small-car segment that counts the Focus as a key member is a notoriously tough nut to crack, with a vast array of brands and plenty of options at this price point. One in five cars sold in Australia competes in this part of the market.

Interior

WE found the Ambiente’s cabin a mixed bag, combining excellent ergonomics with an overly fussy overall design.

Slide into the cloth seats (with a short base) and you are faced with an odd assortment of buttons and dials – the Focus dash is the definition of ‘busy’.

Higher-specified version get a simpler fascia with classy gloss-black highlights instead.

The plastics feel inexpensive but are well screwed together and not liable to scratch, and while we welcome the use of soft-touch plastics on the dash-top, we bemoan their absence on the door trim.

The seat has plenty of manual adjustment, and the rake/reach steering wheel makes it easy to find a good driving position. Likewise, the steering-wheel buttons are simple to navigate (although the wheel itself feels cheap).

The lack of cruise control is an important omission – most rivals offer it – but the Ford is the only small-car in this price bracket with such a thorough voice-recognition system (it controls audio, phone and other media), and the quality and clarity of the sound system is excellent.

The cabin has plenty of storage space and hidey holes, including a large console, deep glovebox and handy rear seat cubbies, although the practicality is hindered by the lack of a fold-down rear-seat armrest.

Rear seat legroom and headroom is decent, with room for two adults or a third at a pinch, while the deep but narrow boot can hold 316 litres with the rear seats in place.

While the rear pews fold 60:40, they do not sit flat with the floor as they do in the clever Honda Civic hatch, for instance, and the loading area is less even and spacious as a result.

Engine and transmission

THE Ambiente is the sole member of the Australian Focus range to feature a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Step up the price sheet and you get either 125kW/202Nm 2.0 petrol or 120kW/340Nm 2.0 diesel engines.

The powertrain produces lower-than-average outputs for the class, with 92kW at 6300rpm and 159Nm at 4000rpm on tap. This is mated to either the five-speed manual gearbox tested here or a six-speed Powershift dual-clutch automatic.

The engine is a battler, but lacks the top-end huff of the Volkswagen’s much smaller (but force-inducted) 1.2-litre turbo, while most of its rival’s naturally aspirated engines have larger displacements of 1.8 – 2.0-litres and somewhere above 100kW of power.

At 1339 kilos, the Focus is no heavyweight, but the small engine still needs to be worked – expect to down-shift on hills, for instance.

To Ford’s credit, the Ambiente remains relatively refined, pointing to good sound-deadening, and the claimed fuel-use figure of 6.2 litres per 100km (91 RON petrol) is achievable with caution. We averaged 7.5L/100km on our mixed test route, but drove with some gusto.

The gearbox has a pleasant shift action and a well modulated clutch take-up, and the hill-start assist takes all the drama out of steep hills by stopping roll-back (no hand-brake starts required here).

However, that lack of top-end puff and the lack of a sixth ratio in an era when most rivals have one means the Focus is less relaxed at cruise than most. We were sitting at close to 3000rpm at 100km/h.

Ride and handling

IT’S here where the Focus shines, because even in base trim its compromise between a supple ride and nimble handling is right at the top of the class. Few cars at the price are blessed with such a chassis.

It takes only a roundabout to establish the Ford’s dynamic gifts, with the car displaying a sharp and balanced turn-in with very little understeer. Indeed, keeping momentum up is the biggest challenge, and we know from our experiences with the hot 184kW Focus ST just what this chassis can handle.

The ride is also excellent, handling minor corrugations and larger obstacles such as speed bumps in a relaxed and smooth manner. There is also very little in the way of tyre roar emanating from the slim 205/60 tyres.

On the downside, Ford’s electric power steering is too light and devoid of feel and feedback, which removes a level of driver involvement from the process.

You may wonder whether the average buyer cares about this, and the answer is ambivalent.

However, we feel that the Focus’ highly competent chassis deserves to be complemented by similarly excellent steering, and right now it isn’t.

Safety and servicing

ALL Focus variants score the maximum five NCAP stars and come standard with six airbags, stability and traction control, brake assist, emergency brake lights, hill-start assist and ISOFIX compatible child seat attachments.

The Focus is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, as well as Ford’s six-year/105,000km capped-price servicing deal, with intervals of either 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.

The maximum cost of each service varies between $320 and $455 (five out of six intervals are the minimum amount, the 60,000km service is the higher).

Verdict

TAKEN as a complete range, the Focus is one of our favourite small-car options on the market. However, there’s little doubt the Ambiente tested here is the weak link.

Its underpowered engine fails to extract the best out of the excellent chassis, and the absence of cruise control is a massive bugbear.

In our opinion, the extra $2000 asked for the better-equipped and more powerful Trend is money well spent.

Rivals

1. Hyundai i30 Active: From $20,990 plus on-road costs. . The chic i30 features class-leading levels of equipment and a long warranty, making it a great showroom proposition. It’s not as polished dynamically as the Focus, though.

2. Mazda3 Neo: From $20,330 plus on-road costs. Australia’s favourite car is a nippy and well-equipped little hatch, let down by tight rear legroom and a lack of noise suppression.

3. Toyota Corolla Ascent: From $19,990 plus on-road costs. The new-generation model launched late last year is surprisingly fun to drive, and should be a bulletproof ownership proposition. It’s interior feels a bit cheap, though.

Specs

Make and model: Ford Focus Ambiente
, Engine type: 1.6-litre petrol four-cylinder
, Layout: FWD
, Power: 92kW @ 6300rpm
, Torque: 159kW @ 4000rpm
, Transmission: Five-speed manual
, Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km
, CO2 rating: 145g/km
, Dimensions: 4534 mm long/2010 mm wide/1484 mm high/2648 mm wheelbase
, Suspension: Independent MacPherson
struts/Independent Control Blade multi-link , Steering: Electric
, Price: From $20,290

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