Car reviews - Ford - Focus - Titanium
Sublime ride and handling, prodigious wet-weather grip, much improved interior, characterful engine, excellent trip computer, a pleasure to drive
Room for improvement
Lacking in front-seat thigh support, no Isofix child seat points, cramped and poorly ventilated rear seats, touchscreen lag, wipers leave large unswept area beside windscreen pillars
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4 Aug 2016
Price and equipment
FORD asks $32,690 plus on-road costs for the Focus Titanium hatch tested here, a $300 drop compared with the pre-facelift model that belies the additional equipment packed in.
Like all facelifted Foci, there is now Sync2 voice-control touchscreen for audio, navigation, phone, and vehicle settings access plus a speed and audio volume-limiting function for the “MyKey” system designed to comfort parents who are kindly lending their car to the family P-plater.
The Titanium now comes with safety tech upgrades including rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot detection tech, along with an improvement to Ford’s Active City Stop collision avoidance system that works at up to 50km/h (up from 30km/h). The automated parking system can now cope with perpendicular spaces and help the driver to exit a spot as well.
As before, the Titanium is loaded with dual-zone air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, a self-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry and start, automatic lights and wipers and a beefed-up nine-speaker Sony audio system with DAB+ digital radio.
There are also 18-inch alloy wheels, sports leather seats, LED tail-lights and daytime running lamps, puddle lamps, electric folding exterior mirrors and a bodykit.
As nice as the Titanium gadgetry is, it is worth pointing out that the $24,390 automatic version of the entry level Trend variant that accounts for around half of all Focus sales represents good value with its 8.0-inch Sync2 touchscreen, satellite navigation, Bluetooth steaming, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels and front foglights.
Unlike the base Trend, the pricier Sport and Titanium come with a space-saver spare rim. Bad call, Ford. And adaptive cruise control to go with the other driver aids would be nice, along with heated or ventilated seats.
If there was one criticism of the pre-facelift Focus, it was the busy, slightly tacky and instantly dated interior.
Ford has gone a long way to addressing this by simplifying the layout and incorporating a lot of functions into its Sync2 touchscreen and voice-activated infotainment unit. It’s a relief that Ford has ditched the squinty old 4.2-inch screen with a lovely big 8.0-inch item, but despite taming the button count down substantially, they can’t hide the over-busy dashboard shape and architecture.
We also found the Sync2 system a little laggy and unintuitive, mainly because we had to give the screen a firm prod to get it to do anything. On the plus side, there are plenty of connectivity and device-charging points.
The steering wheel and instrument pack have been thankfully modernised, with the full-featured and easy-to-use multi-function trip computer gaining a digital speedometer. Great news, although the leather on the wheel itself could be of higher quality.
We also found the well-bolstered seats disappointingly flat and lacking in thigh support, so never got our tall frame entirely comfortable as a result.
Ford has also put a lot of effort into reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) through the use of upgraded seals, additional sound insulation, thicker carpeting and other measures, along with the restyled exterior’s better aerodynamic qualities.
It’s worked, and combined with the smooth, torquey new engine and transmission combination the Focus feels a lot more premium. European, even.
But we’d still never call the cabin classy, even in posh leather-trimmed Titanium spec, and it’s not a match for a Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3.
Visually the Ford promises plenty of interior space but we found it similarly cramped in the back to a Corolla, and it lacks rear air-conditioning vents.
Taller drivers also get a bit hemmed in by the bulky dashboard.
The hatchback’s boot is one of the segment’s smallest at 316 litres. For more seats-up capacity, look at the sedan (475L) but the ungainly proportions and reduced versatility count against it.
On the upside, Ford includes four shopping bag hooks in the boot, a handy feature. Also good is the adjustable cupholder/storage recess between the front seats.
The glovebox – behind a cheap-feeling cover – is reasonably big, the front door bins can take drinks bottles (but the rear ones are small) and there are funny little tray-like storage trays around the edges of the rear bench.
A big bin between the front seats, map pockets and a pair of cupholders in the rear-central armrest round out the on-board storage options.
The lack of Isofix child seat anchorages disappointed us and Ford never answered our emailed question as to why the Focus, and even the more family-friendly seven-seat Everest SUV, lacks this feature.
Another downside was the vision-blocking windscreen pillars, which were made worse during the wet weather of our test by the clap-clap wipers leaving a huge unswept area effectively doubling the size of the blind spot that made negotiating a twisty road difficult and could prove perilous in the city.
Engine and transmission
The smallest engine ever fitted to an Australian-delivered Focus, Ford’s 1.5-litre, double overhead cam, direct-injection EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo delivers 132kW of power at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600-5000rpm.
While being up there with the best numbers its rivals can muster, the new engine is no firecracker. It is smooth and willing, though, with a fantastic growl – sometimes accompanied by a bit of vibration – under acceleration that lends the Focus a wedge of personality.
Although there is a real sweet spot between 3000 and 5000rpm, trying to drive fast on a twisty road can get frustrating as the engine runs out of puff easily, well before the excellent chassis is challenged. Probably a deliberate ruse to get enthusiasts into the pricier, German-built ST.
We were impressed by the new six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, save for the fact Ford persists with its silly thumb-button for manual shifts.
Just as well the transmission logic is so well-tuned that manual shifts are all but irrelevant. It even seems to sense when you’re on it, and holds gears a bit longer or changes down more willingly under deceleration into corners.
Ford has proved (and perhaps learned the very, very hard way) that dual-clutch is not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all of transmission tech.
That said, after requesting a quick surge of acceleration to overtake a truck, there was a significant clunk and shudder from the transmission as we slowed down, and we sometimes felt the unit would hesitate before kicking down.
More mundanely, the official combined fuel consumption figure is 6.4L/100km for the automatic Titanium hatch variant we tested, while we achieved 7.9L/100km in mixed driving.
This figure can soar in urban driving and back-road blasting, with the aforementioned average creeping up to 8.4L/100km after just a few kilometres of twisty road fun. Motorway cruising returns a respectable figure in the mid-fives, returning our overall average back to 7.9L/100km.
Ride and handling
With imaginary blinkers on, just driving the Focus felt right, natural and pleasurable. Judging by how few cars achieve this, that’s obviously no easy task.
Considering it rides on big 18-inch alloys, the Focus Titanium delivers the ideal compromise between comfort and tautness.
Similarly, the smooth and well-weighted steering that is matched well to other control weights such as the pedals adds to the slick feel.
Tackling our road test route in soaking wet conditions, the Titanium’s 235-section Goodyear Eagle tyres coped amazingly with standing water and the Focus held its line brilliantly at speed through drenched corners.
Communicative, accurate steering also helped us judge the conditions and turned what could have been a disappointingly damp drive into good fun.
Ford has tinkered with the facelifted Focus to enact numerous tweaks that add up to more than the sum of their parts and make what was always a deft handler into something approaching a masterpiece of ride/handling balance.
A payoff is the SUV-like 11-metre turning circle, so it’s just as well the Titanium offers automated parking.
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 Titanium we drove adds low-speed autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
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.
Ford has massaged the Focus into the car it always should have been. The pre-facelift version was good, but was hamstrung by underwhelming drivetrains and had too many ergonomic niggles.
Those major flaws have been well and truly ironed out and the rightness of the underlying car is allowed to shine through as a result.
We wouldn’t put the Titanium at the top of the class, because the Focus still lacks the interior polish to justify its pricetag.
But the many things it does right would be just as good in the much more affordable Trend. Buy one of those, and invest the change wisely.
You can thank us later.
Mazda3 SP25 GT automatic from $31,990 plus on-road costs
Sharp handling, a great interior, comprehensive equipment and a punchy 2.5-litre petrol engine driving through Mazda’s excellent six-speed automatic, make it hard to justify the Focus Titanium’s small extra outlay over the Mazda.
Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline from $32,990 plus on-road costs
Class-leader for refinement meets classless European appeal and a serious emissions scandal-related image problem. To match the Focus Titanium’s driver assistance tech takes a $1500 option pack, and the Golf’s 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine is down on power compared with the Focus. That said, you’d never know to drive it.
Peugeot 308 Allure 1.6 from $31,842 plus on-road costs
Runs the VW Golf close for class leadership, but we’d choose one with PSA’s sweet three-cylinder engine and spend the change on a few options. Or a holiday. In France.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Distinctive automatic from $35,000 plus on-road costs
Came close to being a credible rival for the sixth-generation Golf, but there’s now a seventh-generation Golf. And second-gen Peugeot 308. But the Alfa’s still great to look at and entertaining to drive. Shame about the price and the has-been interior. A mild update is due soon.
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