Car reviews - Ford - Focus - Sport
Punchy engine, smart automatic, great infotainment system, roomy cabin, sharp steering and handling, suspension blends comfort with sportiness
Room for improvement
Feels heavy to drive, engine can work up a thirst, Mazda3 ultimately more dynamic, VW Golf is classier inside
30 Mar 2016
Price and equipment
PRICED from $26,490 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual, or $27,490 when optioned with a six-speed automatic as tested here, the Focus Sport plays in a central position within the small-car class.
It is not cheap enough to be an entry grade, as played by the $3100-cheaper Focus Trend. Yet it leaves the Focus Titanium, available only as an automatic for $5200 more than the Focus Sport, to take the role of leather-trimmed luxury range topper (excluding Focus ST and upcoming RS).
The Focus Sport offers juicy extras over the Trend for a relatively modest premium.
Alloy wheel size moves from 16 to 17 inches, and foglights add some much-needed pizzazz to the exterior styling. Likewise inside, the addition of a leather-wrapped steering wheel improves ambience significantly, as do automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and digital radio with nine speakers, up from six.
By contrast there is barely enough extra equipment in the Focus Titanium to warrant further spend, save for the leather and electrically adjustable driver’s seat, in addition to technology such as automatic park assistance. Alloy wheel size also moves from 17- to 18-inch diameter.
Central to the cabin appeal of the facelifted Focus is the addition of an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation standard across the range, replacing the chunky and plasticky switchgear and small 4.2-inch colour display used previously.
The infotainment system, dubbed Sync2, uses a ‘quadrant’ display format with Bluetooth phone connectivity in the top right corner of the main menu, radio/CD player/AUX/USB/Bluetooth audio functions in the lower left square, navigation in the top right area and temperature in the lower right section. It is easy to use, and digital radio is rare in this class.
General fit-and-finish is not as tight as some rivals, notably the Japanese-built Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, and some lower dashboard plastics are hard and scratchy. However the Focus feels solid, the seats are plush, and space is exactly as you would expect for a small car – no better, no worse.
It is a shame that rear passengers are not provided with airvents they are standard, for example, in every Volkswagen Golf.
The Focus Sport is only available in a five-door hatchback bodystyle, with a small-for-the-class 316-litre boot volume. However the Focus Trend and Focus Titanium are also available as a four-door sedan that adds extra luggage volume but reduces practicality due to its smaller opening.
Engine and transmission
The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the bonnet of every new Focus model grade delivers power (132kW at 6000rpm) and torque (240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm) to rival the best in the class.
A Mazda3 SP25 costs $200 less than the Focus Sport and delivers 138kW/250Nm from its 2.5-litre four-cylinder, sans turbocharger. A Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline, meanwhile, costs $500 more than the Ford and makes 92kW/200Nm from its 1.4-litre turbocharged four cylinder.
Ford’s new engine is both responsive and refined, with a somewhat retro rorty note when revved. It teams eagerly with a well-calibrated automatic that switches between silken and sporty if it detects regularly heavy throttle applications.
Paddleshifters or a tipshifter are absent, however, with only a tiny +/- switch on the side of the transmission lever permitting manual control of gears. The auto’s Sport mode isn’t aggressive enough for truly sporty driving, yet the toggle-switch alternative is frustratingly anti-ergonomic.
Yet the new torque converter automatic at least rids Focus buyers of the dual-clutch automatic transmission used in pre-facelift versions. So problematic was this transmission that Ford sent extended warranty notices to several customers after some required multiple clutch replacements before the three-year/100,000km warranty expired.
The other Achilles heel of this small Ford has not yet been addressed. The Focus feels solid to drive, but this generation model arrived right at the time when vehicles were starting to become too heavy and many car manufacturers became obsessed with weight saving.
The Focus remains a heavyweight of the class, its 1380kg kerb mass appearing excessive alongside the 1150kg Peugeot 308 Active and 1265kg Golf, if not the 1339kg Mazda3 SP25.
Ford claims fuel consumption of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres for the automatic, 0.4L/100km more than the manual-equipped version. As with the Mazda, the Focus can run on regular unleaded, unlike the 308 and Golf that require premium unleaded.
However the weightiness of this S-badged model is regularly felt around town, with on-test consumption blowing out to 12.0L/100km and lowering only below 10.0L/100km after an extended freeway and country road run.
Ride and handling
The Focus Sport gets sports suspension to go along with its larger tyres over the Trend, and Ford again proves it can deliver a masterclass on how to blend comfort with sportiness.
Around town the Sport feels little firmer than any entry-grade hatchback. It is disciplined and reassuring, but never clunky or harsh. Yet it is also smooth on the freeway and brilliantly controlled on rough country roads.
For suspension finesse, the Focus Sport comfortably betters the Mazda3 and 308.
For ultimate ride comfort, however, the Ford can’t match the utter insouciance over all surfaces delivered by the Golf 92TSI Comfortline.
There is a clue in the Volkswagen’s name that it is not a sporty contender, though. For steering tactility, sharpness and response, the Ford has no peer.
Its chassis balance and agility is first rate, and right up there with the Peugeot. Ultimately, the Mazda is more playful, however it isn’t as controlled when bumps and bends combine.
The Focus Sport can still feel slow when exiting corners. The willing engine sometimes struggles more than it should when really pushed, leaving the overworked automatic to juggle gears more frequently than it would need to in a lighter car.
Safety and servicing
The Ford Focus hatchback received a five-star rating from ANCAP with a score of 34.17 points out of 35.
Every Focus includes electronic stability control, switchable traction control and dual front, front side and full-length curtain airbags. The Focus Titanium adds low-speed autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitor unavailable in the Focus Sport.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km. A lifetime capped-price servicing program requires $290 for the first three services, $435 for the fourth service, and $290 for the following three. These prices are among the most affordable for a model in this price range, and Ford also offers a free loan car for each service.
The Ford Focus Sport should be on every small car shopping list. If buyers cannot make the jump from entry hatchback to expensive hot-hatch, then vehicles such as this small Ford provide an impressive mid-way point.
With a hugely improved infotainment system, excellent new engine and transmission, and finessed steering, ride and handling, there are genuinely few shortcomings. Hopefully a future model will be lighter, with rear-seat airvents, nicer cabin materials and increased safety technology (such as autonomous emergency braking) on entry and middle grades.
It may not be as comfortable and classy as a Golf, or as dynamic and perky as a Mazda 3, but the middle grade Focus Sport happens to find a fine middle ground between them.
Mazda3 SP25 automatic from $27,190 plus on-road costs
Lacks polish in areas such as seating comfort and refinement, however the Mazda3 has earned a reputation for mixing reliability with sporty driveability.
Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline from $29,990 plus on-road costs
Expensive to purchase and service, without a long equipment list, the Golf 92TSI Comfortline instead gets its gongs by offering class-leading refinement, smoothness, efficiency and comfort.
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