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Car reviews - Ford - Focus - range

Launch Story

Ford logo15 Jun 2005

By MARTON PETTENDY

FORD is mounting its most convincing small car challenge since the original 1981 Laser with its second-generation Focus.

Coded LS, the latest small entrant in a field of almost 20 trumps its underperforming predecessor with a much-needed power boost as well as more space, comfort, refinement and value for money.

Vitally the latter can be achieved through its South African sourcing and the more favourable exchange rates it brings. The outgoing LR was built in either Spain or Germany (Zetec and ST170).

Again engineered in Germany, Ford says this second Focus is nonetheless designed with the Australian market in mind.

Local personnel were involved through the development process during prototype testing conducted here and in Germany as well as with the production ramp-up phase in South Africa.

A model rationalisation sees the slow-selling three-door variants vanish for now, leaving four-door CL, LX and Ghia sedans as well as a five-door CL, LX and Zetec hatchback range in ascending order.

Both shapes, partly the work of Ford Asia Pacific design manager (and Australian) Paul Gibson, are safe evolutions of the unexpectedly bold first Focus' visage.

Yet they espouse the space-enhancing virtues of cab-forward body design that sees 25mm more length and 140mm greater width inside than before. The new Focus is thus meaningfully roomier than even the medium-sized Ford Mondeo of a few years ago.

Motivation for all models comes courtesy of Ford's new Duratec 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine also seen in altered form in the Mazda3.

Boasting twin cams, 16 valves and a variable intake system for greater flexibility, higher economy and lower emissions, this oversquare motor can be made to easily meet future Euro IV standards.

Outputs on 95 RON premium unleaded petrol are 107kW of power at 6000rpm and 185Nm of torque at 4500rpm, with 90 per cent of the latter occurring at 2000rpm. Performance drops slightly on regular 91 RON while it rises with 98 RON. Knock control sensors help here.

This compares to the previous 1.8-litre (and 2.0 auto) base engine's 85kW and 156Nm (auto: 162Nm) respectively. Even the sportier LR Zetec's 2.0-litre could only muster 96kW/178Nm.

Peter Fry, Focus' product manager, says the Duratec - with its aluminium alloy cylinder block, absent brackets for front-end accessories and composite intake manifold and cam cover - is also lighter than before.

This aids fuel consumption, down to 7.1/8.0 L/100km from 8.1/9.5 for the 2.0 manual/auto in the ADR 81/01 combination cycle.

Plus the Duratec is more efficient, requires lower maintenance, has an increased life expectancy (at least 250,000km or 10 years before "major work" is required), and is much smoother and quieter.

To the latter's end the aforementioned aluminium also helps bolster the engine's bending stiffness by seven per cent and reduce shaking forces by 13 per cent for a noticeable decline in noise, vibration and harshness properties.

An MTX 75 cable-shift five-speed manual, or electronically controlled FN four-speed automatic gearbox with a sequential-shift pattern and grade-control ratio-change adaptability, are the transmission choices.

Ford confirms that high-performance 2.0-litre variants - as well as the possibility of the company's acclaimed TDCi common-rail turbo-diesel engine it shares with Peugeot/Citroen - are also being investigated for local Focus fitment.

"But for now we are only interested in getting the basics right for Focus in Australia," stresses a Ford spokesperson.

Underpinning the LS is Ford's C1 platform that shares common componentry with the Mazda3, Volvo S40 and V50, and reportedly the next-generation Land Rover Freelander.

According to Ford Australia's Michael Stellamanns - currently Falcon Vehicle Engineering Manager but previously part of the Focus development team - the second-generation car was devised to improve the old model's signature dynamic characteristics while improving lagging comfort, refinement and sophistication levels.

For the first objective a 25mm longer wheelbase coupled with a track that's 40mm wider than before helps, as does the retention of a variation of the LR's Control Blade multi-link rear suspension and a new stiffer front subframe and MacPherson strut set-up.

Two suspension settings are offered - regular and Sport slung underneath the Zetec. Sitting 10mm lower, it also boasts different dampers and revised springs.

The body is also eight per cent stiffer torsionally speaking than its already class-leading predecessor, while the overall footprint is also broader for a better stance.

Ford increased the model's camber stiffness by 15 per cent and the rear subframe crossmember was upgauged by 10 per cent.

Then there is the all-new electro-hydraulic power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system (E-HPAS), a speed-sensitive device that increases in weight and feel the faster the Focus travels, rather than relying on engine speed for that.

Ford says it results in more confident steering feel, offers more predictable and refined oversteer and understeer balance, has greater linearity in its yaw response, provides increased road feel and better straight-ahead stability.

"The increased steering linearity means there is no need to re-correct in corners", says Mr Stellamanns.

He adds that E-HPAS combines the natural feel of a regular hydraulic set-up with the fuel consumption benefits of purely electric systems found in such rivals as the Honda Civic.

Parking effort is also reduced by 20 per cent. This, in turn, also helps achieve the second objective of comfort.

Quieter qualities were came to through thicker front door glass and double door seals that reduce wind noise, along with the employment of a semi-isolated front subframe and an optimised floor panel swage pattern that helps quell road roar.

Ford has also leveraged its Volvo division's know-how in the area of reducing personal harm. Revised brakes with larger discs reduce stopping distances.

Side front airbags, pedal intrusion reduction, anti-submarining front seats and a pedestrian-impact designed bonnet with the mechanical reinforcements well clear of the metal skin are part of the increased safety in the new Focus.

Curtain airbags may arrive later. Ford says it is in discussions with the South African plant. However, it has deleted ESP electronic stability program due to a low take-up rate in the previous model.

Besides room, presentation is another cabin highlight, with soft-feel plastics and conservative, symmetrical design replacing the old car's unusual slash lines and hard plastics. It's now much more in the VW Golf idiom.

All models include dual airbags, air-conditioning, keyless entry with two remote fobs, power front windows, a CD player with MP3 connectivity and a driver's seat height adjuster.

The base CL offers a Safety Pack for $1190 (anti-lock brakes and front side airbags) and a $890 Smooth Pack with power mirrors, cruise control and alloy wheels.

Class-leading luggage is another Focus feature (385 litres for the hatch and 510 litres for sedan versus 350L/490L last time).

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